Vanessa Clark’s prolific-winning and much-loved Connemara stallion, Castle Comet, has died at the age of 21 following complications during emergency colic surgery.

Twice junior champion at Clifden, the dun was bought by Vanessa as a three-year-old. He was by Abbeyleix Owen out of Castle Dame.

“I saw him in Ireland and knew I had to have him,” she said. “I saved up for a year to buy him and spent the whole time praying no-one else would come along and snap him up. I would ring the owner, Henry O’Toole, on a monthly basis, sick with nerves that he might have been sold.”

Then began a glittering career for the pair. Comet was twice native supreme at the now-defunct Royal Show — once standing reserve supreme of the show. He was champion at Dublin and qualified for Olympia four years running, at the time when a pony had to stand overall champion of the Olympia ridden section in order to qualify.

He was supreme pony at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) on his sole appearance there under saddle, and is still the only pony to have stood supreme at HOYS and at Olympia. Three-times supreme at the Connemara Breed show and twice NFU overall supreme at the National Pony Society (NPS) championships, he also qualified for the HOYS Cuddy in-hand final four times.

Comet leaves a legacy of successful progeny, including 2013 HOYS winner Chilham Aquarius, 2014 Royal International victor Chilham Pursuit and 2014 Cuddy finalist Castle Emperor, who was this year’s Royal Windsor breed champion and Notts County Cuddy reserve.

“He has been my life for 18 years,” said Vanessa, who had him as guest of honour at her wedding. “He loved sweets, and we often used to ride round to the village shop where he’d stand on the pavement waiting for people to come out with sweets or crisps. Many times I’d ask my mother to go round and come out with something to give him just he wouldn’t be disappointed. I am heartbroken.”