Eventer Hannah Bate has paid tribute to the “absolute love of my life”, who took her from Pony Club championships to the junior Europeans.

Part-bred Lipizzaner Cornelion Derby was put to sleep aged 28 on 7 January, after a long and happy retirement with Hannah.

“He made the decision for us,” Hannah told H&H.

“My dad does the veg on a Sunday and I take out the peelings to the horses. That morning, I took him his carrots and gave him a bit of love, then we put him out on the arena as it was frosty, and he went down to roll and couldn’t get up.

“It was a lovely sunny, cold day, his friend was with him, he wasn’t in a muddy field and he tried but couldn’t get up, so I sat with him until the vet came.

“She was lovely and when I asked whether she thought I should stay with him, she said: ‘I’d give him a big hug and walk away.’ So I did, and she said it was very peaceful. My dear boy.”

Derby was Hannah’s first horse, bought when she was 15 and he was five.

“I remember everyone at Pony Club saying: ‘What have you done?! That isn’t a first horse’,” she said.

“My mum and dad aren’t horsey and Derby was quite big and quite naughty, but he was the one I wanted.

“How could I tell, really, what he’d go on and do? I just chose the nicest one.”

Hannah took Derby with her when she went as a working pupil to Caroline Pratt, who nicknamed him Donkey Derby or Swan Lake, “because he had an awkward, swan-like neck”.

“She called him all sorts of things!” Hannah said. “She said he was awkward and tricky, but the nearest thing to a four-star horse you’d see. So we knew if I produced him correctly, we’d have a good one; we had an idea.”

Hannah took Derby to the junior European Championships in 1997, and Burghley Horse Trials in 2001, at both of which he jumped clear across country.

But he was not an easy horse to do.

“He was the most awkward horse ever,” Hannah said. “He was very highly strung, difficult to feed; difficult to manage in every way.

“If I’d had him now, I don’t think he’d have been half the horse he was. After Caroline sadly passed away, we had different trainers and they tried to change the way he jumped, with his head in the air, and he started stopping. He was what he was and no training would have changed him.

“But as a young person, with my first horse, I didn’t know any different.

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“He had awkward conformation, an awkward neck and way of jumping, but he was the boldest, bravest horse I would ever and have ever sat on.”

Derby retired at 14, his last event a two-star at which he finished 10th. He had been happily retired ever since.

“He was an amazing character,” Hannah said.

“He had a life doing exactly what he wanted to do in every way and it was his time to go. He was an absolute legend, the love of my life. I’ll never have another like him.”

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