When I think back on the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) 2016 it will certainly be the year that my dreams finally came true. It’s hard to really describe the days I had at HOYS but I will do my best to try and tell you a bit about my time rather than just writing it was amazing (which it really was).

Mum and I headed up on the Tuesday to work the ponies who were competing on the Thursday. This was the first time in years I haven’t had to catch the train straight in from London so it made a nice change to sit with mum in the lorry and chat on the way there.

Heading up to HOYS you always start to think about situations and what could go wrong, what you hope for each pony and so on. With Wednesday being large breed day I was lucky enough to have three to ride. Darcy was first in competing in the New Forest class, followed by Casper in the Connemaras and then a break before Bam in the Welsh section C class.

After the work ins we headed to bed pretty late and then we’re up again at 4.30am for me to work Darcy in the indoor arena and then also have time to give Casper a spin as his class followed on from Darcy’s.

Bam doing his show

Windy doing his show Credit: Kerry Bates

Darcy hadn’t worked very well the night before being a little intimidated by it all but I was pleased that in the morning he was far more settled, so I felt quite confident as we headed down to the ring. Unfortunately as soon as we got inside Darcy’s nerves started to get the better of him and our go round could be described as fast and tense! He couldn’t quite hold it together for his in-hand show and although we managed to stand still, Darcy thought the trotting part should all be done in canter. When I headed back in to do my show I wasn’t holding out much hope but I really wanted to do a good job for his owner, Carla, so I put all my effort into keeping Darcy calm. It must have worked as we actually pulled off quite a good show. When they started calling the results out I just really didn’t want to miss out on a placing so I was thrilled when we ended up fourth. A great result for my first class of the show.

It was a quick change onto the very calm Casper who looked so beautiful stood waiting for me. This was only my second time riding him so again I just wanted to do as good a job as I could for his owner Jo. He was beautiful on the go round and this time I stayed in to do my show first. Our show wasn’t quite as good as I hoped. He didn’t do anything wrong but was just a bit tail swishy and with it being so short I felt he didn’t quite have time to get into his stride. As usual he did a beautiful in-hand. The class was a really strong one and unfortunately this time we didn’t make the top 11 although I was thrilled to find out later on we were actually 12th so just missing out on the lap of honour.

I then had a bit of break as Bam was on in the afternoon so I took the time to catch up on some work! Sadly work never stops so there I was sat in the NEC car park writing emails and taking calls.

Finally it was Bam’s turn and I felt totally relaxed with her. The section C class is a really tough one too and having a mare isn’t always easy against all the boys. Bam, as usual, tried her hardest for me in the show which suited her as she is dead straight in her gallop. I was really chuffed to be called into the top 11 and even more thrilled to come seventh again, equalling her place from last year and again being top mare and top Popsters pony. Not bad considering she is only six-years-old. She really did her best for me so it was lovely to be rewarded for it. It was also fantastic to be in the line up and see my friend Katie Brown win the class. Her face was a picture and exactly what it should be about — pure emotion and excitement. So, phew, that was the end of day one! What a fantastic day. Although as they say no rest for the wicked as Windy was arriving for his class the next day which meant another late working in.

Thankfully Windy wasn’t due to compete until the afternoon so we didn’t take him in for the morning work in which meant we had a bit of a lie in although I was up to watch the working hunters and meet a client who had come up. As our class drew closer it was time to head off to get Windy ready and give him a quick spin. Windy, as I’ve said before, is a quirky little pony who either does it or doesn’t — you don’t get much in between. As we headed down to the ring I was just hoping he would be good after the disappointment of last year when he tripped over.

I managed to get in the first section to do my show which I prefer with Windy as he is cold backed and mum had told me under no circumstances was I allowed to go first again this year so I positioned myself in the middle. As it got closer to my turn I felt more and more sick, something that never happens to me. I think I held my breath for the entire show but we did it! No tripping and an overall good show. After my in-hand show it was just a case of playing the waiting game.

As usual they called out the numbers for the top 11 in catalogue order, although they missed mine out in the right order so I initially thought I hadn’t got through. Thankfully they had just mixed them up a bit and I walked forward so relieved. So the numbers started being called forward for the final places and I was sat waiting to hear mine. It got to the top three and I thought it must be me now or I won’t have been placed. They then called third, leaving myself, another Dartmoor and two Shetlands left standing. One of the Shetlands left on the back line I had thought might win the class so when I wasn’t called second and neither was the Shetland I thought would win, I really just thought “well that’s it for another year I’m 10th or 11th”.

If you have been to HOYS you will see that when they call second forward they then have a little pause before they announce the winner, with a little fanfare. As this was happening I turned Windy in a circle to congratulate the winner and head to the end of the line and that’s when it happened. They called my number. I have to say it took a moment to register before I think I screamed and then I sobbed! I couldn’t actually believe they had called out our number.

Windy on his lap of honour

Windy on his lap of honour Credit: Kerry Bates

I first got to HOYS at the age of 17 and at the age of 34 I finally managed to win it. As I rode to the front I wanted to slow everything down to savour every possible moment. What a feeling. I still find myself watching videos from that moment and expecting the result to change, it just seems so crazy. So there we were, stood between those flowers and doing our lap of honour to that very famous music. In that moment, as sad as it might seem, my dreams came true. I loved our lap of honour and as we came down the centre line I couldn’t help but punch the air and in true Windy fashion he had to get his bit in by trying to hump me off; it was priceless!

Obviously after this came a lot of celebrations although we were slightly subdued (well I was) as we had the championship to stay for in the evening which meant I had to cancel a meeting which clashed.

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It was fantastic to have Windy’s breeder there as well to see him win so off we headed to GBK for a celebratory burger and meal, still on cloud nine. That evening I got to lead the championship into the evening performance and it was a moment I won’t forget. As the curtain draws back there is nothing quite like it and to be sharing it with a pony I have loved now for five years was just perfect.

The moment I had been dreaming about

The moment I had been dreaming about Credit: Allan Brown

As we drove home that night, exhausted but supremely happy, I felt like the luckiest person ever. What an amazing time I’d had with amazing people and amazing ponies. Each one of the four tried their hearts out for me and that is all you can ever ask for. You just keep praying that at some point your lucky day comes along.

Of course, a huge thanks to everybody who had a huge hand in those fantastic days; my mum, Carla, Jo, Justin and Heidi, Ollie and Jo who put so much effort into Bam for me and have played a massive part in Windy’s success, and of course Lynda who has chauffeured Windy backwards and forwards to mine this year. She always believed in him and I am so glad we could prove her right.

However as exhausted as we were, HOYS wasn’t quite over for mum and I as we would be returning on the Saturday with Flute which I will cover in part two of my blog…

Chloe