Vanessa Compton’s 2002 HOYS ridden supreme, Castle Comet, finally earned his Olympia crown with a foot-perfect performance under the eagle eyes of judges Len Bigley and Anne Pritchard. He headed a high-class championship field that included all the season’s major players.

It was a fitting climax to the glittering career of this charismatic Connemara stallion, who was bought by Vanessa in Ireland as a two-year-old. He has claimed every major honour in the show ring and now bows out of ridden classes.

“I wanted to retire him at the top,” said a tearful Vanessa, who is a nurse at Addenbrookes hospital and shows Connemaras as a hobby. “He really is the pony of a lifetime — he suits me in every way and is just a superstar in the ring. I’m so very lucky to have had him.”

This was success at the third Olympia attempt for Comet, who was best of breed and fourth overall last year, but the 10th appearance at the show for Vanessa, whose previous best result was reserve with another Connemara, Chiltern Royalty, in 1999.

It was the fourth year running Comet has qualified for Olympia, but he was unable to make his 2002 appearance because Vanessa’s father was ill.

Since launching his career with the junior championship at Clifton in Ireland in 1996, Comet has been consistently in the ribbons. This year’s tally includes the prestigious in-hand title at Royal Dublin and a win at the Royal International.

“He’ll do more stud work now and just show in-hand. I’d love to see one of his offspring here one day,” said Vanessa, who was also quick to credit Katie Moore and Robert Allcock for their help with the pony throughout his showing career.

This year’s championship saw many HOYS and RIHS victors again locked in battle and it was the NEC winner and RIHS champion who stood reserve this time.

Northlight Galliano, the Waterhouse family’s home-bred Welsh section B stallion — whose sire, Ernford Bellboy, was also best of breed here in his day — is another bowing out of flat ranks, although he will continue to contest working classes. This remarkably consistent pony has qualified for HOYS every year since he was four and this was his third — and best — Olympia appearance.

York-based Danielle, who now works in her father’s estate agency, produces Galliano at home and has help from Katy Carter at shows.

“I’ve been concentrating on workers since he qualified for this,” she said. “He loves his jumping and was reserve supreme at Gwent and champion worker at Area 4. We’ve also got three foals due by him, so the future is very exciting.”

One of the smallest animals stood third. The grey Shetland mare, Lady Eleanor, rarely fails to enchant and this occasion was no exception as she went about her job with charm and enthusiasm for 11-year-old Isobel Barr.

“She’s a real family pony and also does Pony Club,” explained Isobel’s mother. “Her speciality is ‘crossing the river’, which she always wins!”

The Welsh section A gelding Glenwood Caradog stood fourth for his new jockey, Alice Minns. The former premium stallion was previously produced by Laura Collett, who rode him to stand first and second at HOYS. He was also reserve here in 2002.

For the second year running, the Edwards family’s lovely Connemara Aran Andy was fifth, after giving a superb show with jockey Anthony Perkins. This was another HOYS-winning pair.

The remaining place went to Richard Miller’s home-bred Welsh section A stallion, Heniarth Quip, another making a farewell ridden appearance before concentrating on a stud career.

On a day that saw some ponies go better than expected and others not so well, there was some surprise when Bill Ireland’s reigning HOYS champion, Kilmannan Black Velvet, third here last year, did not figure in the final placings, although she did take the breed award.

Stowbrook Jenny Wren, the Exmoor pony who won last year, was also a little lacking in sparkle and she, too, remained out of the reckoning this time.

Jackie Murphy turned the tables on some big winners to take the section D breed award with Ffoslas Ceredig, the Border Union and Royal Lancs champion who is another to combine competing with a stud career.

The section C award went to equine sports science graduate Sarah Wilstrip with her lightly shown seven-year-old, Rhosgaer Black Diamond.

  • This report was first published in Horse & Hound (30 December, ’04)


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