Each of our short-listed riders for the professional rider of the year award have hit the headlines this year, for all the right reasons — and are a real inspiration to the rest of us. The award winner was revealed at the H&H Awards dinner at Ascot Racecourse on 2 November.
*WINNER* Nicola Wilson, eventer
This ever-popular rider — always polite, with a smile for everyone — has been a frequent and reliable British team member since 2009, when she and Opposition Buzz first acted as pathfinders. Since then, she has won European team gold twice, plus bronze and silver, Olympic team silver and world team gold. But this year, Nicola has surpassed all her achievements with her first individual medal — a bronze at the European Championships in Strzegom on Bulana. The pair were seventh after dressage, moved up to fourth by finishing just one second over the cross-country time and then secured the team gold with a showjumping clear under pressure.
Also on the shortlist:
Cian O’Connor, showjumper
The bitter disappointment of not going to the Rio Olympics last summer was put behind the 37-year-old Irishman as he took to the podium at the European Showjumping Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden in August. Sitting in the silver-medal position going into the final round, he was excruciatingly close to taking home an individual gold — but instead settled for bronze, when his 11-year-old stallion Good Luck tipped a pole on a flimsy upright. However, that didn’t take away from the elation of spearheading the Irish to a glorious team gold, the first time in 16 years that they have been able to call themselves the European champions.
Spencer Wilton, dressage
Together with Jen Goodman’s Supernova II, Spencer has notched up some stellar results over the past 12 months — and until the Europeans in Sweden, the pair were unbeaten in 2017. But the pressure was on in Gothenburg, when the British dressage team was down to three riders after Gareth Hughes’ Don Carissimo, went lame. After a week that saw some brilliance (Spencer and “Neville” led the grand prix special until the final stages) and disappointment (the atmosphere was too much for Neville at times), the Brits finished in fourth. But, said Spencer: “I’ve learnt a lot from this whole experience and it’s a boost to come next year with more confidence and, hopefully be more competitive.”
Allister Hood, showing
You’d be excused for resigning yourself to defeat on seeing Allister Hood in your class this year, as he has been riding a sizeable wave of success. Off the back of his cob, Our Cashel Blue, standing supreme at Horse of the Year Show last October, the ribbons have proved no less forthcoming this year. He stood reserve supreme with Annabel Jenks’ Diamonds Are Forever at Royal Windsor in May. But the showstopper came at the Royal International Horse Show when he clinched his seventh British Horse Society ridden horse supreme championship, this time with Diamonds Are Forever. The fact he also took the reserve spot with Our Cashel Blue made the feat all the more remarkable.