The Absorbine Inspiration of the Year award never fails to produce some of the most heart-warming stories of achievement and cases of triumph over adversity among our annual awards. This award is here to honour those individuals in the horse world who have inspired others to great deeds through their life, work or achievements.
“Absorbine, the renowned producer of grooming and horse care products around the world, is delighted to sponsor the Inspiration of the Year Award 2019,” said a spokesman.
“This award is wholly in keeping with our company ethos, which revolves around our passion for the horse. There is nothing more inspiring than being around these glorious animals, riding a beautifully turned out horse and putting in your best performance, whether that is in the show ring, on a hack or simply on the yard.
“Horses and ponies can inspire us to do good things, and we look forward to honouring the winner of this award who has in turn inspired others to great deeds through their life, work or achievements.”
Previous winners of this award include:
- 2018: Daisy Sadler, 73, she travelled nearly 1,000 miles from Banbury via Edinburgh to The Kelpies and back in a traditional horse-drawn wagon pulled by two Brabants (Belgian Drafts) Olive and Arthur, and accompanied by Tad the dog. She raised more than £21,000 for the Imogen Whitby Fund as part of The Brain Tumour Charity.
- 2017: Julie Payne, the former advanced event rider who was told by her doctor five years earlier that within two years she would be able to neither walk nor speak. In August 2017 she claimed two individual golds at the para dressage European Championships, as well as being on the gold medal-winning team.
- 2016: the late Hannah Francis, who died from bone cancer in August 2016, but whose charity Willberry Wonder Pony has raised thousands for cancer research and granting horsey wishes to those with serious illnesses.
The H&H judging panel, which included at least one independent judge, chose the following shortlist of four contenders from those nominated by our readers. This shortlist was opened to a public vote and the winner was announced at the gala awards dinner at Cheltenham on Wednesday 4 December.
Absorbine Inspiration of the Year 2019 winner
Joe Stockdale, 20
When Joe’s father Tim Stockdale died last year, the then 19-year-old put a flourishing career as a cricketer on hold to embrace the daunting prospect of taking on a string of top-class showjumpers. In less than a year, Joe, now 20, has transferred his natural sporting ability to the showjumping ring in phenomenal style, landing a grand prix at Royal Windsor and being picked for the young rider squad at the European Championships. The teenager has developed into a hugely popular presence on the jumping circuit and, along with his brother Mark and mother Laura, has set up and promoted the Tim Stockdale Foundation, raising phenomenal sums of money to help underprivileged young people in the sporting field. “Dad wouldn’t have it any other way. He’d be saying, ‘No feeling sorry for yourself, get on with it,’” says Joe.
Absorbine Inspiration of the Year 2019 runners-up
Rory Gilsenan, 50
Popular working hunter specialist and leading showman Rory Gilsenan has inspired the entire equestrian world with his fight against an aggressive stage four brain tumour. Rory was diagnosed in late November last year, just over a month after he claimed his first-ever championship at the Horse of the Year Show with the then nine-year-old Irish Sport Horse Atlantic Slim. Less than three months after undergoing an operation to remove the tumour, the Buckinghamshire-based show producer returned to the show ring to win the Royal International (RIHS) working hunter qualifier at the Ponies UK Spring Classic at Keysoe. In July, Rory — who is still undergoing treatment — and Atlantic Slim were victorious at the RIHS final where they took the working hunter supreme accolade.
Laura Goodall, 25
When showjumper Laura Goodall was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) aged 21, she wondered whether she would ever ride again. Fast forward four years, however, and Laura has not only represented Britain internationally in para showjumping, but brought home gold and silver from the Pferd International in Germany earlier this year. It’s been a tough journey — Laura had five relapses in the first year after her diagnosis, but returned to jumping in October 2017. “Riding felt horrible to start with — I really struggled,” says Laura. “I couldn’t trot and would fall off the side.” Laura persevered, returning to competition and moving into para showjumping, a sport that is yet to gain recognition from the FEI. “I was told it’s impossible and it’s not going to happen, but I’ve made it happen. If you work hard enough you’ll get there,” she says.
Khadijah Mellah, 18
The teenager made history with her fairytale win in the Magnolia Cup at the Qatar Goodwood Festival in August as the first woman to race in a hijab in Britain. Khadijah partnered the Charlie Fellowes-trained Haverland to victory in the annual charity race. The 18-year-old from Peckham, south London, sat on a racehorse for the first time in April and started riding out for Charlie just six weeks before the race. Her introduction to riding came through Brixton-based charity Ebony Horse Club. Having discovered her newfound passion in the saddle, with horses bringing her “immeasurable amounts of happiness”, Khadijah has also hinted at wanting to take out her amateur jockey licence. “Ambitious women can make it — that’s all I want to represent,” she adds. “Be ambitious and just do it.”