In an exciting new development for 2019, the Balanced Horse Feeds Pony of the Year was added to our annual awards ceremony to acknowledge that some of the best things do come in small packages and celebrate all those brilliant ponies up to 14.2hh (148cm) from across the disciplines and beyond.
Balanced Horse Feeds is owned and run by equestrians. They have bred, shown, scurried and driven ponies since the company was founded some 35 years ago. Balanced Horse Feeds is thrilled to sponsor the Pony of the Year at the H&H awards – it is the perfect way to recognise the contribution that so many brilliant ponies have made to the equestrian world.
The H&H judging panel, including at least one independent judge, chose four ponies for the shortlist of contenders from the nominees. This award was opened to a public vote and the winner was announced at the gala awards dinner at Cheltenham on Wednesday 4 December.
Balanced Horse Feeds Pony of the Year 2019 winner
Smurf, 30, therapy pony
Smurf, a 28-inch miniature Shetland, was loose on the A1 when Lisa Walker helped police catch him and offered him a lifetime home.
Twenty-six years later, after showing hundreds of children how to care for ponies, he is now an eyeless therapy pony teaching children about disabilities and offering comfort to those with dementia. He also visits hospices and care homes, and offers support at charity fundraisers.
A highlight this year was granting a wish to a lady with dementia who believed unicorns existed. Smurf, as a golden unicorn, visited her in the care home.
Despite having had both eyes removed, Smurf shows affection to everyone he meets, earning himself worldwide fans on social media.
“Every toddler, elderly or disabled person, special-needs person, child or person in ill health whom he comforts tells me they feel blessed to meet him,” says Lisa.
Balanced Horse Feeds Pony of the Year 2019 runners-up
Hot Fuss, 32, showing
The 32-year-old gelding, known as Charlie at home, is set to fly the flag for the real golden oldies at Olympia this year after qualifying for the in-hand senior finals with his owner Laura Oughton-Auker, despite being a full 17 years older than the required age of a veteran show horse.
Charlie’s late foray into the world of showing has been a result of Laura’s dedication and commitment to the “challenging” pony. Charlie was originally bought by Laura and her family after being branded as unsuitable as a riding school pony, and he continued to challenge Laura with his cheeky personality both under saddle and when travelling.
After a break from the competition scene, Charlie returned to the ring, getting “better and better” with each season. He eventually made Laura’s dreams come true when he qualified for Olympia this summer.
Midnight Dancer II, 9, eventing
This year’s pony eventing European champion, ridden by Finn Healy and owned by his sister Ellie, was bought in Ireland as a four-year-old, when the family saw 10 just-backed Connemaras belonging
to the Doyle brothers.
“I was looking for a blood type who wasn’t massive,” explains Finn and Ellie’s mother Sarah. “After 48 hours’ hiding when he arrived, he came to the front of the stable and clearly thought, ‘I’d better behave, this would be a nice place to stay.’ He’s sharp, but never puts a foot wrong.”
Ellie, who was 12 at the time, had four years on “Casper”, which culminated in pony European team gold last year, before Finn took over, piloting the nine-year-old to double European gold.
“It’s a dream for a family like us to find and produce such a good pony; almost a miracle,” says Sarah.
Rowfantina Hetty, 21, driving
“Piglet”, as the 11.2hh Rowfantina Hetty is known in her driving partnership with her brother Eeyore, has won almost every major scurry championship, including six Horse of the Year Show championships, multiple Hickstead championships, and Assen, Amsterdam and Dublin.
But in 2019 she topped it all. Last year she had an avulsion fracture of her coffin joint, requiring months of box rest. The aim was to get her back for a happy retirement, but owner Jemma Millman dreamt that she would bounce back to what she loves best.
Doing so aged 21 was no mean feat, but Piglet’s spirit enabled her to pair up again with Eeyore to take third at her 17th HOYS and win at Hickstead, Dorset County and national championships.
“She is always up for adventure,” says Jemma. “She’s a kind, charismatic diva whose love of life could brighten the dullest day.”