Equo Pony of the Year 2022

Welcome to the Horse & Hound Awards 2022, which are back for the seventh year to celebrate the stars of equestrianism, in partnership with NAF

  • We all know the best things come in small packages – let’s hear it for brilliant ponies in sport and beyond.

    The 2022 winner

    The late Forester: Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) stalwart

    Forester, who died last month aged 29, served for more than two decades at South Bucks RDA, bringing joy to thousands of children. He helped ignite the passion for riding in some of Britain’s top para riders, including British medal-winners Natasha Baker and Ricky Balshaw. Natasha won her first pony trophy on the 13.2hh New Forest and credited him as the horse who gave her the belief she could “achieve her dreams”. Forester was bought for the RDA as a youngster and went on to attend RDA championships for more than 20 years, always in the ribbons.

    “He had the most amazing career,” says Di Redfern of South Bucks RDA. “He helped thousands of children, he was very popular. Horses are incredible and he was more incredible than most. He was a monkey, too! I remember in his early days he wouldn’t let helpers tack him up. I’d go in there and he would act as if butter wouldn’t melt! Thank you, Forester, for your lifetime of service. No pony has ever given more.”

    Also shortlisted were:

    Obama: Access pony

    Obama, 19, is a much-loved pony whose primary aim is to contribute to the wellbeing of the most disabled members of society. His owner Simon Mulholland set up Pony Axe S, which takes wheelchair users to the places where wheelchairs cannot take them, such as along the seashore, and driving pony Obama is a key player. Simon acquired Obama in 2009 when the pony was six.

    “I was looking for an awkward animal to train to drive, and Obama was recommended – he came off the Welsh hills and was unrideable,” says Simon. “Obama has since taken plenty of people to the beach for their first time and some for their last. He has done bucket-list trips, a wedding and a funeral. He is an important part of so many people’s lives and is recognised everywhere.”

    What makes Obama so brilliant at his job? “He always knows exactly what I want him to do and if he agrees, he does it,” says Simon. “He enjoys the work, but mostly he likes people and brings out the best in them.”

    Rincoola Babog: European pony showjumping champion

    The chestnut stallion and his teenage rider James Derwin have had an historic year. The Irish pairing were this season crowned the European individual and team pony champions, as well as taking the Irish national 148cm title. James took the European title after a jump-off with his team-mate James Brennan, ensuring an Irish one-two. They also number winning Nations Cup appearances and international grands prix among their many successes, and last month claimed the overall pony and rider champions in the pony premier series.

    Rincoola Babog, previously ridden by James’s cousin Francis Derwin, is an 11-year-old by Luidam out of a Cruising mare, Rincoola Abú, who jumped 1.60m tracks and was on winning Nations Cup teams with Capt Gerry Flynn.

    “Rincoola Babog has loads of scope and a big stride,” says James’s father, Jim. “He is very quick against the clock and loves to compete. He loves mints and absolutely loves his bum being scratched – he’ll stand for hours being massaged! He is very sweet and loves all the attention.”

    Wilderness Early Bird: champion show pony

    Wilderness Early Bird (Birdie) is a 148cm riding pony, ridden by Mia Donaldson, 17. This year, they became the first combination to win the Dick Saunders supreme ridden pony title at the Royal International twice in a row, having also won the show pony and part-bred championships.

    Birdie, a 13-year-old mare by Chiddock Time Limit out of Wilderness Fancy Spice, is produced by Team Ahern. She and Mia have a long-standing partnership going back to 2018 when Kirsty Pickles matched Mia with the pony, whom she had previously adored from afar.

    “Birdie is just mega when she is in that ring,” says Mia. “Her ears are on and just wants to win.” And she has a party trick, says Mia: “Every time the class is dismissed, she does her signature winning whinny, the cutest whinny on the lap of honour just to let everyone know how pleased she is.”

    Previous winners of this award include:

    • 2021: the late Redwings Phoenix, a piebald foal who suffered extensive burns in an apparent arson attack when he was just five weeks old. Sadly, following months of intensive care, Redwings announced that after a skin graft operation, Phoenix did not recover from the general anaesthetic
    • 2020: miniature Shetland superstar fundraiser Teddy topped the charts as your Pony of the Decade (2011-2020)
    • 2019: Smurf, 30, an amazing eyeless therapy pony who taught children about disabilities and offered comfort to those with dementia. Sadly Smurf is no longer with us, but he has left behind an incredible legacy

    About the Horse & Hound Awards 2022

    The Horse & Hound Awards returned for the seventh year in a row, running again in partnership with NAF. Some 300 people, including Olympic and Paralympic superstars, gathered to enjoy a glamorous evening of champagne, winner reveals and dancing at Cheltenham Racecourse. As in previous years, the H&H Award winners were nominated and voted for by you, the readers. We seek to recognise both the big names who have made 2022 special and the unsung heroes who make it possible for all of us to enjoy equestrian sport and our horses, at whatever level.

    You may like...