Ceris Burns Equestrian Professional Rider of the Year 2019

This year’s Horse & Hound Awards, run in partnership with NAF, was as exciting as ever, with 11 awards presented at our glamorous gala dinner hosted at Cheltenham racecourse on Wednesday 4 December.

  • The Ceris Burns Equestrian Professional Rider of the Year award is to honour the greatest riders of our age, who are a hero and an inspiration to the rest, and whose ability is a blessing for both their horses and our sport.

    Ceris Burns, managing director of Ceris Burns Equestrian, says: “Working in rider PR we see first-hand the hard graft, dedication and talent that make professional riders into winners. The prestigious Horse & Hound professional rider of the year award celebrates this and as such we are delighted to be sponsor. Good luck to all nominees. We look forward to meeting the deserving winner on stage!”

    Previous winners of this award include:

    • 2018: Ros Canter, who became eventing individual world champion at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon
    • 2017: Nicola Wilson, who took team gold and individual bronze at the European Eventing Championships
    • 2016: Charlotte Dujardin, who added a second individual Olympic gold at Rio 2016 and helped the Brits to team silver

    The H&H judging panel, including at least one independent judge, chose five riders for the shortlist of contenders, which was then opened to a public vote and the winner announced at the gala awards dinner at Cheltenham on Wednesday 4 December.

    Ceris Burns Equestrian Professional Rider of the Year 2019 winner

    Piggy French, 39, event rider

    Piggy’s Badminton win was the culmination of 25 years of hard graft, claiming her first five-star with Trevor Dickens’ talented but tricky Vanir Kamira. It was her 25th start at the level. “Nobody has a clue what you go through to be competitive at this level,” she said after her win. “You get used to saying well done to everyone else, going home, working away and thinking about living the dream another day.” Badminton wasn’t the 39-year-old’s only success of 2019 — she won a record 14 internationals, including Blenheim CCI4*-L, was second at Burghley on Vanir Kamira and took European team silver with Quarrycrest Echo.

    Ceris Burns Equestrian Professional Rider of the Year 2019 runners-up

    Pippa Funnell, 51, event rider

    Pippa first won a five-star back in 2002, and she seemed as surprised as anyone when she triumphed at Burghley 2019 on the Clarkes’ MGH Grafton Street, 14 years after her last win at this level. Some bad falls a few years ago nearly sent the 51-year-old into retirement, but her love of her horses and the desire to realise each one’s potential kept her going. “The past two weeks have been a surreal experience,” said Pippa, who was on the silver medal-winning British European team the week before Burghley. “I hope it does inspire other riders. There has been blood, sweat and tears, but there have also been some very special moments.”

    Gareth Hughes, 48, dressage rider

    What a year it has been for Gareth Hughes. With the 13-year-old mare Classic Briolinca, whom he has owned alongside his wife Rebecca and Julia Hornig since the mare was three, Gareth was selected for the British team at the European Championships. Despite struggling with nerves in the lead-up to their first test, Gareth, 48, and Briolinca kept their cool in the buzzing Rotterdam arena, producing personal-best scores in not only the grand prix, but in the grand prix special and the freestyle, too. Finishing in the top 10 individually across all three tests, Gareth was the highest-placed British rider in both the special and the freestyle, earning 80.13% in the latter — the highest score of his entire career.

    Ben Maher, 36, showjumper

    Winning individual silver at the European Championships in August was a huge achievement for 36-year-old Ben, but his crowning moment came in New York last month when he was named the overall winner of the 2019 Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT). He has been core to British team success this year, ensuring a bronze medal and Tokyo qualification at the European Championships — he’s been credited as a huge help on the ground as well as in the saddle. These managerial attributes again shone through as he led the London Knights to victory in the Global Champions League.

    Holly Smith, 30, showjumper

    Holly has once again proved her credentials as a superb team player this year. Despite breaking her collarbone in a freak fall at home in the summer, she was back in the ring less than a month later to help Great Britain win the Aga Khan Trophy in the Nations Cup of Dublin. Soon after, Holly jumped at the European Championships as part of the bronze medal-winning team, riding Hearts Destiny, finishing 10th individually. As well as her considerable success in the saddle, Holly has been producing a fabulous string of up-and-coming horses, mentoring young riders — and not forgetting her role as mother to daughter Rosie.

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