NAF Natural VetCare Unsung Hero of the Year 2023

Welcome to the Horse & Hound Awards 2023, which are back for the eighth year to celebrate the stars of equestrianism, in partnership with NAF

  • Let’s hear it for those who are making sacrifices behind the scenes to enable countless others to enjoy their sport or profession, week in, week out

    The NAF Natural VetCare Unsung Hero of the Year 2023 is Sarah Hills.

    Sarah, 43, and her horse Robbie, 20, have covered more than 7,000 miles as volunteers on horseback for Suffolk Constabulary. They’ve also appeared on Crimewatch and raised more than £2,500 for children’s palliative care charity Together for Short Lives.

    Why did you get involved? “Around July 2015, pregnant with my second child, I decided to sign up as a mounted volunteer with Suffolk Constabulary. Following a devastating diagnosis in December 2013 of a spinal cord tumour, and Robbie sustaining injuries around the same time, we needed a purpose and a focus. Little did we know we would embark on this amazing journey.”

    Memorable moment: “There are too many to mention, but possibly owning Robbie comes first,” says Sarah, adding that the “kind, gentle” gelding “never puts a hoof wrong”. “My personal highlight is that he carried me through some dark times, and we embarked on this magical journey of helping others. Robbie is the unsung hero, I’m just his passenger and loving owner, who’d love nothing more than to see this award be presented to him.”

    The three other individuals who made the shortlist for the NAF Natural VetCare Unsung Hero of the Year 2023 are:

    Lorraine Mallender

    Lorraine, 67, stewards most weekends throughout the summer. In fact, she barely spent more than three days at home in August owing to her involvement in championship shows. Despite past injuries, she is always there to help, come rain or shine.

    Why did you get involved? “I first got involved when my daughter, Polly, started her judging career. When Polly stopped competing, I started undertaking more stewarding to get my show fix. My favourite classes are the lead-reins and first ridden. I always like to have a chat with the jockeys.”

    Memorable moment: “One of my favourite moments was when I asked a young man on the lead-rein how old he was. He replied he was 94 and his pony was 81, it still makes me chuckle! Stewarding is so rewarding. I would love to see everyone in the showing community give back to the sport we all love. I’m not getting younger and the demographic of the stewarding teams are, dare I say it, of the older generation.”

    Christine Pearsall

    Christine, 61, has been volunteering in the horse world for more than 40 years. She has been secretary of BSPS Area 2B for more than 15 years, runs high-profile shows and is in charge of the light horse section of Great Eccleston Agricultural Show. Christine is also a steward and judge at many fixtures of all levels – finding time to help anyone needing assistance.

    Why did you get involved? “I was due to compete at my local riding club show and my horse had been injured in the field, so I went and asked if they needed any help. The answer was a very definite, ‘Yes!’ and the rest is history.”

    Memorable moment: “There have been many. One that springs to mind was at an area winter show. It had been a cold, long day, but this young competitor came out after winning the championship in tears of joy, having never won a championship before – let alone a sash. It made me realise why we do it; to put something back into our sport so others can get the same enjoyment that I and my family have had.”

    Christine (Chris) Paine

    Chris, 65, is the chair of trustees at Trec GB – a voluntary role in which she is heavily involved. Chris gave up a huge amount of time this summer to organise the national championships and also threw on the Welsh championships with just 10 weeks’ notice.

    Why did you get involved? “I started doing Trec in 2002 – I was riding a Welsh section C and found it very open and available for everybody to have a go at. It’s huge fun,” says Chris, who trained as a technical delegate in 2007, became a trustee in 2015 and stepped up to chair in 2021.

    Memorable moment: “I haven’t had as much riding this year, so I decided to give more time to running events,” she says, adding that these included the national championships, which were a “huge undertaking” – and a month later, running the Welsh championships with her local group, Red Kite. “I get a lot of satisfaction from producing events for other people to enjoy,” she says. “Trec runs on volunteers. I think it’s right that if you enjoy something, you give back so everyone else can enjoy it too.”

    Previous winners

    Previous winners of this award include:

    • 2022: Phil Wadey & Sarah Bucks: British Horse Society (BHS) access champions
    • 2021: Adrian Bigg, for his work preserving rights of way
    • 2020: Aged 81, Esme Fordham for her unstinting work at the Remus Memorial Horse Sanctuary
    • 2019: Olivia Robertson
    • 2018: Keith Watkins
    • 2017: Mary Tuckett
    • 2016: Jane Cepok

    About the Horse & Hound Awards 2023

    The Horse & Hound Awards returned for the eighth year in a row, running again in partnership with NAF.

    As ever, the H&H Awards winners were nominated and voted for by you. We recognised both the big names who have made 2023 special and the unsung heroes who make it possible for all of us to enjoy equestrian sport and our horses, at whatever level.

    This year, we hosted a glittering ceremony at Dallas Burston Polo Club in Warwickshire where some 300 people, including Olympic and Paralympic superstars, enjoyed a glamorous evening of champagne, winner reveals, Oscar-style speeches and dancing.

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