The adventures of Hero, Heidi and Hobday: ‘It seemed like all my horse dreams were crashing to the floor’

  • Actress and musician Hero Douglas is an 18-year-old owner whose horse is based with Ben Hobday

    June 2016 — I was weeping at Somerford Park in Cheshire almost inconsolable. I’d just dropped off Heidi (Aberllanerch High Tide), my 15.2hh Welsh part-bred, at Ben Hobday’s yard and it seemed like my horse dreams were crashing to the floor. I was no longer a rider but a seventeen-year-old owner without the means to bank roll the journey ahead.

    What was more, the TV show The Voice and the director of the play I’d been up for hadn’t confirmed if I was on board. I’d probably not get either and felt like running back into Ben’s yard wailing “I’ve made a terrible mistake, give me back my horse”. Suddenly an email pinged up on my phone saying; “We are delighted to offer you the part of Cecilia in The European premier of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon“.

    Heidi and me

    Wow, that meant I opened in two weeks in the West End in my first ever acting role and needed to perfect a 30s Hollywood accent in the next two days! On the drive home to Capel Curig in North Wales I got news from The Voice saying we’d love to have you on the show. I’d made the right decision, riding was off for the summer and Ben loved Heidi so she’d be alright. My sensible self knew I should sell Heidi or give her the summer off, but I really felt she had potential and couldn’t let her languish on a mountainside. One of the first jumping lessons I had on Heidi was with Ben and he told me then she was special. The video below is me having a lesson with Ben on my old pony a few years ago.

    I bought Heidi for £3,000 in 2014. I’d been looking for ages and was beginning to wonder if I’d ever find the right one. Heidi was located near Rhyl, which wasn’t a promising location for a superb horse. However as soon as I got on the rising five-year-old she felt special. I’m a musician and at the time was at Chetham’s School of Music as a 15-year-old harpist. I can’t ride without counting beats, a habit ingrained from orchestral playing. Very few horses have perfect rhythm and this one did. I’d found my next horse and immediately said I’d like to buy her. Most breeders are extolling you with their horse’s virtues, but not Sarah. She kept telling me all Heidi’s flaws such as weaving. I didn’t care, I knew I’d found the one.

    I’m lucky as I’ve always been able to fund my riding albeit on a shoestring. I play at lots of weddings as a singer and harpist, which is a good earner and at the time was presenting a documentary for S4C about divorce and the impact on children. This was handy as I had a £1,000 in my account which I swiftly transferred to Sarah. She very kindly delivered her the next day with the agreement that I’d pay the remaining balance over the next few weeks. She even gave me her passport so we could do a BE80(T) a few days later.

    The video below is of Heidi and I at an Andrew Heffernan jumping camp last May.

    I often wonder what makes Heidi so special. I think being born on a farm and living alongside her mum until she was four was a great foundation. Sarah backed her very gently and had only done low-key unaffiliated local shows. I don’t think Heidi has ever had a bad experience and this means she trusts her rider implicitly. When we went to our first event at Bold Heath Horse Trials, her eyes were on stalks but she loved every moment of it and we came home with our first rosette for third place. However my riding with Heidi was never competitive. We bundled along in British Eventing (BE) competitions, moving slowly up to BE100, but her new life with Ben is a very different and terrifying story!

    Heidi and I eventing

    I missed out on their first events last summer as I was performing in London so couldn’t get there, but they came ninth and then they won their next two BE100s which was very exciting. Ben then announced she was ready for novice. My play finished the night before and so I managed to get to this event, the last one for her in 2016 at Norton Disney.

    I hadn’t quite factored in, until I was standing their watching Ben and my girl together, that I had a huge responsibility to both of them. I assumed being an owner was just a massive financial headache, but actually the worst part is worrying about anything happening to either of them. There was none of that gentle riding checking out the scenery that I do as I trundle around a BE course. Ben went hell for leather and my heart was in my mouth. It was incredibly exciting though and she got a double clear coming fourth in her first novice.

    Ben and Heidi at Burnham Market

    This season has been amazing so far with a win last weekend at Breckenbrough in the novice and a third in the novice section at Burnham Market International Horse Trials last weekend, where they finished on a dressage score of 26.5. Ben took seven horses there and rode them in classes from novice to CIC3* and had double clears with every one and six were placed in the top 10. He’s a star. However I was really thrown when he rang me yesterday and said enter her into the intermediate at Richmond. He thought I’d put the phone down as I could barely speak as my brain froze with anxiety at taking such a big step. I keep asking myself, is my Heidi ready for intermediate?

    I’ve just had a great time getting my horse fix at Pen Llyn — the largest Lusitano stud in the UK while doing a shoot with the amazingly talented equine photographer Ciara Doone Rush.

    My shoot with the Lusitanos

    I hope you enjoy my new blog and I’ll keep you updated as the year progresses.


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