What makes superstar horse? It could be a horse competing at the highest level, but to most of us, it is a horse that gives us a lot of pleasure, gets us away from the stresses and strains of everyday life, or allows our kids to gain confidence and have amazing experiences. I love a success story, so I’m going to write this blog about some equine superstars, starting with Breeze (pictured top), one of my polocrosse ponies.

Last weekend saw the culmination of our polocrosse season. Our club, Kent Target, sent six teams to the national championships, and came back with three wins in the primary juniors, open juniors and the D grade.

I had really high expectations for our A grade team, but we went down by two goals in an excellent final against Highlanders. I did get some compensation as my mare, Sea Breeze, was awarded best playing pony, which is the award that definitely means the most to me.

I can now look back on my chanting of “stay patient” every time I rode Breeze, with a mixture of relief and satisfaction. Four years ago, when I was abroad, Penny got a message from well-known breeder and producer of polo ponies, Alan Kent.

“I’ve got one for you. Bit too hot for polo” was the text. I arrived home to find a three-year-old thoroughbred tied on the yard standing on two legs. “But she is so beautiful, and Alan thinks she has loads of ability,” came the response to the shaking of my head.

However, the first ride on her confirmed that she was something pretty special, and although she has tested me to the limits of my patience, has developed an unhealthy obsession with one of my other horses, Banjo, is totally neurotic about most things, and a nightmare to ride anywhere other than on the field, she is the best horse I have played on and I just love her! I am so happy that she won this award, she was just outstanding all weekend and gave me everything she had.

Gillian and Wally

There must be something in the water as my sponsored riders have been doing really well with their horses too. I have been working with dressage rider, Gillian Portus, for some years now, and I first helped her with “Wally” when he was a young horse. He had a lot of ability, but was hyper-sensitive and easily distracted, particularly when he was in different environments. Gillian has worked so hard to draw out his undoubted talent, and I am so delighted for her that he has just won his first prix st georges dressage test — especially as only 18 months ago, she was ready to give up on him. Again, this is testament to keeping the faith, and large helpings of patience and perseverance.

Another sponsored rider, 17-year-old Emily Nicol, is having a great eventing season. Her top horse is Annaghmore Boomlander, on whom she represented the south east at the national under-18 eventing championships at Frickley Park. Not only did her team win, but the combination came second out of 72 entrants.

Emily and Lander

“Lander” is the horse that Emily is gaining so much confidence and experience on, and got her onto the GB training programme: a real superstar. However, I have been involved with starting Emily’s young horses, and I am delighted that they are all out and performing well, with good placings in British Eventing (BE) novice classes for Simba, and in four-year-old classes for Sansa and Arya. I have a real soft spot for Arya, who you can check out at the British four-year-old championships at Osberton at the end of September. I think she could be Emily’s next superstar, and I really enjoy following their progress.

As I mentioned in my last blog, Camilla Kruger, a Zimbabwean eventer who went to the Rio Olympics, has moved into the yard. So, we really do have a bona fide equine superstar at Risebridge Farm in the form of Biarritz, or “Sam the Man” as he is affectionately known.

Millie and Sam at Rio

I was chatting to Millie about what makes him so good, and whether she knew she had a top horse on her hands when she first bought him as a four-year-old. She said that she bought Sam to sell as a showjumper as he is a full KWPN. He was a nice, willing horse, but it wasn’t until Millie starting working with Darrell Scaife that Sam’s potential as an event horse was uncovered. When the horse that she had Olympic hopes for was injured, attentions turned to Sam, who went from novice to three-star in just one season, qualifying for Rio, and allowing Millie to become the first rider to represent Zimbabwe at the Olympics. Although speed is never going to be his strong point, Sam and Millie went clear round a tough cross-country course; Millie with a huge smile on her face as her childhood dreams became a reality, and Sam with his ears pricked the whole way round. I asked her what made him so special, to which she replied: “His heart. He just gives me everything.”

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So, I guess that what makes horses into superstars. It isn’t necessarily just their ability or training. What sets them apart is their amazing generosity, and their desire to keep trying and their willingness to perform when the chips are down, be it at the top level, or at your local riding club event. We are very lucky to have them.

Jason

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