‘Something wasn’t right’: pony overcomes ulcer diagnosis en route to Hickstead place

  • Home-produced coloured pony Catch Me If You Can is set to make his debut at the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) next month after qualifying for the small traditional/native/cob final.

    Lesley Bunker-Nixon’s Catch Me If You Can (Harry) is a seven-year-old traditional who stands at 13hh. He is ridden by Lesley’s friend Helen Butcher and the pair produce him from home.

    The gelding was bought in 2019 as a three-year-old. While he had been backed, Lesley and Helen gave him plenty of time to mature and grow on.

    “He was very immature and so we left him until the following year, in the hope that we could get him out to some in-hand shows,” says Helen, who works as a delivery driver. “However, Covid hit and put paid to that idea.”

    In early 2021, Helen underwent a hip replacement that put her out of action for several months.

    “We asked a friend to come and do a bit of work with Harry but it soon became apparent that something wasn’t right with him; he wouldn’t go forward and wasn’t enjoying his job,” Helen continues. “He ended up at the vets for scoping and he was diagnosed with grade four stomach ulcers. He was treated with injections for several months and he was only allowed to do very light work, so competing him under saddle had to take a back seat again.

    “In 2022, after a wet winter, Harry was brought back into work, but with his lack of ridden experience he was still only able to do a couple of novice local shows at the end of the season,” Helen adds. “The start of 2023 was also very wet, meaning his ridden work was again very intermittent. We missed all the early shows due to being unable to ride on the wet ground, but finally got out at the end of April to a local show and another show in May.”

    Helen and Harry attended one RIHS qualifier this term, held at Rutland County, as she explains: “We went with no expectations as this was only his fifth ever show under-saddle. To our delight he stood second to an experienced pony, which gave us the qualification!

    “We muddle along on a shoestring budget with no facilities, no arena, electricity, hacking or even water, which is a mammoth task when bathing and trying to keeping a hairy coloured clean. Harry is shown from the field and we try to make the best of what we’ve got.

    “Lesley and I are both in our 60s and we’re still working full-time. We are proud to have achieved our qualification against all odds.”

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