‘Good for the soul’: 16 feel-good moments of 2020

  • You don’t need reminding that 2020 has been an extraordinary year — probably one that most of us would like to forget. But peppered between all the tales of doom and gloom of coronavirus were some stories that put a smile back on our faces — miraculous comebacks, career-topping wins and cute foals beating all odds. This year had it all. To hopefully lift some spirits, here is a selection of this year’s best feel-good moments…

    1. Laura Collett winning the only five-star event of the year at Pau

    “It’s going to take a while for this to sink in,” said Laura after claiming her first title at the highest level at Pau Horse Trials in October riding London 52. “It was his first time at this level and to come out and lead from start to finish is what dreams are made of.”

    2. Joe Whitaker makes a winning debut as a jockey

    “I enjoyed every second of it,” said Joe, 32, after swapping showjumps for hurdles and making a winning debut with a perfectly judged ride in his first race at Newcastle in January. Joe was riding the Tjade Collier-trained Ladronne in an amateur riders’ handicap. “I didn’t know who was beside me or behind me, I just thought ‘Wait until the very last second and then give it some’,” said Joe, who was welcomed back to the winner’s enclosure by a huge turnout of Whitakers. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the chance because I’ve been so wrapped up in the showjumping.”

    3. Carl Hester makes dazzling debut with future team prospect, En Vogue

    The pair scored just under 78%, picking up some 10s from the judges, in the grand prix special at Hartpury in September, their first show together since teaming up in February. “I was really excited about what Vogue produced,” said Carl of Charlotte Dujardin’s 11-year-old Jazz x Contango gelding, who lives out in the field. “I wanted to give Vogue some confidence, and gain some understanding of him in the ring, and he was really relaxed and gave me a lovely ride – except for an unfortunate blip when he stopped for a poo in the middle of my two-tempi changes.”

    4. Popular showjumping gelding Vitiki makes five-star comeback after breaking his leg

    The chestnut and his Brazilian rider Yuri Mansur jumped in their first five-star class in February — 18 months after the gelding had been taken away in a horse ambulance at Aachen having broken his leg in a fall. “He’s feeling perfect – just the same as before, maybe even better,” Yuri said after the 1.50m class. “He’s feeling good and he’s really enjoying what he’s doing.”

    5. Bristol De Mai lands his third Betfair Chase at Haydock

    The reaction from jockey Daryl Jacob after he crossed the line to win a third Betfair Chase at Haydock on the galloping grey Bristol De Mai revealed just what an emotional triumph this was. “He comes back year after year,” said Daryl. “Stamina won the day – he has a massive heart and a lot of stamina. To win three Betfairs is very special.”

    6. 28-year-old pony qualifies for the Royal International

    “We tried to retire him, but he wasn’t having it!” said Jason Moore, co-owner of 138cm jumping pony My Bugsy Malone who proved, like fine wine, to get better with age when qualifying for the 138cm final, before the Royal International fell victim to the pandemic.

    7. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pint-sized pals

    One of the best things to come out of lockdown was the antics of Whiskey and Lulu, the Hollywood star’s miniature horses. The pair soon went viral as Arnie posted videos of them bombing round his garden and trying to eat dinner in the kitchen…

    8. Ros Canter’s comeback with a career-best score

    When the reigning world champion Ros Canter won at Burgham International Horse Trials with the great Allstar B in August, it marked the first time she had tested herself in top-class company since the birth of her daughter the year before. She not only delivered Burgham’s best-ever dressage test with 19.7, but it was also a career-best for the rider. She won with a finishing score of 21.7 — also the lowest in the event’s history. “I’m very proud of him,” she said of Allstar B.

    9. Buttons the orphaned Welsh Mountain pony (pictured top)

    Bringing joy to many in such a difficult year was Buttons, an orphaned foal who was looked after by the Vigors family at Hillwood Stud and whose antics won her many fans. “Buttons was the littlest thing of all creatures great and small,” said Tracy, who has been sharing updates of the charismatic “Baby B” or “ButtButt” playing, snoozing with a cuddly Pooh Bear (pictured above), making equine and human friends, cruising round the farm, chatting to owners and helping out around the house and yard. “She’s so good for the soul,” said Tracy. “I’ve had so many messages from people from all walks of life saying she’s made their day, or really picked them up or given them a purpose to their day.”

    10. “I feel fine — except for my arse!”

    At the age of 60, Norwegian showjumper Geir Gulliksen was celebrating winning his first ever World Cup qualifier in Gothenburg in February. However, proving that horses are the best levellers, “Jimmy” then hit the deck during an incident on his lap of honour. “I feel fine, actually — except for my arse!” he said, having bounced to his feet and left the ring with a big smile. “I wouldn’t change anything that happened today. Even to fall off, it doesn’t matter, I couldn’t be happier. This is the highlight of my career.”

    11. Alan the £5 pony qualifies for dressage championships

    A £5 pony with the brilliant moniker Alan, who “got into dressage by accident”, qualified for the Petplan Equine Area Festival Championships with owner Vicci Smith. “I wasn’t looking for a horse but thought he sounded ace and I’d give him a chance,” she said. “We agreed I’d buy him for £1 but when I went to get him, I didn’t have a pound coin, only a £5 note and it felt a bit wrong to be doing change! I think because he doesn’t look like a typical dressage horse but still goes correctly, the judges warm to him.”

    12. The great stallion Upsilon recovers from life-threatening illness

    “It’s been worth all the struggle,” said event rider Tom Carlile after seeing his top stallion Upsilon return to work some 21 months after being taken critically ill with a form of encephalitis, which affected his nervous system. “It’s been a very long time for him but we did it very gradually. It’s nice to see him happy again; it was worth all the struggle. The reason I’m into horses is because I love them, and if he can live nice days with us, I’ll be happy.”

    13. “I thought ‘no, it can’t be’,”: rider reunites with her first pony

    Jennifer Barnett had lost touch with her first pony Josh, so couldn’t believe it when she saw the pony her young daughter Isla had been allocated to ride for her first lesson at Cheshire Riding School and recognised the Welsh section B straight away. “I thought ‘no, it can’t be’,” she said. “I burst into tears because I couldn’t believe it, and was an emotional wreck the whole lesson.” Six months later, she’d bought him back. “He’s still got all the same traits; he has so much character, I’ve always said he’s more like a big dog than a pony,” she said. “Every time I walk in the barn, it makes me want to burst into tears because I can’t believe he’s come back to me.

    14. Two Shetlands “expelled for bad behaviour” during the days of home schooling

    During lockdown, members of the Furness and District Branch of the Pony Club were asked to write school reports for their ponies as one of a number of challenges set by mum Rachel Cooper. The resulting assessments were very amusing – one of our favourites, written by Katie Thompson about her pony Halliwell Starlight read: “General behaviour: rush to registration and sometimes late for first class due to being quite vain making sure he’s looking handsome and turned out very well to attract the ladies.” But not all were A-grade students. The Price family’s two Shetlands could not be reported on as they have been expelled for bad behaviour…

    Continued below…

    Watch the Horse & Hound Awards 2020 virtual ceremony

    15. Grand prix dressage rider makes miraculous recovery

    Spanish dressage rider Juan Matute Guimon collapsed at home in May and was airlifted to hospital in Madrid with a bleed on the brain. He finally woke after two operations and 25 days in a coma, leaving hospital at the start of July. He was back in the saddle by August and hopes to ride at the Tokyo Olympics. “The fact I am here today is a miracle,” he says. “But for the person in the hospital it’s not as bad as it is for the family – I can’t imagine how hard it was for them. I know my mum was like a lion trying to fight to help me. I get so emotional seeing all the messages I’ve had, too – that’s the beauty of the equestrian world. We fight in the ring but really we’re a family, all pushing for each other.”

    16. And finally… Corona claims apt dressage title

    A horse with a very topical name claimed the medium gold freestyle at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships 2020 at Hartpury in August. Claire Knowles rode the appropriately named 13-year-old mare Corona S to victory and we all raised a wry smile…

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