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Festive stars: ‘Learn and move on, and don’t dwell on the bad days:’ the multi-HOYS winning jockey with an inspirational outlook…

Over this festive season, we are shining a light on up-and-coming talent across the equestrian disciplines. These are riders you really need to keep an eye out for during the 2020 season...

Continuing the series is multi Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) and Royal International (RIHS) pony rider Harriet Dennison. Harriet is one of the most consisent young pilots on the show circuit and has forged a name for herself after landing accolades at all major shows across the country:

1. ‘I’ve been riding for as long as I can remember’

Harriet has been involved in showing before she could walk.

“I have been riding ponies from as long as I can remember,” says Harriet. “My mum can remember taking me to Ponies (UK) in the August and I was only born in the July.

“Mum is best friends with producer Julie Helliwell. Both her daughters, Rachael and Rebecca, competed in showing classes as did my mum and Julie. I followed in their footsteps.”

2. Gymkhanas on a Shetland

Harriet’s first experiene of equestrian competition was when she started attending local riding club shows with a Shetland. She would ride in the gymkhana and fun classes, before eventually progressing into the BSPS classes, ranks she has dominated in the present day.

“My brother rode at that stage so I often got to ride his ponies around the show grounds before I was old enough to compete,” she continues. “I used to go to Rachael (Helliwell’s) three times a week and practise on the lunge. I would ride whatever I could. Luckily for me, mum and all her friends were all into horses so wherever I went I was involved with them.

“I was very fortunate to be able to ride lots of different ponies from a young age, which I think has helped my riding greatly.”

3. The first ‘proper’ showing pony

Harriet credits the show pony Barkway Blackjack as being her first ‘proper’ showing pony. The lead rein gelding went onto win at the RIHS with Harriet in 2007.

“This was my first big win,” she says. “He lived at home with us but Rachael led me as Mum struggled to run fast enough and keep up with him in the ring. He was a lovely, kind pony but wasn’t the easiest. He really taught me how to be a quite, balanced and sensitive rider.”

4. Two special victories

“I have two wins which are really special to me,” says Harriet. “Taking the supreme pony title at HOYS in 2011 on my 122cm show hunter pony Crystal Vision was amazing. Two years later (2013) at HOYS, I took show hunter pony champion and show pony champion in the same year.”

5. ‘It’s all go go go’

Based at home in Nether Kellet, Harriet has a small yard with a few liveries and her own working hunter pony rides. Alongside this, Harriet also runs her own dog grooming business. Her flat showing ponies are based with the Helliwell family in Kendal.

“We co-own them and I ride them in the ring,” she says.  “I go and ride them whenever possible to help out. I am just finishing my BHS stage exams and will hopefully gain my BHSAI qualification this year. I have a few local clients who I teach and I combine all this with my dog grooming business. I do occasionally ride for other people, but we are that busy at shows I struggle for time; it’s all go go go.”

6. Taking the rough with the smooth

When asked about her attitiude to showing, Harriet says she respects all of her results in equal measures:

“I don’t like bad losers and rude competitors. I was taught from a young age that showing is just one persons opinion on that day and that you have to take the rough with the smooth. The judge’s decision is final and whether you agree with it or not, you have to accept it.”

7. ‘I love bringing the novices through the ranks’

Harriet has an exciting team lined up for 2020, including some new novice mounts.

“I am really excited about my new novice intermediate show hunter, Kirtle Bertie Bassett,” she continues. “I love bringing the novices through the ranks. It can be quite challenging but I enjoy seeing their progression throughout the season.

“I will also be doing a bit of working hunter and hunting with my 153cm show hunter Merrycorner Mister Bui. We are still showing him in flat classes but he seems to like jumping so we will do this too to keep him fresh. I’m lucky to be riding Leavensthorpe Gold Rush (2019 RIHS intermediate champion) for Meg Edmondson. The whole team of ponies is fantastic; I’m looking forward to getting out showing again next year.”

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8. Don’t dwell on the bad days

“When things don’t go quite right in the show ring, or if the ponies go badly, it can be hard not to feel bad,” says Harriet. “I know how much work the whole team puts in and I do feel responsible for any errors. I have learned over the years that you have to put those mistakes behind you. Learn and move on, and don’t dwell on the bad days.”

9. Preparation and finesse

“Preperation is so important. You must think about your show, use your ring well and don’t rush. Make sure you show your horse’s paces off and always include a good walk.”

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