‘We’ve grown up together’: 24-year-old Connemara pony jumps to victory on HOYS debut

  • PROLIFIC Irish working hunter pony Blackwood Fernando, made the trip over from the Emerald Isle to triumph at his first ever Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) 2021 at the impressive age of 24. He and his rider Alicia Devlin Byrne, impressed the judges with their foot-perfect clear round to land the M&M exc. 143cm working hunter pony of the year title.

    Fernando is a Connemara by Ferdia out of Dancing Queen, bred by Patrick Mcnamara.

    “We do working hunter showing in Ireland and he’s won everything including Dublin Horse Show,” explained an emotional Alicia. “He’s also done puissances and won a team chase two years ago; he just loves to jump. I’ve always wanted to bring him here, but they only held the first HOYS qualifier in Ireland this year, so we’d never even tried to qualify until this year.”

    Alicia has owned the gelding for 15 years and started competing him in 2005.

    “We’ve grown up and done everything together – I got him when I was 12,” said Alicia. “He still feels so good for his age and has had a quiet couple of years with Covid, so when the qualifier came up, I thought why not? Because of his age, I wanted him to have this chance to come over and show what he can do. The clear round was great and I was hopeful, but it was still a total shock to win.”

    Despite his confidence in the ring at HOYS, Alicia admits that Fernando is “a bit of a softy”.

    “He’s great in the ring and a real showman, but he’s quite soft and a bit cowardly in real life,” she said. “He’s been annoyed with me the last few weeks because I’ve been trying to keep him clean and he’s been wearing a hood which he hates. He’s been in an absolute sulk about it. He’ll have a break over the winter now, so no more hood!”

    When she’s not riding, Alicia is a teacher in Wicklow, Ireland.

    “I have to go and tell my boss that I won’t be back at work tomorrow as we’ll have to stay for the championship now,” she said. “He did tell me to go and win, so I’ve only done what he said!”

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