‘She is amazing’: former racehorse and crowd favourite proves unbeatable on showing debut

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  • During her stellar career in National Hunt racing, Lady Buttons garnered a huge following. She was sometimes referred to as “The Queen of the North” and collected £292,471 for Yorkshire-based trainer Phil Kirby and owner/breeders Jayne and Keith Sivills. Now her racing career is over, she has taken to her new life in the show ring like a duck to water, winning all three of her classes at her first show.

    In September 2020, Lady Buttons was retired after suffering a minor injury. Then hopes of breeding from her were dashed when she was found to have under-developed ovaries and would never be able to produce a foal. In the light of that discovery, the then 11-year-old mare made a tentative return to training at the start of this season, with a comeback run possible if she displayed her previous ability on the gallops.

    Lady Buttons

    Lady Buttons during her racing career

    That did not prove the case, and as a result the mare was retired again.

    “Izzy Kirby, Phil’s daughter, initially rode her but then she moved away to attend a performing arts school, and so Buttons has moved in with me and I’ve started her retraining from scratch,” says Jennie Durrans, who was Buttons’ work rider in the final two seasons of her racing career while still at Phil’s. “My partner Adam Nicol rode Buttons in all of her races, apart from when he was injured.”

    Buttons arrived at Adam and Jennie’s yard in Seahouses in Northumberland, where they now train racehorses, in February this year, and her retraining started.

    “She’s had to learn how to slow her jumping down and how to make a shape and really use her back end, so along with my trainers John Thelwall and Alastair Parkin, we have been using lots of pole work,” explains Jennie. “When she arrived, she couldn’t really even walk in a straight line, so we really went back to basics and started from scratch. She’s come on leaps and bounds and is the type of horse that you just look forward to riding. She’s not too fizzy, but not too laid back and just loves to learn.”

    Lady Buttons

    Jennie and Buttons enjoying a dip in the sea at home

    Jennie says that Buttons is “brilliant and easygoing”.

    “She’s lovely to be around and lives with my other two ex-racehorses, one of which is her ‘boyfriend’. She has settle into life here really well.”

    Buttons made her showing debut at Alnwick Ford on 30 July, after the Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) classes were relocated from a very soggy Burgham Horse Trials. And it was a very successful debut indeed, with Buttons and Jennie winning all three of the classes they entered, including the RoR amateur ridden show series qualifier, which has its final at Aintree in September.

    “I never really thought of Lady Buttons as being a show horse – I thought she was more of an eventer, but. thought as the show was down the road, it would be good practice for her to go and ride among a group of horses,” explains Jennie. “In the first class, she was a bit edgy in the line-up a couple of times, but then she was better in the second class and by the time she got to the third class and the championship, she was a pro.

    “She’s very intelligent, loves being ridden and just loves to please. She enjoys getting out and about and she was brilliant – she was on and off the horsebox and stood totally chilled in-between classes. I couldn’t fault her, to be honest.”

    Lady Buttons

    Jennie Durrans and Lady Buttons. Credit: Marcia Thompson

    Jennie’s next aim for Lady Buttons is to take her to the RoR Championships at Aintree and then contest a couple of unaffiliated one-day events before the end of the season, given that Buttons is a super jumper.

    “I just need to take her cross-country schooling,” says Jennie. “She is a cracking jumper and I’ve had to get used to how much power she’s got, because she’s got a whopping great big back end!

    Lady Buttons

    Jennie and Buttons jump schooling

    “Buttons is still owned by Jayne and Keith Sivills, and I’m still in touch with them – I send them lots of photos and they come and visit her.”

    During her illustrious career some of Lady Buttons’ finest days were at Doncaster, where she won the Group Two Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle twice as well as two victories in the Listed Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares’ Chase.

    She was also dominant in the Mares’ Hurdle at Wetherby, another Listed contest, finishing second in in 2017 and then winning in both 2018 and 2019.

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