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‘A lot of people told us to have her put down’ — quirky Exmoor mare who was at death’s door off to Hickstead

After taking a malnourished, nervous Exmoor pony under her wing 10 years ago, Rachael Fear’s dream of qualifying for the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) finally came true. The hotel bar manager from Somerset rode her own 14-year-old mare to win the small breeds open ridden class at BSPS Area 13B, subsequently taking the ticket.

Hawkwell Valentine (Vally) and Rachael were first acquainted a decade ago, when a friend told her of an Exmoor foal she had heard was for sale at a local farm.

“When I went to view the pony, it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t a foal, but actually a four-year-old mare, who was severely underweight,” said Rachael. “You could see every bone in her body. I just said then and there that I would take her home — I just couldn’t leave her.”

When Rachael got her home, the real work began as Vally was completely unhandled.

She continued: “She was wild. We couldn’t do anything with her and it took us the best part of a year to get her to trust us.”

“We eventually got her on side but had to take it really slowly. After getting the tack on, we started to break her, but she was never, and still isn’t, very good to get on — if you tried to stand still, then the problems would begin. I fell off a few times, and even knocked myself out once.

“A lot of people told us to have her put down as she was dangerous, but I just couldn’t give up on her. I decided to send her away to a professional who worked wonders. Initially, it took five people to help try and get on her, but six weeks in, she was trotting and cantering like a normal pony. Nevertheless, she is still very quirky — I still have to just ‘get on and go.’”

The pair contended a few showing classes and also competed in some dressage and quadrille competitions, but it wasn’t until last season that they really started to show their potential in the show ring.

“The problem we’ve always had is that I get so nervous and she will never stand, so it’s a bad combination,” says Rachael. “But suddenly it just clicked and we started doing well. 

“Our Royal International qualifier didn’t bode well during the warm up, as she kept cantering on the wrong leg. But in the class she just went amazingly. All I kept thinking was how happy I was with our show, but when we were called forward as winners I started to cry, I couldn’t believe it.

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“She has been such a difficult pony, not just in training but we’ve also nearly lost her a few times. During winter she is so hard to keep weight on and she also gets temperature colic if not managed properly — it’s safe to say she has not been the easiest.”

The duo will head down to Hickstead for their open class and aim to compete in a couple of Horse of the Year Show qualifiers in the season.

“Whatever happens, I’m very proud of her,” said Rachael.

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