‘We’d basically given up on her’ — how a winning rider took inspiration from Rowan Willis’s virtually unrideable mare

  • A mare previously written off as “too quirky” has returned to the showjumping ring after a seven-month absence to win a newcomers class at Summerhouse Equestrian Centre.

    The 10-year-old Mervs Thanks A Million II, an Irish-bred daughter of Flexible, was partnered to an unexpected victory earlier this month by Newbury-based Poppy Stronge.

    “We’d basically given up on her because she was so difficult,” said Poppy, who bought the mare six years ago. “We couldn’t sell her, as goodness knows where she would have ended up, so we just put her in the field.”

    Poppy then took inspiration from the method used by Australian showjumper Rowan Willis in managing his top ride, Blue Movie, who he describes as “tricky”.

    “Rowan lunges Blue Movie between shows and doesn’t ride her or jump her at all at home, so we thought we’d give that a try,” said Poppy. “It seemed to be working, so I put her on the lorry and took her to the show. She was really hairy and unclipped, but she jumped brilliantly. I’ve clipped her so she doesn’t look so awful and we have another show soon. I’m now waiting to see if this was a fluke or Rowan’s method really works. If it doesn’t, we’ll probably breed from her, as she’s lovely on the ground and would give us a nice foal.”

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    Despite the mare’s quirky nature, Poppy is a fan of mares generally.

    “I do seem to get on well with them,” said 23-year-old Poppy, who runs the family’s sport horse livery and sales business.

    “Dad’s always off racing and Mum seems to be a permanent babysitter for my brother Sam’s [a former jockey and now a racehorse trainer] son, so I’m doing all the riding and grooming at home at the moment. I love it,” she said.

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