‘I was questioning my sanity before the test’: Quantock Pony Sales purchase reaches grand prix

  • The grand prix dressage world may be dominated by warmbloods, as the most popular breeds for dressage, but once in a while horses come along who break the mould. One such example is Top Of The Pops (Poppy), a 13-year-old 15.2hh roan mare bought as a foal from the Quantock Pony Sales in deepest Somerset, who recently made a successful grand prix debut with owner Rachel Pople.

    “Poppy is out of a Quantock pony mare, and by a thoroughbred/Trakehner stallion,” says Rachel, explaining that Quantock ponies are a hardy native type that run on the Quantock hills near Bridgwater, and are sought-after for their potential as good all-round ponies.

    “She was bought at six months old by the Eaves family, and I started riding her shortly after she was backed to help them out,” added Rachel, an equine chiropractor who lives on a dairy farm in Somerset. “She was sweet and light and supple, and she made me smile so much I told my mum to come and look at her, even though she was adamant we didn’t need another horse.”

    Despite her mother’s reservations, the pair bought Poppy, initially intending her to become a fun horse for Rachel’s mother to do riding club activities with. But as Poppy began to show talent for dressage under Rachel, their partnership grew, and so did their list of achievements – despite Poppy suffering from “intermittent white board phobia” during the early years.

    “I had only ever ridden to elementary before with my event horse, so me and Poppy have had to learn together all the way up through the levels which has been amazing. I didn’t expect anything at all,” says Rachel.

    The pair competed at several regional championships and Area Festival Finals on their way up the levels, as well as the Area Festival championships in 2017 at advanced medium, shortly before making their small tour debut.

    In between the birth of her two children, Rachel spent the next four years producing Poppy gently through prix st georges and inter I, saying that 2021 “was when she really started to pull test after test out of the bag”. That year, the pair competed at inter I at Area Festivals and at PSG at Wellington Premier League, with plus-60%, and in January 2022 decided to take the plunge and try their first grand prix, at Kings Sedgemoor EC.

    “My heart was set on spending the year seeking that magical plus-60% score at grand prix,” explained Rachel. “We believed it was achievable but had lots to learn. The morning of the test I was without a doubt questioning my sanity, but she nailed it. We will continue to train and improve our scores of course, but to get 62.39% is without a doubt the highlight of my horsey career on our horse of a lifetime.

    “I never thought anything like this would happen with Poppy, but she just tries so hard and keeps learning. I’ve never strived for her to become a 70% horse as if I had, I don’t think we’d have moved up, and I have had a lot more satisfaction training her through the levels. For me, it’s what it’s all about. She’s usually the smallest and cheapest horse wherever we go, but everyone is so lovely and supportive of us, especially at the big shows,” added Rachel, who trains with Sally Bell, Anna Ross and Alex Harrison, all of whom have been “instrumental”.

    “This year we’re aiming for the Midway Championships, as well as Wellington and Hartpury Premier Leagues at small tour.”

    As a “real family horse”, Poppy is also popular with Rachel’s two small children, who enjoy sitting on her, and such is the mare’s temperament and work ethic that the family have bred an embryo transfer foal from her by Eldorado, with plans to breed one more for Rachel to ride in future.

    “Poppy is such an ordinary horse, but she’s special precisely because she is so ordinary,” says Rachel. “This is dream come true stuff for us.”

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