‘Our combined age is 90’: horse and rider fly the flag for golden oldies with Windsor win

  • A horse and rider who have a combined age of 90 years old reigned at the 2024 Royal Windsor Horse Show for the second year in a row. Equine vet Rebecca Hamilton-Fletcher and her 26-year-old Connemara Smokin Gun (Gunner) reclaimed the senior-plus ridden pony title they also won in 2023.

    Gunner, an Irish-bred Connemara, was formerly Rebecca’s daughter Bethany’s competition pony. Over the years he’s turned his hoof to most disciplines, from working hunter, to eventing, to Pony Club activities. Gunner and Bethany were both 12 when they were first acquainted and together they enjoyed a glorious competition run, winning national titles as both an individual combination and as part of a team. In 2013, they were Pony Club novice eventing team champions and the following year they were individual champions at the National Schools Equestrian Association championships.

    Rebecca, 64, took Gunner’s reins when Bethany went to university.

    “I stole him from her seven years ago when I found my riding gear still fit me,” Rebecca confirms. “We are still competing at elementary dressage, and in eventing and showing, most recently dipping our toes into the veteran scene.”

    During his time in the show ring with Rebecca, Gunner has lifted titles at Royal Bath and West, Dorchester and Mid-Somerset shows. Ahead of their most recent Windsor appearance, Rebecca says she did feel the pressure: “There’s always a risk going back to a big show where you’ve won before, and I do feel pressure not to let him down as he’s still Bethany’s precious boy.

    “I’m usually the oldest rider at a show, too, and compared to all the younger riders who are so fit and well I do worry that I’m perhaps not as elegant. However, Gunner is a true performer who loves the job. Our win at Royal Windsor was an absolute thrill, and it’s great to fly the flag for the oldies, both horse and rider.”

    ‘He thrives off being competitive’ – Rebecca Hamilton-Fletcher

    This year the pair have also been trying working equitation for the first time.

    “It’s something completely new to us both and variety is key for him; he knows what he’s doing so I very rarely school him,” Rebecca says. “He can be a bit of a diva if he knows what’s expected of him, so equitation has given him something completely different to think about.

    “I also hack him regularly on the New Forest so he can combine work with enjoyment. I do lateral work and trot up hills over the heather which really engages his core and works on strengthening. He loves a gallop across the forest, too, to let off some steam.

    “He’s out in the field for half of the day or during the evenings when the flies are bad. We’re lucky to have no lush grass where we live, so he’s trickle fed good quality hay, while also being given TopSpec feed which he’s been on for years.

    “We’re lucky he’s never had a day’s lameness in his life, thanks to the quality of his feet and limbs. He also thrives off being competitive.”

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