Road to HOYS: Rider spends last few pennies on diamond in the rough with a real rags to riches tale

  • In October, Michelle Feeney will watch her own horse Ballyhoulihan Rags To Riches (Raegan) debut at the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) in the ladies’ show horse of the year final. While the elegant grey mare is now the perfect show horse, she wasn’t always destined for the dizzy heights of competition.

    In the summer of 2016, Michelle was on the hunt for a new horse after she’d lost her beloved large hack, Rajah.

    “I was sent a screenshot of a very plain three-year-old with no name from Cork in Ireland,” says Michelle. “While I knew she wasn’t to be the next Rajah, I loved the look of her. I’d recently been through a divorce and armed with my last £1,000, I contacted her owner, had her vetted and arranged for her to head over to the UK.”

    Five weeks later, Michelle welcomed a “very bewildered grey mare” onto her yard:.

    Raegan when she arrived in the UK

    “When she stepped off the lorry my friend even said ‘what have you bought’,” Michelle continues. “She had no name, no breeding, no past, but she definitely had a future.

    “I later found out that she had been discovered in a barn by her previous owner — she had no food and was a couple of weeks off never seeing daylight again.”

    Upon her arrival, Michelle also found out that her new purchase — who she named Raegan — had previously suffered from a broken jaw, and that she was incredibly fearful of men.

    “It took our farrier over six months until he could trim her feet,” Michelle says. “At the back end of the year she was lightly backed and turned away, before I tried to find her a job. She was very lightly shown astride but I really felt she would be a side saddle horse, because of her paces and her sensible head.

    “I showed her as a novice and my friend, Emma Dewhurst, came weekly to help me. After seeing Raegan doing well at the local side-saddle shows, Emma felt she quite fancied a ride out on her. In September 2019, we entered a HOYS qualifier and we missed the golden ticket by one place.

    “The following year, we just had lots of fun and this season we set our stall out.

    “In June, we made the five-hour trip in my 1994 exhausted horsebox — lovingly known to everyone as Dinky Mansions — to the Royal Highland show. To our amazement, in a class of lovely horses and surrounded by equally amazing horseboxes, Raegan won. If only I could have bottled this moment and revisited it forever.

    “We have battled against so much. I have arthritis in my spine and hands and I’ve struggled financially. I work for my other half as a HGV driver and have also battled against my own mental health.

    “I feel unbelievably overwhelmed and overcome with emotion and gratitude to think of my little rescue horse walking into the International arena at HOYS. Her old owner will also be travelling from Cork to watch her at HOYS.

    “In 2019, I actually delivered the lighting for HOYS and I collected a cup of surface on the way out. I brought it home and I said: ‘Raegan, one day you will walk on this’. This is the perfect ending for my perfect horse.”

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