Tales from Hartpury: meet the Welsh section D winner with eyes on grand prix glory *H&H Plus*

  • It was three years ago that H&H caught up with paramedic Nicky Heale at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships about her eye-catching Welsh section D Retanach Request.

    “He piaffes very well and I hope to take him to grand prix,” Nicky said at the time.

    A lot can happen in three years and in February 2020, the pair made their grand prix debut, making Nicky the eighth Scottish rider and “Rocco” the first Welsh Cob in Scotland to reach this level. Fast forward to the 2021 Winter Dressage Championships and they also have an inter I national title to their name, with victory in the Petplan Equine inter I silver Area Festival final.

    Aberdeenshire-based Nicky has qualified for seven classes across the championships with her rides, Rocco and Furstinclaire, and has bagged a haul of top placings to go with her win.

    “He likes lots of scratches and lots of love, but if you have a headcollar in your hands and you’re about to catch him and make him do some work… Although he loves his work, he would rather be eating. Time was a little bit tight [ahead of our test], because we went to go and get him to tack him up, but he was having other ideas!” she said.

    Nicky had a bad fall many years ago, where she severely broke her right leg in a riding accident and was lucky to keep her foot.

    “Getting back to fitness I needed something a bit smaller to get back riding before I rode these big horses – to get my confidence back again,” she said.

    “A friend of mine locally to us had a Welsh cob that she bought in for producing, and he was pretty much untouched. She had backed and ridden him away and suggested that I come and try him.”

    His “amazing walk” caught her eye and while he was a little flighty to get on, once she was in the saddle, the pair were away.

    “He has just come on and on and surprised us,” she said.

    “He has a really fine piaffe and passage, he’s just really talented. He did the demo at Badminton with Pammy Hutton in 2019 and got massive attention. You just can’t miss him with his four big white socks and a white face.”

    Nicky balances her horse with her full-time job as a paramedic for the NHS, with the events of the last year meaning she has been busier than ever.

    “It’s been a bit tense and stressful at times. We’re all double vaccinated, we have lateral flow tests, we test ourselves, twice a week, submit them online, and we’re doing everything as safely as we possibly can,” she said.

    “Verity Jenner is a huge help as without her, I couldn’t do it. I’m 50 this year and I can’t ride after my day shifts anymore, that’s just too much.”

    Reflecting on the success of Aberdeenshire riders this week, she added: “We’ve always been creeping on in there – we get a lot of people from down south coming up to our regionals thinking that it will be small classes, easy fish, but actually they pretty much go away with their tails between their legs.”

    She added the high population of riders, space and improved access to top-class trainers could be behind the growing success.

    “I train with Nicola Buchanan and she’s been amazing,” she said.

    “Since Covid hit, we’ve been doing a lot of stuff online. I treated myself to one of these robot camera things that follow you around, and although it can be tricky at times, it has been amazing. It means Nicola can see me while sitting in her kitchen drinking coffee. She’d normally come up once every two months, but this means I can have training once every week or so.”

    Read more reports from Hartpury…