Tales from Hartpury: the £350 Welsh cob who cheated death and is breaking the mould

  • Ten years ago, a “narrow” 14.2hh Welsh section D cob was put up for sale in a small market in Wales. Ten years later, he’s turning heads in the dressage world at the NAF Five Star British Dressage Winter Championships.

    Tirclyn Sportsman (or Sporty as he is known to his friends) is owned and ridden by Ella-Louise Mayhead, who runs the mounted branch of the City of London police horses and is also a riding coach.

    “My sister-in-law bought Sporty for £350 as a four-year-old at this market. She then sent him down to me to get him started and he never left,” explains Ella-Louise who promptly bought him. “There was something about him and the way he moved that I loved — he was freakishly loose through his joints and he has since filled out and is about 15.2hh.”

    Ella-Louise then let one of her pupils, Rachel Taylor, take on the ride on Sporty. Together they won the novice restricted national title in 2009, but in 2013 disaster struck when an allergic reaction almost cost Sporty his life.

    “We nearly lost him due to laminitis that came on as a result of the tough time he was having with his allergic reaction,” says Ella-Louise. “He was out of action for 18 months.”

    But Ella-Louise nursed Sporty back to health and in 2015 he took the restricted medium national title under Rachel.

    Ella-Louise has now had a taste of national success with Sporty, who is now 14-years-old, taking seventh place in the advanced medium silver winter championship at Hartpury on 12 April.

    “He’s such a cool little horse and doesn’t find anything particularly difficult and if I said to him; ‘right, today we’re going to learn canter pirouettes’, he would do it,” says Ella-Louise, who is based at Merristwood College where she previously lectured equine students for 16 years. “His speciality is medium trot and he also does a great piaffe.”

    Ella-Louise, who trains with Roland Tong, juggles training police horses and their riders four days a week with training Sporty.

    “I get up at ridiculous-o’clock to ride in the morning, but it’s worth it,” she admits.

    For a full report from the British Dressage winter championships and the Area Festival final — as well as news, views and expert comment — pick up a copy of Horse & Hound magazine next Thursday (20 April).

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