‘I didn’t really ride him, I just hung on’: top riders on their (memorable) first ponies

  • “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” has never rung so true when it comes to some top riders’ early equestrian memories on ponies...

    Zara Tindall, eventer (pictured, above)

    My earliest equestrian memory was riding ponies with my brother Peter and doing gymkhanas. My first pony was a Shetland called Smokey.

    Trevor Breen, showjumper

    My first pony was a 12.2hh grey mare called Skellig Lady — the only pony I ever inherited from my brother, Shane. She loved jumping and would come round every corner, shake her head and take off. I think it gave my mum heart failure every time I went to a show.

    Damian Hallam, grand prix dressage rider

    My earliest equestrian memory is the amount of time it took to catch my first pony, Magic. We had her on a week’s trial and I got bucked off on day one. I spent the rest of the trial week trying to catch her as she galloped around tacked up — we finally caught her on decision day. I persuaded my non-horsey parents to buy her and she continued to be a little monster. I suppose what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

    James Harper, polo player

    I remember going cross-country on my New Forest pony, Donut (who I first played polo on). I was flat out, completely out of control, shouting, “Donut, I can’t stop!” He jumped most things, but liked to do it very fast.

    Oliver Hood, showing producer

    I remember hunting a pony called Cocky with the Suffolk Foxhounds. I didn’t really ride him, I just hung on. Can’t remember how old I was, but I was pretty small — my feet didn’t come past the saddle, anyway.

    Sam Roberts, showing producer

    Spindle did everything from Pony Club to hunting. I think that first pony is invaluable for kids. You have to enjoy it and if your first experience isn’t a good one then you probably aren’t going to continue.

    Harry Dzenis, eventer

    My earliest equestrian memory is doing fancy dress on my Shetland pony Treacle and dressing up as the chimney sweep from Mary Poppins.

    William Whitaker, showjumper

    Peter Pan was an extremely lazy 12.2hh pony. When I was about nine, I went to an RSPCA charity show wearing three-inch dressage spurs and holding a big whip. When we got to the ring, there was a sign saying “no spurs or sticks allowed” and I didn’t get out of walk the entire class.

    Richard Johnson, former National Hunt jockey

    Tasty, a liver chestnut 13hh mare was my first proper pony. I did everything from showjumping to working hunter, Pony Club to polocrosse on her. She is the reason I wanted to be a jockey — she didn’t do walking, only flat out. When she died my dad got quite sentimental about it, which is unusual for a farmer. She was very much a family pet.

    Tom McEwen, eventer

    My first pony was called Sooty, a little black pony that was passed onto every child in our area. It certainly couldn’t be described as an angel.

    Mark Kyle, eventer

    My first pony was a naughty 11.2hh grey called Hino, who had a habit of putting his head down causing me to fly straight over his ears.

    Harriet Biddick, showjumper

    My first pony was called Mischief, the name says it all. I had to hack her in a kimblewick because she was so strong, but I did have loads fun on her, especially cross-country. Most of the photos taken of us were pretty blurry because she was so quick.

    Harry Skelton, National Hunt jockey

    My first pony was Oxo, who was also my brother Dan’s and even my Dad’s [Nick Skelton] first pony — we all learnt on him. I still have some of his tail in my bedside table.

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