‘It’s his party trick’: Show hunter pony’s mesmerising gallop secures prestigious sash for the second year running

  • There was no denying the result of the Leeman Family show hunter pony championship on the second day of showing at the 2021 Royal International Horse Show (RIHS), where two ponies at either end of the experience scale took the two top spots.  

    After a gallop which would rival even the most true show hunter, Nick Brookes’ ultimate 153cm contender Merrycorner Mister Bui defended the show hunter pony supreme title he won here in 2019. This time, “Buttons” was partnered by Zara Brookes, who rode him spectacularly in all paces, especially making use of the gelding’s ground covering trot and love for speed.

    “That was electric,” said an elated Zara, when she left the main arena. “He lit up and he flashed off; it was brilliant.”

    Despite his excellent Hickstead form book, Zara left nothing to chance with Buttons, who was initially pulled third in the 153cm class earlier in the day, before moving up to win the blue sash.

    “It was a shock as the two before me did good shows so I thought I might stay third,” Zara added. “We had a little work in before the championship and he was on fire, and as soon as he entered the ring he pinged for me. His gallop is his party trick.”

    When asked if she felt an air of pressure before making her RIHS main ring debut on the reigning champion, Zara confirmed she didn’t:

    “He’s just a fun ride and all I wanted to do was gallop in front of the grandstand,” she said. “We’ll be having a lot of champagne later.”

    Zara’s producers Robert and Sarah Walker had more cause for celebration as their daughter, Isabella, and eight-year-old chestnut gelding Redlays Theseus, also owned by Nick, made it into the championship, too, after securing the 122cm class.

    Reserve for the hunter pony supreme was Esther Kirkbride aboard the attractive 133cm Annandale Modern Love. The novice five-year-old is already HOYS bound and is based with Team Helliwell in Cumbria, the former producers of the champion Merrycorner Mister Bui.

    Judges Jo Jefferson and Chris Hunnable were unanimous in their final decision:

    “Our champion was a true stamp of a 15 hander; he had limb, a beautiful gallop and bags of presence,” said Jo. “He came in the ring and sparkled. The reserve was only a young pony, but was very athletic, free and well-behaved. Both did lovely shows in the morning and performed in the afternoon.”

    Chris confirmed: “The classes have been so strong and we both agreed 100 percent on the championship result. The standard has been so high that it’s often come down to the flick of an ear. The kids do such a good job, too.”

    Best of the 143cm class was Summer Ward-Brown riding another five-year-old, Ashlea Brown’s Morning Sunflower.

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