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21-year-old Connemara’s phenomenal year of wins in eventing and dressage

A 21-year-old pony proved that age is no barrier to success when he swept the board at this year’s British Connemara Pony Society Performance Awards.

Smokin’ Gun was named ambassador for his breed at the event, having tallied the highest points after a phenomenal season across the disciplines.

The 14hh dun is being ridden by Dr Rebecca Hamilton-Fletcher, who turned 60 this year, giving the pair a combined age of 81.

They won four of their nine BE80(T) starts and finished inside the top five on all of their 2019 runs, also qualifying for the BE80(T) championships on their first attempt.

At dressage, they stepped up to elementary and qualified for the Petplan area championships, having won the BD veteran novice championship last year.

They also won their only start in working hunters and went reserve champion at the SSADL championships.

“He is only 14hh and I am 5’9” but he takes up the leg, and because he has a great big personality and heart, I feel like I’m on something twice the size. He is magnificent,” said Rebecca, a vet based in the New Forest.

Gunner was bought by the Hamilton-Fletcher family eight years ago and was originally ridden by Rebecca’s daughter Bethany, who is now studying physics at Bristol University.

The pair “did everything together”, making numerous appearances on Pony Club and school teams, including on the winning team at the Pony Club eventing championships in 2013. They were also individual dressage champions at the school NSEA championships and competed extensively in working hunters, qualifying for the Royal International Horse Show.

One of their principal claims to fame is as the only pony and rider combination to compete successfully at the Pony Club championships from junior to novice, intermediate and open.

“Now Bethany has grown up and gone off to university, I resurrected my riding gear, found it still fitted and decided to have some fun myself,” said Rebecca.

“Last year we shared him and she was still going out competing when she came back from uni but this year I have taken him over myself. We’ve had a fabulous time — he is still very much my daughter’s baby though, he’s never had a fault cross-country and if I were to spoil his record, I don’t think she would ever forgive me!”

Gunner, who was bred in Ireland and is by the stallion Gun Smoke, has claimed the Connemara points title before, but is thought to be the first pony over the age of 20 to scoop the award.

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“He’s a wonderful example of the versatility, soundness, toughness and longevity of the native ponies,” Rebecca said. “Touch wood, he is the soundest horse and has never been sick or sorry, he thrives on being busy and competitive.

“People say to be why don’t you take him to Olympia [for the veteran showing championship] but he doesn’t like going round in circles and you’re not allowed to gallop — he lives to gallop, so he would sulk and be fed up!”

Rebecca is now looking forward to next year, including a bid at the BE80(T) championships, which was postponed as a result of the wet autumn.

“We’re looking for new challenges now, and it’s lovely to be able to look forward to a new season when he’s 22,” she added. “I think we might give riding club teams a go, which is something we haven’t done before.”

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