Dressage rider Sam Turner has fulfilled a long-term ambition to take her coloured “supercob” Billy Whiz all the way to grand prix.
Sam and 17-year-old Billy, who she has owned since a five-year-old, made their debut at grand prix at Keysoe on Wednesday (June 13), scoring 51.5%.
While not your typical dressage stamp, Billy has forged a successful career between the boards, finishing in the top 10 at the nationals at prelim, novice and elementary.
“I was a bit disappointed in how I’d ridden [the grand prix test], as I didn’t collect him and set him up as well as I can do at home,” said Sam, who had scored 64% during practice sessions at BD camp. “I think the hype of years building up to it and nerves were a bit mind-blowing but I am thrilled with what we’ve done.”
Sam said she had been keen to tick the performance off her bucket list as she was “paranoid something might happen like he’d get colic or go lame” and that they’d never make it to grand prix.
“I was desperate to do it,” she added. “I knew we could put all the moves together at home, it was just doing them in a test.”
While non-warmbloods have become a more regular sight competing at affiliated dressage — and BD has now introduced a series for traditionals — Sam says in her early days of competing Billy, she felt like she was the “only one on the circuit”.
“Ten years ago someone said to me ‘can you move your companion pony out of the way, we can’t get off the lorry’. I said ‘actually I was here first and I’m doing the medium’!” Sam recalled. “Another time someone told me I’d missed my classes and I had to tell them I was doing the inter I.”
Billy — who was originally bought as a project — impressed enough at novice that Sam turned down a £20k offer for him, but people still doubted he would go up through the levels.
“It was a bit of a joke with some of my friends who told me I should have sold him at novice as he’d never reach medium. Ten years ago you needed a warmblood, but it’s different now — I feel quite passionately about what can be achieved with correct training,” she said.
“It’s been hard, but I’ve had such huge support. I’m stubborn and if someone says ‘you can’t do that’, I’ll do everything in my power to prove them wrong.”
Sam, who now runs cob clinics, said that some elements of training had to be tailored to the breed, although “basics were basics.”
“We’ve had to work really hard on his trot as he was a flat, front-pulling cob to begin with, and with cobs, you have to bring them up before you can work them down over their back,” she said.
“It’s taken years of collection to lift and set his weight back — when I get that I have to make sure I use all my core and keep him in a good place.
“It’s difficult not to run them too quick as you feel you are not going anywhere,” she added. “I ride a lot to music and think about the metronome.”
“He’s a cracking pony and a character. He knows how good he is”
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Sam also spends a lot of time keeping Billy as fit as possible.
“We take him to the beach a lot, we jump him, he’s done showjumping, eventing and le trec. He’s the complete all-round pony, even though he’s only 14hh,” she said.
The Hertforshire rider, who trains with Ali Wakelin at home, Mary Wanless, and Mark Ruddock at BD camp, is hoping to make her second grand prix attempt in a few weeks.
At Keysoe, she also won the intro test with new cob Cedric, who she is hoping will follow in his “Uncle Bill’s” footsteps.
“Everyone thinks Billy is special — and they did break the mould when he was made — but I have put 10 years and a lot of hard work in and I don’t think people realise just how many videos of tests I’ve watched, all the the lessons we’ve had.
“I’d like to do it on another cob just to show it’s not just that one pony that is special. I would like to show people that you can do it with anything with the correct training and dedication,” she added.
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