‘Sleep tight old girl, keep taking strides out up there’: farewell to much-loved mare who jumped the moon

  • Loughborough showjumper Joss Williams’s fantastic mare Culmore Prospect, who jumped everything from puissances to the Hickstead Derby, has been put down at the age of 23. The Irish-bred mare was a “drunken sales purchase” who took Joss from 1.20m tracks to international success.

    “It was fate, she and I – we were just meant to be,” Joss told H&H after making the “awful decision to say goodbye” to “Sox”, who retired from the sport aged 20 and had spent her last years being looked after by Joss’s devoted mum at home near Loughborough.

    Exactly a decade ago, while working for Holly Smith, Joss had hurt his shoulder in a fall from a young horse and, while recuperating, decided on a whim to join his then partner on a visit to the Cavan Sales in Ireland.

    After “copious amounts of alcohol” on the ferry over, Joss’s attention was caught by this “hairy thing” being sold.

    “I didn’t see her in the catalogue or in the stable because I wasn’t buying anything, I was just there for the social side of things,” he said. “But this man rode in on her and she’s pure Irish draught and she had all this feather on, so you can imagine how hairy she was with her in all her winter woollies in March!

    “I watched her jump four jumps – she flopped over a cross-pole, and she flopped over a vertical, then they came to an oxer which was about 1.40m. She was a mile off and she just went ‘Whoooosh’ and I said ‘I’m having that!’”

    Joss was later enjoying himself in the adjoining bar when he spotted Culmore Prospect coming into the sales ring.

    “All I knew about her was what the auctioneer announced – she was a 13-year-old registered Irish Draught chestnut mare,” said Joss. “I hadn’t spoken to the sellers at all.

    “But I stuck my arm out, flapped my catalogue about a bit and I was actually bidding frantically against a rider who lives local to us. Eventually they dropped the hammer and she was mine.”

    “I have zero money in my account!”

    When Joss was asked how he would like to pay for his new acquisition, he had to confess: “I actually have zero money in my account.”

    “So in the end our local transport guy who was there actually paid for her and she was delivered to his house. It took me about a week to scrape three grand together, so I took it to him and brought her home.

    “He says to me now ‘I wish I’d never let you pay me for that horse!’”

    But the partnership between Joss and Sox was anything but fruitful to start with.

    “Here I was thinking I’d bought this brilliant horse who could jump amazingly, but we went to Weston Lawns and got eliminated,” said Joss. “Everyone was saying send her back – she’s awful, she bites, she kicks’. I said ‘It’s too late now!’

    “She was really fussy, a really funny eater, just weird, then one day she seemed to say ‘Oh this is my home now and you’re my new people? OK then, hi!’ And that was it, it all clicked.”

    Joss Williams Culmore Prospect

    From the Hickstead Derby to a HOYS prizegiving

    Joss Williams and Culmore Prospect went on to huge success, both nationally and internationally, jumping in the Hickstead Derby twice, contesting puissance classes everywhere from Bolesworth to Horse of the Year Show, finishing third in 2018. Joss and the daughter of White Clover also won the Speed Derby qualifier at Hickstead in 2019.

    “She won 1m, 1.10m, 1.25m, 1.35m and 1.40m national classes at Hickstead,” says Joss. “Then she jumped all the four-star classes, including four top 10 speed Derby placings.

    “But to go into a Horse of the Year Show prizegiving is something else – she did stand and have a wee during it though! She used to have a wee every time she went in the ring and by round five of the puissance she didn’t have anything left in her but she’d still try anyway! That was her trademark.

    “She was so popular and was still jumping grands prix at 20. She was just an absolute little freak – only 16.1hh, really hairy and she hated being clipped, we tried every which way! She once tolerated little clippers but it took me six hours. You asked her questions of what you could do with her.

    “But she was great because when she got going, she brought in sponsors for me and I’d never jumped bigger than a Foxhunter before I got her.”

    Joss even notched up a spectacular winning hat-trick with a 19-year-old Sox after employing some help from a psychic.

    “She would jump anything – she could go on any stride,” says Joss. “She cleared a 2.20m puissance like it was a hurdle. No other horse could give me that feeling.

    “You always knew she would take off over anything – it was just a matter of getting her into the right sort of area to take off! Then I just let her get on with it.”

    Joss, who has been selected for the British Showjumping gold development programme this year, paid tribute to the wonderful, unforgettable, Sox by saying: “Sleep tight old girl and keep taking strides out up there”.

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