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‘One in a million’ gelding named inspirational animal of the year

A coloured gelding who not only teaches young people to ride but is also their friend and confidante has been named inspirational animal of the year.

Splash, from Ebony Horse Club in Brixton, was among the worthy winners of the 2020 Daily Mirror Animal Hero Awards.

Ebony general manager Naomi Howgate told H&H that when Splash arrived as a five-year-old, six years ago, he “didn’t know what a cross-pole was and would trip over trotting poles”.

“But he’s absolutely flourished,” she said. “He’s amazing; truly one in a million.”

The award citation states that Splash has “helped to transform the lives of children and disadvantaged young people at a groundbreaking inner city riding club”.

Naomi said when the Ebony team heard about the awards, they were discussing which of their horses they should put forward.

“All our horses are heroes to us because they’re so fantastic but Splash is one who can do absolutely anything,” she said.

“He’s as solid as anything; the other week a football flew over the fence into the arena and hit him, and he didn’t flinch. We work with children with disabilities and additional needs and he’s great with them, but with our more experienced teenagers, he’ll jump round at a metre and do lateral work, and if we take him to shows, he always gets placed in cob and coloured classes. He’s incredible.”

Naomi said the role horses like Splash play is not just as an animal to ride.

“They’re literally the kids’ best friends,” she said. “When they get here, the first thing they want to do is give him a carrot or groom him; he’s like a confidante to people.

“Some of our kids might have grown up in an environment without much love, or someone to tell secrets to — he’s that for them.”

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Splash’s CV also includes work in prisons, and he was the star of a Blue Peter challenge to take a presenter who had never ridden before to jumping a course in six weeks.

“We knew Splash could do it,” Naomi said, adding that the programme is due to be aired next year. “He was brilliant, and totally turned it on for the cameras.”

Naomi said the team was “absolutely over the moon” at Splash’s win.

“It was the proudest day of my career!” she said. “Especially in a year that’s been challenging for everyone but especially heartbreaking for the kids when they were separated from the horses. Most of our kids aren’t from high-income families, they don’t have big gardens or access to open space and during lockdown, they just wanted to see the horses.

“We couldn’t do any of what we do without horses like Splash so for him to get this recognition is super special.”

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