Ensign, the horse Pippa Funnell rode at the 2005 European Championships, has been put down, aged 20.
Pippa and her mother Jenny Nolan gave the bay — known as “Titch” on account of his diminutive stature — to Pippa’s former head girl Hannah “Sparkles” Watson (née Bailey) on his retirement.
“He had a lovely summer going out with his best friend George [Hannah’s husband Sam’s four-star campaigner Horseware Bushman], then quite suddenly old age just got the better of him,” said Hannah.
“It’s always a desperate position to make the decision to let them go, but him being in pain was never an option.”
Ensign, by Mandalus, ran in bumpers, over hurdles and then fences for Ben Case before he started his eventing career in 2002 with Pippa. He moved quickly through the levels and in the autumn of 2004 won the CIC2* at Necarne before finishing second in the CCI3* at Boekelo.
In 2005 he was called into the British squad for the 2005 European Championships at Blenheim after Pippa’s intended ride Primmore’s Pride was injured. He was second after cross-country, but dropped out of the medals with two showjumps down to finish ninth.
Although he failed to finish on his two Badminton starts, Ensign recorded many good three-star results including second at Blenheim CCI3* (2006), fourth (2009) and fifth (2007) at Bramham CCI3* (2007) and second in the World Cup final at Deauville (2008). He was also third in the inaugural CCI4* at Pau in 2007.
In 2010 Ensign was competed by young rider Amy Hawley, who was then based with Pippa. In 2011, Pippa and Jenny offered him to Hannah.
“I had looked after him since 2003 when I worked for Pip and taken care of him at all his three-days, which was amazing,” added Hannah.
“I always adored him — he had the most incredible temperament and such a character. I was so touched and honoured when Pip asked if I would like to take him home in 2011. Poor Sam came back to see me in floods of tears, only to be told it was good news, that Titch was coming to live with us. It’s thanks to Sam and all his help that it was possible to keep him.”
Hannah competed Ensign at grassroots level for two seasons, recording a win at BE90open and BE100open. The pair never finished out of the top 12, had a cross-country jumping fault or more than one showjump down.
“He adored it and always looked after me — it’s unbelievably special to compete a horse that you have taken care of at major championships and four-star level,” said Hannah.
“I am so grateful to him and to Pip and Jenny for trusting me with such an awesome little horse. He was just such a lovely boy to have around, he lived like royalty and was definitely king of the yard. He is missed desperately, not only by us but especially by George. I feel so lucky I was able to look after and love him for the rest of his days.”
In 2014 Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) launched a championship in honour of the talented horse, The Ensign Evening Challenge. The event now runs annually for amateur RoR riders.