‘He was magnificent’: farewell to life-changing top jumping pony aged 30

  • The heartbroken owners of a pony who was bought for £600 from York Market and became one of the best showjumpers on the circuit have paid tribute to their “life-changing” superstar.

    More Than Milton, who won just about every 138cm title going, including the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) and Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) finals, has been put down aged 30 as his years had finally caught up with him.

    Nicky Wells’ daughters Olivia and Issy both enjoyed success on “Steel”, as did a host of young riders including Darby Ward and Robert Murphy. Nicky bought him back for her daughters as a surprise Christmas present five years ago and he had been enjoying his retirement with the family ever since.

    “As Olivia said, they won’t be opening the gates of heaven for him; he’ll be jumping them,” Nicky told H&H. “He was just phenomenal. Everyone gets that one horse of a lifetime and he was it for us – for everybody. He was bought in the market for £600 and ended up being the best showjumping pony ever.”

    It was Nicky Smith who spotted Steel in the market and bought him, and her sister Jessica who first competed him.

    “I saw him at Sykehouse and thought he was amazing,” Nicky Wells said. “He was so good, people were throwing obscene amounts of money at them for him but they stayed true and said they wanted us to have him, which was phenomenal.

    “Olivia won everything with him; Ian Whitaker rang me last night and said he and Alison had raised a glass to the best pony they’d ever seen.”

    Oliva and Steel won 60 classes together in two years, including the HOYS 138cm final, winter second rounds and the 138cm final at the British Showjumping National Championships. He continued his winning ways with Issy, Darby, with whom he secured another HOYS title and the RIHS final, and others.

    “He was in H&H every week,” Nicky said. “At the first show we took him to, they got eliminated because he jumped too many fences; he just kept jumping. But they took it to the next level, they were a match made in heaven and he trusted her implicitly.

    “He was an absolute freak of nature, he won over £20,000; Olivia even won a motorbike on him. This morning, she said: ‘Mum, he changed all our lives’, and he did. He took her down a road she’d never have taken – she’s a vet now – and he was just magnificent.”

    Nicky said Steel was “the cheekiest but kindest pony ever”, who cleared 1.40m as if it were nothing, but who, in retirement, took her grandchildren safely round lead-rein mini jumping courses and to a children’s meet last autumn. He was also a guest of honour at Olivia’s wedding to Adam Fox in 2019 – and tried to eat her bouquet.

    “Someone put a rug on him that said ‘She loved me first’, which was amazing,” Nicky said.

    “After we had him, he got sold, as ponies are, and luckily I saw the advert and we bought him back home for his retirement.

    “We were devastated when he passed away; my husband was sobbing, but he was 30, he was tired, and we knew. Olivia’s a vet and she said ‘Better a day early than a day late’. He loved a custard cream so he had about four packets of them, and now he’s buried at home, in the garden, under the oak tree.

    “We’re just so proud, so honoured to have had this pony in our lives; he was just magnificent and actually, he wasn’t part of our lives, we were part of his. Everyone still remembers him; it was every little girl’s dream to ride him. If I could, I’d just say to him: ‘Thank you. You changed everyone’s lives’.”

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