‘Hard work and patience trump buying success’: RSPCA pony and child who started riding in lockdown take national title

  • A child who started riding three years ago and a pony who was rehomed unbacked from the RSPCA months later have become national dressage champions.

    Theo Charnley and RSPCA George won the intro dressage title at the SEIB Trailblazers Championships at Addington Equestrian last weekend with a final-test score of 83.04%. In total at the event, the combination achieved four wins, a second and a 10th place, at intro and prelim level.

    This came after they won at the National Schools Equestrian Association winter dressage championships last year, and came eighth at the British Dressage (BD) Quest nationals. They are leading the BD Quest leaderboard at intro and prelim, and represented the BD northwest squad at the youth inter-regional championships.

    Theo’s father Paul told H&H he was “holding back tears” at Addington last weekend.

    “I don’t want to take credit as it’s about Theo and George and what they did,” he said.

    “What’s most impressive is Theo was the first to sit on George, and backed him with us. Don’t mix young children and ponies – but they very much buck the trend!”

    Paul used to ride but stopped after his marriage to Claire, and had thought Theo might take it up one day.

    “But he was terrified of horses and never wanted to go anywhere near them,” he said. “I volunteer a lot with British Eventing so he used to go fence-judging with me, then when he was eight, for some reason he decided he wanted a pony. This was in lockdown when everyone was charging £7,000 for a dog, so you can imagine my response!

    “We decided he’d have lessons, and I thought if he was, I would too, to see if I still had it! Three months later, I had a horse and he had his pony.”

    Paul said he has always preferred taking on young horses, and as he could not find anything suitable for sale for Theo, he looked on the RSPCA website at ponies for rehoming.

    “They had this scruffy George, rising three,” he said.

    The Charnleys took George, whose dam was pregnant with him when she was taken in by the RSPCA, and Paul spent a long time long-reining him on the lanes, with Theo helping, and eventually Theo was on board. George was turned away for a holiday and brought back into work the following year aged four.

    “It was lovely that Theo was the first – and only – person on him, and he’s done all the work,” said Paul. “He’d never been involved with ponies but he’s taken to it like a duck to water.”

    Paul added that although Theo and George competed in a few lead-rein jumping classes as well as dressage – “And a lead-rein event, which meant I had to run round the cross-country!” – “it quickly became apparent that Theo’s main joy was dressage; he absolutely loves it.”

    Paul wanted to share George and Theo’s story to show that “patience, hard work and training can out-trump buying success”.

    “George is like a little human,” he said. “If he’s tired, he puts his head on you and if he wants a scratch, he starts grooming you, and he’s brilliant at competitions as he’s the most relaxed pony there.

    “He’s a pony who wants to give you everything and there aren’t many who will do that. He’s got a home with us for life.”

    Jacqui Wilson, senior equine manager at the RSPCA, told H&H: “We are absolutely over the moon to see Theo and George accomplishing so much together – we always look forward to each update as it’s so exciting to see what they’ve achieved next.

    “George was born in the RSPCA’s care after his mum was found in a sorry state, neglected and forgotten. George was lucky to survive – but even luckier that he landed on his hooves and was adopted by such a wonderful new family two years later. Theo and George’s story proves that if you give these little rescue ponies – who are so often overlooked – a chance, they really can shine.”

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