On a day of déjà vu, the ultra-versatile Hayden Hankey repeated his 2019 Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) working hunter of the year victory, with another stunning performance — this time on a “chance ride,” Lucy Greenwood’s athletic Irish-bred Ricardo Z son, Ricruiso, whom he had only competed once before but scored the joint-highest style mark here.
David Cole’s imaginative, fair but demanding tracks are not called legendary without good reason, and this year’s test was no exception. Every conceivable natural obstacle was represented and despite the limitations of the arena, he managed to allow the horses enough space to travel at a true hunting pace whilst still demanding accuracy and control, but a few took exception to a water tray under a Liverpool and an imposing final double ended some hopes too.
Six clears emerged from the 40-strong field and with style marks being announced after each round, an enthusiastic afternoon audience had plenty about which to speculate until the final result was revealedw later in the evening.
After a nail-biting wait, a delighted Hayden was finally called forward into the trophy spot with the upstanding chesnut 11-year-old, which he temporarily took on after usual rider, Allan Birch, had qualified a total of five horses for HOYS. These included Ricruiso and new mother Lucy’s other campaigner, Willbrook Double Diamond.
Paulette Cooper’s reigning Royal International champion MJM Laszlo — runner-up behind Hayden here in 2019 with Louise Lyons in the plate – stood second for a delighted Nicole Lockhead Anderson.
Lincolnshire-based Ginny Rose had used up every ounce of her considerable skill to go clear with ABC Little Rock, when a slight miscommunication on approach to the final double saw him make a supreme effort to jump his way out of possible trouble after an otherwise copybook round.
Hayden is no stranger to the HOYS spotlight, though, having previously won on almost every type and size of plaited pony from 128cm upwards, including the full height range of working hunter ponies. However his “day job” is now eventing, and this show fell between his runner-up spot the previous weekend in the British seven-year-old championship at Osberton on his 2019 worker winner here, Heads Up, and preparations for Le Lion D’Angers.
“It was a tough course,” he reflected. “It was skilfully built and big enough, but encouraged forward riding and got the right number of clears. It’s always special to win at HOYS and I feel very lucky to have had the chance again.”
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