Grace Willis and World Horse Welfare Paolo won the SFAS in-hand qualifier at Bury Farm on 22 May to take their ticket for the final at Your Horse Live in November.
Grace told H&H the nine-year-old gelding, who has been with her since he was five, has only been showing for about a year but has taken to it like a duck to water.
“I threw him in the deep end really to start as a friend of mine was going to a [Coloured Horse and Pony Society] CHAPS qualifier and I took him too, and he did so well,” she said.
“We qualified for the Sunshine Tour at Hickstead last year and he won the rescue in-hand class and was reserve champion. He went to Royal Windsor last month and was really good, in a huge class, then he won at Bury Farm.”
Grace met Paolo, whose mother had been rescued while she was pregnant, when she was studying at Writtle University College, where the pony was living as a yearling. World Horse Welfare and the college work together with some youngsters.
“I fell in love with him,” she said. “I said I’d love to take him home but the tutor said I’d have to be quick because he was going to go back to World Horse Welfare. I went home and asked my parents if I could have him and they said no, it would be too expensive [to keep him], but I saved all summer and managed to take him home.”
Grace also competed in the ridden SFAS qualifier at Bury Farm, the final of which is at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), and now intends to try for HOYS again in future.
“That would be amazing,” she said. “He’s had cancerous tumours on his sheath and has had two surgeries, so it’s lovely to get him back out doing what we want to do.”
She added that Paolo, who can be cheeky but is a yard favourite, shows the potential rescue ponies and horses can have.
“A lot of people think ‘It’s just a rescue pony’, or ‘just a coloured cob, what are you going to do with that?’, but they’ve got so much potential and it’s so much rewarding,” she said. “He may not be a fancy dressage horse but I’d rather have him; I wouldn’t part with him even if I was offered a million pounds.”
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