Jonty Evans is launching a crowd-funding campaign with the aim of raising several hundred thousand pounds to secure the ride on Cooley Rorkes Drift, with whom he finished ninth and best of the Irish eventers at the Rio Olympics last year.
The 11-year-old “Art” is currently owned by Fiona Elliott, with involvement from her mother Ann Nobbs.
“Because the horse has publicly done well, it was inevitable there was going to be interest in him, but I was pretty naive — it didn’t even cross my mind,” Jonty told H&H. “We’ve had interest, primarily from America, and the owner has two young children — I totally understand her need to accept an offer.
“As you can imagine, from my point of view, selling my best mate had never entered my head. It has been an horrific few months wondering if he will be sold, and praying that a solution might be found. The owners have given me time to try and raise the funds, and have agreed that I can buy him at a preferential price. We have some funding pledged, but we are short of the goal — the only solution we have left is to try a crowd-funding campaign.
“Owning an event horse has always been the privilege of the wealthy, but I hope it might appeal to people to get involved. Anybody can donate and so anybody can get involved in supporting Art’s journey. We are hoping to have T-shirts and photos printed to offer to people, so that they can feel part of the family that will own Art.”
Jonty plans to launch the crowdfunding website www.jontyandart.com in the next few days.
“We hope that Art can become The People’s Horse. If, and I know it’s a huge if, 5,000 people around the world could see their way to donating £100 each, we could afford to buy him — and the beauty of the plan is that, he would never again be under threat of being sold. This is a one-off thing and if we can buy him once then he and I can stay together for good.”
“We are also giving companies a chance to get involved — by donating to the fund, the company will be able to use Art and I as part of their marketing (by agreement) and so benefit by association with both a successful partnership and a fairytale ending to a difficult story.”
Jonty has produced Art since he was five, first meeting Fiona when her lorry broke down and he stopped to help.
“I’ve always produced him with the idea that he’d be a big-time horse and always tried to be careful with him, so it’s gut-wrenching that he’s coming into his prime and I feel like maybe I can win a medal or be at the top end of a four-star — and all of a sudden that might get taken away,” he said.
“I hope and pray that people around the world will appreciate that Art and I are partners — we have come through life so far together and I hope that we can finish our journey together. At 11 years old he is entering his prime. This year’s European Championships in Poland, Badminton, next year’s World Equestrian Games in Tryon and of course the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 are all potential medal events for Art and I — but only if we can stay together.”
Jonty and Art have already been selected for Ireland’s European Championship squad.
“If the ownership issue is not sorted out, I will not be able to go,” said Jonty.
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The Irish rider added that Art is his “best friend”.
“I’m not a massively experienced four-star rider with hundreds of horse and I’ve pointed him at the biggest fences in the world and he’s never let me down, which says so much about his brain,” said Jonty, who was third after dressage at Badminton this year, dropping down the order to 20th due to a cross-country run-out. “The mistake at Badminton was mine, not his.
“The phase he’s had to work hardest at is the dressage — for an 11-year-old horse at his first Badminton and my first competitive Badminton, to go in and do a 37 test, says so much about him and our partnership and how much effort has gone into the dressage. His work ethic is unreal — he comes out every day and puts his heart out there.”