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Olympian to ride intro dressage test on ‘miracle’ heavyweight cob in aid of Australian equestrians

An Olympic rider is to wear a top hat and tails to ride an intro test on a heavyweight cob who cheated death to raise money for equestrians in Australia.

Dutch eventer Andrew Heffernan on Blue will be among some 200 combinations vying for honours at various levels, at a Horses for Hope GB dressage show at Somerford Park Farm, Cheshire, on 26 January.

The idea came about among friends who were keen to support their fellow equestrians devastated by bushfires in Australia.

Rider Natalie Heaton asked on social media whether anyone would be interested in such an event and within hours, Somerford had offered its facilities. Riders are to dress in Australian-themed costume as they ride tests from intro to open, in which combinations can compete at medium level or above. All money raised will be divided between the Equestrian Fire Relief Fund, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and The WWF Australia Bushfire Emergency fund.

Equine sports massage therapist Danielle Mullen told H&H the response has been incredible.

“We had to close entries after three days,” she said. “Somerford then offered us another arena so we re-opened – and sold out again.

“We first thought we’d start at 8.30am and finish about 4pm but then realised we didn’t have a prayer! So we’re starting at 8am and hoping the last competitor to be in the arena at about 7pm.”

There will be a host of prizes on offer, as local and national businesses have rallied round, and more including Dubarry boots, tack, rugs and lessons with riders including Gareth Hughes set to be won in a raffle open to those who cannot attend as well as guests.

Stalls, food and a DJ have also been arranged, as the aim is also to attract even non-equestrians to enjoy a “fabulous day out”.

“We’re blown away by everyone’s support,” said Danielle, who will be offering sports massage to every horse.

“It’s amazing; we’re so fired up.”

One key attraction will be Andrew’s riding Blue, who was close to death last year.

His owner Mairead Martin told H&H Blue, whom she bought as a three-year-old, suddenly became very lame, and it was found he needed annular ligament surgery.

“That was a success, but then a few weeks later, he didn’t seem right, and they found he had an impaction in his stomach,” she said.

“The vets said they couldn’t operate where it was, but he somehow passed that, and the next day, he had peritonitis.”

Blue was in intensive care for 31 days and vets could not stabilise his condition, nor find out why this was. Mairead was prepared for the worst.

“They said there’s very rarely a good outcome when they’ve been in intensive care that long, and they talked about surgery but it was risky because of the other operation. They were prepared for finding something like cancer; they didn’t know why he was so unwell – but then he just got better. They still don’t know why, to this day, but the vet said he’s a miracle.”

Blue’s team agreed he was fully recovered so the idea struck Mairead to ask Andrew, who is based at Somerford and had always been kind to her and Blue, whether he would ride the test if she raised enough money on a fundraising page.

“What an amazing sport he is,” she said. “They’re the most unlikely combination in the world but we’ve raised £2,000 just through that; my little horse who defied the odds to live is now going to help other horses to live too.

“I love Blue so much and I’m so proud of Andrew, to get on a fat heavyweight cob to do an intro in a top hat and tails; it’s created a storm of interest and raised a mind-blowing amount of money.

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“It’s incredible to be able to help the animals and equestrian community who need our help.”

Andrew, who rode at the 2012 Olympics and took team bronze at the 2014 World Equestrian Games told H&H he is looking forward to the test.

“He’s a handsome chap, a really smart cob,” he said. “Although he’s hogged, so if I lose my balance, I’ll have nothing to hang on to – and I’m probably not used to riding something so wide!”

Asked if Mairead should be worried about losing the ride in future, he laughed, adding: “I wouldn’t be opposed to taking him to the Horse of the Year Show.”

He added: “Mairead asked how much she’d need to raise for me to do it and I said £2,000, and she said ‘You’d do it for £1,000, wouldn’t you?’ I said ‘Go on then’, but we have now nearly raised the £2,000 and it would be great if we could raise maybe £3,000 or £4,000. It’s going to be fun.”

Raffle tickets, at £1 each, can be bought using emailchorsesforhopegb@gmail.com on PayPal.

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