The Shetland Pony Grand National is always a highlight at Olympia, with ponies and jockeys qualifying from around the country.
The charm and character of the ponies who take part is only equalled by the event’s mascot, Holly. The 5-month-old miniature Shetland was named through a competition held by Great Ormond Street Hospital, the charity this competition supports.
Horse & Hound news reporter Sophia Heath headed to the festive Shetland Pony Grand National stables, complete with snowmen, wallpaper and tinsel, to meet Holly and her fellow stars of the show.
Vera Akehurst explains how they preparing Holly for Olympia: “I go down to the Penwood Stud near Rugby in August and the owner Brenda kindly lets me choose one from more than 90 foals. This year we chose Holly.
“We bring her home in November. We have her indoors where she watches TV, watches the hoover and plays with the dogs. Then we take her outside in the field when it’s dark and shine floodlights on her to get her used to the razamataz and everything she’ll have to put up with here.
“She’s pulled the Christmas tree over at home, but that’s about all. She’s a good girl really.”
A Shetland Pony Grand National stalwart
We also met 18-year-old Shetland Sovereign, who is owned by Andy and ridden by her grand-son Bradley and has competed at in the Shetland Pony Grand National at Olympia 11 times.
“He’s unpredictable,” explains Andy. “One day he’s like a lamb and the another day he’s like a thoroughbred off to the race track.”
Bradley told us: “It’s really exciting racing. Just being here is the fun bit and going around the country.”
Bradley also takes part in pony racing, but admits that he prefers the Shetlands: “I like the Shetlands more. We get to jump, whereas the pony racing is just on the flat. I like to practise counting strides.”
The Shetland Pony Grand National has raised nearly half a million pounds for Great Ormond Street Hospital over the years, but organisers Sebastian and Vera have set themselves a real challenge with their latest fund-raising campaign.
Vera explains: “We’re trying to raise £50,000 by April 2015 to build and equip a new recovery suite at the hospital, which will be called the Shetland Pony Grand National recovery suite.”