‘I owe him an awful lot’: top eventer loses medal-winning star

  • Leading Italian eventer Vittoria Panizzon has paid tribute to the horse who helped launch her career.

    Grommet, known as “Womby” to his friends, was put down this month aged 26 after a long and happy “free-range” retirement with Vittoria.

    Vittoria was 14 years old when she bought the 15.1hh gelding as a six-year-old from the Wiegersmas and the pair were “almost unrivalled” at junior level in Italy, winning the Italian junior eventing championship title in 1999 and 2000.

    Credit: David Betteridge

    Womby also gave Vittoria her first international win, at the FEI Junior European Championships at Pratoni in 2000, where they took individual gold and team bronze.

    Vittoria said it was almost by chance that Womby came into her life.

    “My aunt [who lives in Cornwall] was going to pick up some feed from the Wigersmas and my mother went along to see what horses were there,” Vittoria told H&H.

    The horse travelled to Italy, where Vittoria was still living at the time, and the pair started their successful campaign.

    “He was quite lazy to work, but loved cross-country and had a fantastic gallop — he was very bold and certainly looked after me,” said Vittoria.

    She moved to England the day after her junior European victory and it was Hendrick Wiegersma who drove Womby and her other junior horse, Lord Sasha, back to the UK with the British team horses.

    He retired early after developing problems with his feet and back as well as arthritis.

    “For many years he lived out with the youngsters and the mares, but went downhill a few years ago,” Vittoria added.

    “[It was when I was based] at Norton Grounds about three years ago I ran out of stables — I would already have him loose on the yard, and from being loose within the barn he ended up being loose completely and absolutely loved it.

    “It gave him a complete new lease of life.”

    She added Womby had a “whole little schedule”.

    “He would come in at breakfast time, and perhaps check who hadn’t finished their breakfast, then he would go out for a graze before coming back in to watch who was being tacked up, then take himself off for another graze.

    “He knew where the best grass was and was a very good lawnmower, he didn’t touch the flowers — at night I would wake up and hear him grazing outside my window.

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    Vittoria added that Womby would always greet the lorry when she returned home and was also “quite a good guard dog” — trotting off to investigate any noises from the yard in the night.

    “Certainly being free range gave him even more personality,” she said.

    “I have lost plenty of horses through my life, but I did find losing him the hardest.

    “If I think back it starts to shock me how many changes there have been [in my life] and he has been there through all of them.

    “I owe him an awful lot, not just for medals and for my career, but as the best of friends and as a family member for daily company and entertainment with his antics.”

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