‘We couldn’t look at anything else’: hunter pony makes history by winning fourth RIHS title in a row

  • A legendary gelding positioned himself in the history books when he lifted The Enablelink RIHS supreme show hunter pony tricolour at the 2023 Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) for the fourth time during his career.

    The 153cm campaigner Merrycorner Mister Bui (Buttons), who is produced by top showman Robert Walker and his team in Cheshire, proved his status as a big ring pony as he ate up the ground in the iconic Longines International Arena, impressing judges Victoria Clark (performance) and Tim Lucas (conformation) enough to reign over his smaller competitors.

    Aided by his long-term rider Zara Brookes, Buttons came off the corner and accelerated up the long side in front of the grandstand after a polished championship performance.

    “We missed him on the go round in the class so he was initially pulled in about ninth,” said Victoria, of the 12-year-old who is by Connemara stallion Templebready Fear Bui and was bred by Louise Duffy out of an ex-racehorse sired by Old Vic. “But when he performed his show and he was stripped he stood out above all the others. I asked for a very simple show and my only request was a good gallop. I didn’t want to see a zero to 60, I wanted a nice lengthened extension, and his rider produced just that.

    “In the main ring, both Tim and I couldn’t look at anything else and his gallop outshone everything else.”

    Both Tim and Victoria were impressed with the quality of their classes, but gave one takeaway for young riders, as Tim explained: “These combinations are the best in the country, but some of the kids didn’t use their ring as much as they could have done. Most of the riders loved the idea of going for the gallop, too, but some lost out on a place by slinging their ponies into it without any finesse.”

    Victoria added: “There was a rider in the 143cm class who had finally qualified for the RIHS after four years of trying. She wasn’t initially pulled in, but she produced a lovely show and we rewarded her with an eighth place. She was an example of a young newcomer who deserved to be pulled up the line.”

    This is the third time Zara and Buttons have captured this title. They stood champion here in both 2021 and 2022, and Buttons also reigned here with his former rider Harriet Dennison in 2019.

    “Three times on the trot, just wow,” said Zara, who is in her last season with Buttons as next year she will be out of the 153cm class. “I was nervous going into that main ring; to lose out would be disappointing for him more than anything. I kept thinking this is my last spin on him at the RIHS, and I didn’t want to let him down. He’s crafty and I have to be on my game all the time here; he knows the main ring so well now. But he’s so fun; when he comes off the corner for the gallop he just knows what to do.”

    After the 2023 term is signed off, Buttons will be sold, but not until the pair have appeared at HOYS together one last time.

    “I would love to keep him but it wouldn’t be fair on him; he wouldn’t like to be a home pony as he loves being out and about in front of a crowd,” said Zara. “But I don’t think I’ll ever find a horse to replace him.”

    Reserve for the RIHS supreme show hunter pony championship title was the winning 133cm, Jodie Allen’s Warleigh Brushing Groom ridden by Daisy May Allen. Daisy has plenty of championship experience, having ridden the gelding to finish as the 2022 show hunter pony of the year at HOYS. She was also M&M young rider champion at Hickstead last year on her own Crumpwell Harry Potter.

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