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‘We’ve tried and failed to retire him’: 38-year-old part-Shetland is aimed for Olympia next year

The rider of a 38-year-old part-Shetland who still hunts, jumps and refuses to be retired is hoping for one more crack at Olympia next winter.

Megan Champney and Harry XI have achieved huge success in the showing world, including winning two major titles at the CHAPS summer championships two years ago when Harry was 36.

Megan’s mother Jan told H&H she took the 11.3hh gelding on loan 17 years ago, when Megan was six.

“He was still bolting for England then; as soon as he set foot on the heath he’d take off. I had to wait for her to get the strength to turn him and then he’d come back,” Jan said. “His gallop was a bit legendary in the show ring.”

Jan said two or three years later, in a clinic, producer Lynn Russell said: “What on earth are you doing, not showing this pony?”

“I said ‘you’re not serious’,” said Jan. “But she said ‘he hasn’t got a blemish on him; trim him and hog him and he’ll do really well’.”

Lynn was proved right; by his second year at the CHAPS championships, the blue and white gelding took his first championship of many. Last year, aged 37, he was still winning, in veteran and working hunter classes.

“In 2018 at CHAPS, we had the most amazing night of our lives when he won just under £750 in two classes in under 15 minutes; he was supreme veteran champion and won the working hunter futurity; it’s the stuff dreams are made of,” said Jan. “Not bad for a fat little pony.”

Jan said the family has “tried and failed” to retire Harry; every time, he has “got really angry”. He will canter up the lorry ramp as soon as it goes down, she said, adding that the standing joke is he will only put his ears forward for an H&H photographer.

“He’s an absolute legend,” she said. “We’re privileged to have him, and I think he thinks we’re lucky to have him too.”

Megan told H&H she cannot remember a time without Harry, who is owned by Cassie Harding.

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“I think he’ll outlive everyone; he’s got no intention of giving up on life,” she said.

“He’s so happy, and hates not working; he’s furious if the horsebox goes out without him; he loves going to shows so much.”

Megan was planning to take Harry on hound exercise this weekend, and to hunt him this season, and she would like a crack at making it to Olympia next year.

“He did four qualifiers last year and won them all; if he did get there, he would retire from the show ring afterwards,” she said. “He’s still jumping and doing everything he wants to but the minute he isn’t the first one at the gate, I’ll stop riding him.

“He’s like a grumpy old man; a 17.3hh in an 11.3hh body, who runs the yard and does what he wants.

“I always say, he owes me nothing but I owe him everything.”

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