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‘The yard feels empty without him’: farewell to legendary racing Shetland

A much-loved pony who kick-started jockeys’ careers and helped raise thousands for charity as part of the Shetland Pony Grand National has been put down aged 28.

The diminutive Ulverscroft Drambuie, who could count Sam and Willie Twiston-Davies, Jack Mitchell and Joe Akehurst among his riders, and appeared at Olympia 14 years running, was put down on Friday (20 September) after a bout of colic.

Former jumps jockey Jim Akehurst and his wife Vera bought “Wee Dram” as a five-year-old for their son Joe.

“Joe was always going to be a jockey, and our next-door neighbour, the eventer Francis Whittington, used to do Shetland racing — he used to say: ‘You’ve got to get him one!’” Vera told H&H.

“Everyone said Dram was too small but my husband took one look and said: ‘He’ll do the job.’

“He came home and he was 28 when we lost him; he was part of the family.”

Dram qualified for Olympia 14 times, and “did his fair share of winning there, too”, Vera said, adding that the 37-inch pony was known for his naughtiness, as well as his jump.

“Getting him to the start was the hardest bit as once he knew what he was doing, he wanted to get going and nothing could stop him,” she said.

“He used to win on his jumping. Once, at Royal Windsor, he was being ridden by a young girl who fell off at the first fence. He carried on round the whole course and turned up the middle by himself.

“Shetlands want to do what they want to do; they have to really love doing this and he just did.”

In his last appearance at Olympia in 2011, Dram’s owners were “honoured” by his racing in The Queen’s colours — but there was more to come.

Vera, who by this time had become involved in the organising of the Shetland Pony Grand National, said: “They hadn’t told me anything about it but Joe, Sam and Willie are quite close, and on the last day of Olympia they all turned up, saying they wanted to say goodbye to Dram.

“They raced and Dram came third, then [commentator] Mike Tucker said they had a very special presentation. I was thinking: ‘What are they talking about?’

“Then all the boys came out, with a big gold bag of carrots, a bottle of champagne and a big bouquet. And because he was always naughty to go to the start, he was always number 10, and they gave me his number board. He’s the only pony they’ve ever done that for before.”

In retirement, Dram continued to prove that although he was a demon racer with a jockey on board, he would also look after young children, whether they were sitting on his back or brushing him and picking up his feet.

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He also competed in showing, and acted as a nanny for foals.

“He knew his station in life!” Vera said. “But you could turn him out with anything, he was never aggressive.

“He was a real poppet but also a real pony of a lifetime; he took us to places — like All the Queen’s Horses for the Golden Jubilee,  getting involved with the racing and being invited to a thank you tea party at Windsor Castle — that we would never have gone.

“It’s really odd; it’s a big yard but it feels very empty without him.”

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