Young drivers were given the extraordinary opportunity to take the reins of double Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) harness champion Aghaderg Stand and Deliver during a hackney experience day to promote the rare breed.
The event was organised by Hackney Horse Society (HHS) youth ambassador Jessie Dudley Apicella — who has claimed all the major private driving titles with the exceptional hackney pony in recent years, winning at HOYS, as well as claiming the British Driving Society (BDS) national title at Addington and BDS annual championship at Smith’s Lawn.
Jessie organised a full schedule of events that was attended by 30 drivers aged between 10 and 18. There were lessons in rein handling and putting on harness before attendees were given the chance to try long-reining and running up hackneys in hand — including Ardingly championship winners Shaker Maker and Aghaderg Your Money or Your Life.
They were also able to drive hackney horse Brookeborough High Jack as well as “Paddy” (Aghaderg Stand and Deliver) who proved an excellent schoolmaster.
The free experience was supported by the HHS, while the use of the venue was donated by the Ashfields Equestrian Trust.
HHS chairman Barbara Stockton said it had been lovely to not just see hackney enthusiasts at the event, but also children from private driving backgrounds, driving trials competitors and also those from the Pony Club.
“Jessie is very enthusiastic and she has got a fantastic team of horses,” she said.
“It was wonderful to see the smiles on some of the kids’ faces. All of us who are hackneyphiles know how fantastic they are and it definitely lit a few sparks for the children here today.”
Thirteen-year-old Harriet McEntee, who more usually competes at driving trials with her Welsh Section C Archie, said the day had proved a great opportunity.
“I really like hackneys and I’m interested in getting into private driving. I knew ‘Paddy’ was going to be here and it was one of the things that made me want to come, as to be able to drive a pony like that is very special,” she said.
“There was a lot more to do here than I expected, and we had the chance to long-rein two horses and drive two,” she added. “I was also asked by the Peters family if I wanted to compete in the young whip at Ardingly [the Hackney Breed Show] while I was here, so it’s been a productive day.”
The driving circuit in all disciplines — but particularly in private driving and wagons — has suffered from a lack of numbers in young driver categories, and the turnout for this event was a real boost.
Our driving blogger has a surprise new addition to the driving seat
from the pony newcomers to the leading showjumper of the year, it’s time to savour that winning feeling…
“We didn’t even realise there were so many kids out there who were interested — we’d filled 25 places within four hours of advertising it,” Jessie said. “I think the attraction is in giving them something ‘proper’ to drive. They want to run an in-hand champion and drive a HOYS champion. Experiences like that are how you learn.”
Jessie said she is hoping the days will become a regular fixture and that they will evolve from “taster” sessions to a more involved experience. She also believes they will be a boost for the breed which is listed with a “critical” status by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, with less than 300 mares.
“It’s definitely upped publicity for hackneys and that’s what we want. They have the reputation of being difficult horses and ‘untameable’ but it’s a total myth and I wanted to prove a point that they really are very nice,” she added.
“Once you’ve driven something like Paddy, driving something else isn’t the same, it’s like going from a Ferrari to a Ford Cortina — you can’t beat a hackney.”
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.