From being measured out to being hit by a car, six-time HOYS winner Hallmark IX thrived regardless of what was thrown at him. Alex Robinson speak to the connections of this unforgettable show cob
FOR a showing producer, there are fewer things feared more than the prospect of a show horse at the pinnacle of his career being measured out of class. So when Hallmark IX (Brandy), who died this month, was given a life-height certificate putting him out of the lightweight cob classification by one inch, uncertainty around the double Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) winner’s future mounted.
But all was not to be lost, as a change of direction – including a new owner, a new producer and a chance to qualify for a new maxi cob final at HOYS – gave the superstar another chance to stand in the spotlight.
In this sphere, the upstanding liver chestnut gelding rewrote the history books and became the pioneering horse to prove that the maxi had a place in the show ring and that the class was undoubtedly here to stay.
With producer Simon Reynolds – who partnered him to win HOYS four more times between 2011 and 2014 – Hallmark became the first maxi, and first pure-bred Irish Draught, to lift the HOYS supreme accolade when he topped the field in 2013.
Hallmark was by the renowned grey stallion Welcome Flagmount (by Flagmount King out of Welcome) who died in 2006, out of Rebel Rose by Glenagyle Rebel.
Prior to his second life as a maxi cob, Hallmark reigned as a lightweight with producer Jack Cochrane. His owner at the time, Rosemary Hetherington, spotted him in Ireland as a four-year-old.
“I was judging the youngstock classes at Charleville Show in County Cork, and when I’d finished I wandered over, cup of tea in hand, to watch the small hunter class,” Rosemary reminisces. “I looked down the line of 27 entries, saw this big, white face and thought, ‘There goes my pension.’
“I knew that once I got him home he’d be the best cob in England.”
Rosemary’s vision almost didn’t come to fruition.
“His then owner, Mike Comerford, didn’t want to sell him and consequently wanted a lot of money for him; €15,000 to be exact,” she continues. “He would not budge on the price so when I got back to England I spent seven days trying to get the money together. Thankfully, I had just about enough in my pension fund.
“I’d never seen Jack [Cochrane] ride a cob but I had a feeling they’d make a special match, so I approached him about production.
“He was called Brandy when I got him, but as I’m a jeweller and he had a distinctive white face I thought that Hallmark was particularly fitting for a show name.”
Success as a lightweight cob
JACK remembers first casting an eye on a four-year-old Hallmark at the Dublin Horse Show in 2008.
“Rosemary had bought him and while he wasn’t looking his best I could see the potential,” says Jack, who began his partnership with Hallmark soon after. “He was one of the few horses I had that when you looked over the stable door you just couldn’t think of anything to improve on.”
Jack and Hallmark won the HOYS lightweight cob of the year title in 2009 and 2010, also landing the overall cob championship in the latter term.
“He was a lovely ride and was the easiest horse, but had a big stride and some judges weren’t expecting it,” said Jack. “I’ve had some good horses for the show ring but he was a superstar, and his record proved it.”
When Hallmark was measured out of class, he was sold to Tom and Heather Clay (née Boden) to be produced by Simon Reynolds and his wife, Natalie.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said Heather. “We were at Simon and Natalie’s house one evening and Simon mentioned Hallmark had come up for sale. I wasn’t looking for a cob, but I didn’t get to the end of their drive before I’d decided I wanted him and I rang Rosemary the very first thing the next day. I believe the best horses find you, and he certainly found me.”
Hallmark racked up maxi accolades from the get-go, and became known on the circuit as the cob who galloped like a racehorse. He won both the £1,500 Great Yorkshire supreme and the British Show Horse Association (BSHA) supreme on two separate occasions, gaining three perfect 10s from the judges at the BSHA championships ahead of one of his victories. He also won the £1,000 cob supreme at North of England twice as well, of course, as the overall supreme at HOYS.
“It was his character that was most endearing,” says his producer Simon Reynolds’ wife Natalie. “He always greeted you on the yard with a low whinny and away from the limelight he was part of our family.
“Brandy loved children, and our son, Luke, was born in the same year that he won the supreme at HOYS. He could often be seen nuzzling at the pram, keeping Luke occupied. We even nicknamed him ‘Uncle Brandy’.”
A very close call
HOWEVER, Hallmark’s life was nearly over in a flash when he was hit by a car the night before his class at HOYS in 2011.
“I was riding him back from the local gallops and he was hit by a car from behind,” remembers Simon. “All I could see were pools of blood. We thought he’d broken his leg. We managed to get him home and called the vet. He couldn’t give him any drugs, but managed to glue the lacerations together to patch him up. To this day I still don’t know how he stayed sound and competed the next day as if nothing had happened. He even won his class.”
Hallmark was retired from open classes in 2015, before Heather took the reins and piloted him in amateur classes for a season.
“He was a horse who made our wildest dreams come true,” adds Heather. “He was the most loyal best friend you could ask for; he knew he was special, but he was humble. He loved coming back home after HOYS, enjoying farm rides, being the centre of attention of the yard and being pampered by my mum, Karen Boden.”
In early June, Hallmark was put to sleep after battling a short illness, aged 17.
“I am so lucky to have had him in my life,” enthuses Simon. “Every time we went into the ring he pulled out all the stops and I felt like he had my back, and I had his. We were a partnership, and he wanted to win as much as I did. He wasn’t just special for hitting the headlines, he was also my pal. We would love nothing more than cantering around the fields at home or breezing up the gallops.
“Jack had done a fantastic job before I took him over, so my remit was to keep him happy, carrying on the hard work that had been put into him. He had a love of swimming and our routine before a show was to take him to the local round pool. He was even competitive at that and used to amaze the pool owners by his strength and stamina, barely raising his heartbeat after a real workout.
“If he ever got excited in the ring, I could just pull his ears or squeeze his crest, and I could feel him relax as if to say, ‘OK mate, we’ve got this.’ Brandy was rarely beaten and after each win the pressure would mount, although he had a way of being able to cope with it. Once I was in the saddle I had complete confidence that everything would be all right.
“He was as near to perfection as you could wish for in a show horse. He has left a benchmark and a precedent for what a true show cob should be, and I don’t think he can be matched or rivalled.”
“A Rolls-Royce of a ride”
FORMER BSHA president and esteemed judge Tim Wiggett judged Hallmark IX on numerous occasions.
“He just oozed quality from the get-go, even as an unfurnished youngster just starting his career,” says Tim. “He had real star quality. His conformation was outstanding and he had quality limb, and plenty of it, too. He was a proper, true cob in every sense of the word.
“He was a Rolls-Royce of a ride through all of the gears, with an amazing gallop that really covered the ground. He was always perfectly produced for any judge to ride him and you would have been proud to be seen on him at the meet, with that lovely personality and swagger he possessed.”
Other judges’ views
“HE galloped the full length of the grandstand, his rider doffing his hat to the crowd, one hand on the rein and completely in control”: Joanna MacInnes, judge of the 2011 Great Yorkshire Supreme
“This was the strongest cob class I’ve judged. If it had been a race, the winner would have won by 30 lengths. He is the nicest cob I’ve ever ridden”: Robert Bell, judge of the 2011 Derbyshire Festival Of Showing HOYS qualifier
“We were looking for good conformation, soundness and correct way of going. The champion had great self-carriage and was a naturally engaged horse in all his paces. He really lowered and stretched his neck out in gallop, and he showed great presence in the prelim and final. His paces were so smooth, there was nothing jerky in his movement, and he looked the type you could sit on all day”: Carl Hester, judge of the 2013 HOYS supreme
The rise of the maxi cob
WHILE a maxi cob class had been held at the RIHS for two years, 2011 was the first season the category was given a spot at the NEC, the same year Hallmark made his debut in these ranks. Measuring at just 158cm, Brandy was at the smaller end of the height scale.
“When he moved up into the maxi cob category he had a point to prove,” reflects Simon. “He was only just over height by an inch and was always one of the smallest, although his enormous presence, performance, and movement more than made up for it.
“Without the maxi class, pioneered by Sue Phillips, Brandy would have been a loss to showing. He had a significant impact in establishing the class with the same credibility of the other cob sections.”
Heather was also never deterred by his lack of height.
“He held his own with his presence,” she says. “It was a timing of fate; when I bought him Simon said to me that he thought this cob could be the winner of the first HOYS maxi final. Lots of people had dismissed the maxi cob class; while it had a place at Hickstead it didn’t have as much credibility until it went to HOYS and the big county shows were then able to host classes.
“When Brandy took supreme in 2013 he demonstrated that the maxi had kudos, and without the class his career in the show ring would have been over.”
This exclusive feature can also be read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale date Thursday 17 June 2021
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