Sally McMillan had no idea her home-bred filly would end the 2019 season by taking the world’s most coveted in-hand accolade – but she did. Alex Robinson speaks to the hobby pony breeder, the filly’s handler and the HOYS judge about what makes her so special...
Heronsmill Tiger Lily
Breeding: Chycoose Troubadour x Trellech Courvoisier
Owner/breeder: Sally McMillan
Producer: Sarah Baker
Handler: Matt McGivern
Greatest achievements: shown five times in-hand during 2019, including at HOYS where she won the Cuddy supreme in-hand championship. She landed her HOYS place at the Royal Welsh show where she’d earlier stood riding pony breeding champion.
Owner/breeder Sally McMillan
“It’s crazy to think that we qualified a home-bred pony for Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), let alone won the final. I keep only five mares, including Heronsmill Tiger Lily (Lily), and I don’t breed from each every year, to keep numbers manageable, as I fit the ponies around work as a solicitor.
“Lily’s dam, Copybush Eye Of The Tiger (Tiger) – a full sister to 1994 HOYS in-hand supreme champion Copybush Catchphrase – was bred just five miles down the road by Sarah Baker, who now produces Lily. Growing up, I’d always admired the Copybush ponies.
“A good friend of mine, Wendy Campbell, bought Tiger as a yearling and I’d always coveted her. In 2009, she let me borrow her to have a foal and a few years later I was given the opportunity to buy Tiger. Lily has always had star quality, she has this extra presence; it’s something I can’t quite put my finger on.
“Lily’s third ever outing was the Royal Welsh, where she qualified for the Cuddy. Since I was a child I’ve always dreamt of breeding something to go to HOYS, but even in the run-up to the final I couldn’t believe we were going. And I can’t even put into words what winning meant.
“Even though she will eventually be a broodmare, I’d like Lily to have a career under saddle, so she will be broken and aimed at some novice classes in the future.”
Handler: Matt McGivern
“Prior to last year I’ve always been in the saddle, so when Sally approached Sarah about producing Lily I can’t say I had the Cuddy final in my sights. It has always caught my eye, but it’s a completely different world and the spectrum of animals is so broad.
“The Royal Welsh is our local show so we went with no preconceptions. It was magical to qualify in front of a home crowd. Sarah won the Cuddy final in 1994 so it was sentimental just to be attending. On the morning of the class I saw some of the other ponies being long-reined and worked for the class, and I did wonder if I should be doing the same with Lily. But she’s the most unflappable mare. She just had a graze, and a sleep in her stable, before the class.
“I looked down the line at the Cuddy regulars and felt incredibly honoured to be there. When the commentator announced the winner was from Wales, the crowd erupted.
“In the stable Lily can be stood resting a leg with her ears back, but the minute she gets into the ring she rises to the occasion. Every single time she’s been out she’s given it her all, and I think this is down to the fact she’s not been over shown and we’ve nurtured her personality; she’s not been manufactured into some fire breathing dragon. She’s just a normal pony at home and it’s paid dividends.”
Judge: David Ryde-Rogers
“As soon as the 2019 Cuddy finalists stepped into the arena at HOYS, myself and my co-judge, David Minton, watched each pony intently.
“When this filly entered we were both drawn to her. ‘Golly, she’s striking,’ I said. She was alert, bright and looking ahead over the treetops.
“Once she was stood up, I couldn’t fault her. Her conformation was exemplary and she had lovely limbs. When she went to move, she was really super. She didn’t put a foot wrong either; she was relaxed and didn’t break stride, trotting right around the back of the line in step with her handler.
“It was a close call between the Connemara stallion (Castle Emperor), who stood second, but we decided this filly just had the edge after giving a spectacular show. Some of the other entries did let themselves down by not standing.
“As well as being quality, she was also immaculately turned out and was in perfect condition. She couldn’t have presented a better picture.
“When I later read that she had connections to the Copybush ponies, I understood why she was so quality.”
Ref: H&H 11 June 2020
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