The HOYS-winning native pony producer counts horses as her saviours alongside a hectic work schedule. H&H’s showing editor Alex Robinson discovers how she’s made her “hobby” so successful...
Hayley Reynolds has several plates to spin. While many of us admit we can struggle to juggle our work-life balance, the part-time native pony producer from Cheshire seems to have several jobs on the go, late nights and early starts. Hayley, 34, topped off her 2019 show season with a dream win at the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS).
“I’d been third on three occasions,” explains Hayley, who took the New Forest pony of the year title with Lesley Cook’s bay gelding Okedene Justin. Hayley had discovered Justin as a three-year-old in a city centre allotment seven years ago, paying just £250 for him.
“While third is an amazing achievement, I’d been trying for more than 15 years to get into that main arena championship,” she continues. “Last year was a difficult one for me; I’d been through a relationship break-up and as I walked into the class with Justin, I thought the only thing which would make this year better would be to win it. I knew he had a good chance and he went like a dream, but you can never expect something like that. It was so emotional; when I was called forward I tried to get myself together as I didn’t want to be crying in all of the professional pictures.”
Retreating to the stables
Alongside her team of ponies – which are a mixture of her own finds and those owned by various clients – Hayley works full time as a social worker in fostering and is also a mother to her son Lewis, 10. The stables are her retreat after a long, often emotionally enduring day.
“I get to the yard for about six in the morning and do my jobs before work,” she says. “If I don’t do it then I find I don’t have the energy in the evenings. I’ve got so much to think about with the horses that it allows me to switch off from what I’ve done at work.”
Hayley does not hail from horsey stock. She found herself drawn to riding as a child and rapidly worked her way up the levels at her local riding school. She reminisces: “I was in the top group with all the adults, so when I was about nine, my parents loaned me a Shetland pony in the hope it would put me off. It only made me keener, so the following year they bought me a Welsh section B for my birthday.
“I didn’t start affiliated showing until I was 16, when I bought myself a part-bred and started doing intermediate classes; I missed out on all the lead-rein and first-ridden classes a lot of the kids do these days.”
While developing her riding abilities outside the ring, Hayley developed her showmanship and ring craft by spectating.
“I used to go to shows and just watch,” she says. “I’d beg people to let me go with them to Ponies (UK) summer champs when it was at Peterborough. I’d just watch class after class.
“As soon as I was old enough to drive I got my towing licence, bought myself a trailer and would trek around the country with whichever friend I could pester to come with me that weekend.”
After having a taste of success at county level with Welsh section B pony Mynach Moonwalk – a big-moving chestnut gelding bought from Joanne Dean – Hayley was acquainted with the pony who would accelerate her even further into the spotlight.
“I saw a three-year-old Castle Hill Raven in an advert,” explains Hayley, of the upstanding Fell pony whom she owned for four seasons. “There was no picture, but something about the way the advert was worded caught my attention. I booked the next day off work and drove to Norfolk by myself to go and see him. I bought him then and there. He was a colt then, but I had him gelded and went from there. He was so mentally and physically mature that when he was a four-year-old I qualified him for HOYS and took the championship at the Scottish Horse Show, giving me my first ticket.”
Hayley and Raven had a fairy-tale partnership, qualifying for HOYS, RIHS and Olympia on multiple occasions and also standing third at HOYS and best of breed (sixth overall) at Olympia.
“I was home-producing back then and learnt a lot from my time with Raven,” says Hayley, who now classifies herself as a Fell pony addict. “I’ve always had the mentality that you just have to get on with it and try to learn as no one is going to do it for you.”
‘I’m in love with the breed’
Her knowledge – and collection – of Fells has continued to expand. Her first home-bred Fell foal Reyncroft First Edition was produced last year.
“They have become a massive thing for me – I’m in love with the breed,” she says.
Hayley sits on the Fell pony judging panel alongside those for the New Forest breed, Northern Counties Pony Association (NCPA), Ponies UK, The Showing Register (TSR) and Senior Showing and Dressage Ltd (SSADL).
“Once you’ve had one of a certain breed you want a better one and so it goes on,” she says. “I’ve started to like typier and more old-fashioned natives, and this is reflected in the ponies I have today. I look to buy true representatives of each breed. I often purchase out of the annual breed sales; the quality of the foals going through is often overlooked and the breeders need people to support them.”
But her zest for the native breeds does venture out of the hairies. As well as rides on various Welshes, one of her other big hitters has been the Exmoor stallion Dunkery Wigeon, who won the small breeds final at the Royal International in 2018. Widgeon was one of the first Hayley had in for production.
“I’ve never really wanted to do it full-time,” says Hayley, who also runs her own clipping business during the winter months and is sponsored by Lister. “I have a mortgage and a child to think about; I work it so my job pays the bills and the horses pay for themselves. I don’t want my hobby to become my only job and I like being able to go away and come back to the horses each day.”
Among her 2020 string is the five-year-old Drybarrows Advocate, whom Hayley intends to bring out in novice ridden ranks. She’s seriously excited about the stallion, who was reserve in the Cuddy championship at the Royal Highland Show last year.
As well as a keen eye for good conformation, Hayley is a stickler for bloodlines. It’s no coincidence that Advocate is half brother to the Smith family’s big-winning stallion Bracklinn Jackpot, whom Hayley had on her yard for two seasons and with whom she won four HOYS qualifiers in a row.
“Jackpot was definitely another highlight of my career,” enthused Hayley. “He is the epitome of a Fell pony. When the Smith family asked me to have him I jumped at the chance.”
But for Hayley, the red rosettes and qualifying tickets are just a small part of it all. She credits the show circuit for some of her lifelong friendships.
“I’ve made some of my best friends through showing,” she says. “I think you can get a lot out of the sport in that respect.
It can be hard doing it on my own, but a lot of other people are in the same boat.
“My horses have been my saviours in many ways. When you’re going through hard times you often need a reason to get up in the morning. The horses still need caring for and riding. There are still shows to go to. You have to pick yourself back up and get on with it and that’s really helped me.”
While she is focused on this season, whenever it resumes, Hayley is also planning for the distant future. Looking out over her stable doors are heads of every age, including yearlings and two-year-olds.
“I like to plan ahead and be on the lookout for the next generation of stars,” says Hayley.
And with an eye for potential like hers, she’s safeguarding her place on the map for the foreseeable future.
Ref Horse & Hound; 4 June 2020