What makes top event pony Midnight Dancer tick *H&H Plus*

  • This family-produced Connemara has won pony European gold medals for both Ellie Healy and her younger brother, Finn. Pippa Roome profiles the sensitive grey who does whatever is asked of him...

    Midnight Dancer

    Age: 10
    Owner: Ellie Healy
    Current competition rider: Ellie’s brother, Finn Healy
    Greatest achievements: 11th national pony championships at Brand Hall 2018; team gold pony eventing European Championships 2018 (with Ellie); fourth national pony championships at Brand Hall 2019; team and individual gold pony eventing European Championships 2019 (with Finn); 28 top-10 placings in British Eventing horse trials, jump training and jumping and style (JAS) competitions 2015-2020 (with Sarah, Finn and Ellie Healy)

    Sarah Healy, mother of riders

    “We bought Midnight Dancer as a four-year-old in Ireland from the Doyle brothers. He was the second of about 10 Connemaras, who were all just sat on and ridden away – but Ellie didn’t think ‘number two’ was an acceptable name, so she called him ‘Casper’.

    “He was my favourite as I was looking for a more blood type and something that wasn’t massive because I knew he would grow. When he trotted he had real movement and when we saw him ridden, the lad missed him to an oxer and he obliterated it – but he never missed a beat and the next time, he boomed off the floor.

    “The original plan was that I would produce Casper for Finn because Ellie was only 12 and needed a more push-button pony. But after he’d been with us 48 hours, she said she’d like to hack him. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea as he was quite sharp, but after 100 yards she said: ‘I’m having this pony.’ He’s been her pride and joy ever since.

    “Casper is sensitive, but brave and bold. We never pushed or rushed him, but he just did everything so well that he moved up quickly. It’s a dream for a family like us to find and produce a pony as good as him.”

    Owner and first competition rider Ellie Healy

    “I have always been a nervous rider, but I felt safe on Casper from the start – we clicked. I liked him and he liked me. It seemed he was grateful to be with us and decided to do whatever he was asked so he could stay. We were a bit of a wild pair to start with – a 12-year-old teaching a four-year-old pony – but he seemed to like the fact I let him get on with it.

    “Casper always wants to do his utmost to get over anything and get home safely, which made me feel so confident heading out of the cross-country start box.

    “My favourite competition memory with him is the CIC* [now CCI2*-S] at Chatsworth. It’s close to home so I’d always dreamt of riding there. We came home clear inside the time across country, winning the best under-18 trophy, with all my friends watching.

    “I’m only 5ft 2in, so I’m not too big for Casper, but it seemed only fair to let Finn have a go after I’d been to the Europeans in 2018. To start with, Casper was nervous as he’d only had Mum and I on him and he’s sensitive to things like weight shifts, but Finn does a good job. They had only been together seven months at the Europeans last year, though, so I never dreamt they would win. It makes me so proud watching them.”

    Current competition rider Finn Healy

    “At first there was a bit of pressure riding Casper – because Ellie had been to the Europeans on him in 2018, people expected me to do well quickly. But he was more sensitive than I thought and it took time for us to gel. I always want everything to be perfect and at first it wasn’t, so I found that a challenge, but he taught me a lot and vice versa.

    “I hadn’t done much cross-country as I did quite a lot of showjumping when I was younger, but Casper has given me so much experience and belief. He’s so straight and bold and loves doing it. He looks for the flags and you feel you could point him at any fence and he’d give it a go.

    “When you ride him at home, he’s very trainable in his mind and always gives 100%, whether it’s jumping, on the flat or hacking.

    “The Europeans last year was an amazing week in all areas and the prize-giving after winning double gold was very emotional and one of the best moments of my life.”

    Ref Horse & Hound; 4 June 2020