From an infant HOYS debutant to a pint-sized 11-year-old medallist on a 17.1hh, this clutch of young riders are punching above their weight, says Becky Murray
Pony-mad children often have lofty aspirations. Alas, for many of us, these never come to fruition – or certainly not at the precocious age we dream of. But there are some riders who do climb to the top of their discipline at an early stage, be it competing at the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), representing their country or riding at one of the greatest festival meetings.
H&H meets five young riders flying high, to hear about their early success, the horses and ponies who’ve made them, and their continuing ambition.
“I kept chipping away”
Conditional jump jockey Rex Dingle, 22, chuckles as he explains he used to fall off “a lot” in his early days – but the jockey showed hard work can pay off with a win at the Cheltenham Festival this year.
Starting his competition career in Pony Club, and days out hunting with his family, led Rex to pony racing.
“I started riding out for point-to-point trainer David Phelan when I was 14 and it was probably one of the biggest learning curves of my career. It was there I learned what the industry was all about,” says Rex.
Rex balanced his teen years with school and riding out, alongside competing.
“If I wasn’t pony racing I was pointing, or showjumping and eventing – it was pretty jam-packed,” he says.
“I had my first point-to-point ride at 16 on a horse called Rather Curious, which I did win, but I was probably more of a passenger then!”
Rex says while he “thought” he wanted to be a jockey, he didn’t know if he was good enough.
“I thought I’d keep chipping away at it,” he says. “I always said if I reach an age and it wasn’t happening for me then that was going to be it.”
Taking a business studies course at college as a “back-up”, Rex spent a season with trainer Neil Mulholland, before moving to David Pipe’s yard, where in 2016 his first taste of Cheltenham arrived.
“I flew there in a helicopter with David, Martin Pipe and Gordon Elliott so that was an experience,” laughs Rex.
His next big move was to work with trainer Anthony Honeyball, and he turned conditional in May 2018.
“Anthony thought I was ready so that was a confidence boost,” says Rex, who admits it’s been a “tough” career path, made more so when a fall in May 2019 put him in hospital with a broken C7 vertebra. “I never once doubted returning,” he says.
Back in the saddle in September 2019, Rex scored his biggest win to date on 13 March this year, riding Indefatigable in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
“Nothing tops Cheltenham. It’s an incredible feeling having a winner there and I’m lucky it happened.” he says. “The ultimate dream is a toss up between winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup or the Grand National at Aintree.”
“You have to stop for a second and take it in”
Maddy Frewin knows how it feels to be under the spotlight from a young age. The 17-year-old was talent-spotted aged seven by dressage judge Martyne Galland. Maddy soon worked her way up the ranks, reaching the British Dressage (BD) national championships at 11.
Beginning her career in Dressage Under-21s, Maddy joined BD North West Youth and was bought her first dressage pony, 12.2hh Mighty Max.
“Our biggest achievement was going to the nationals at medium and coming fourth,” says Maddy. “He was a fabulous little pony, now when I look at a horse I think, ‘Does it have the movement Max had?’ ”
In 2016, Maddy, who trains with Jackie Bevan, made her international debut and in the same year was selected to represent Britain at the pony Europeans on the 14.1hh mare Ode To Shannon – finishing in the top 10.
“Once I’d been to the Europeans I just wanted to carry on – I knew it could only get better from there,” says Maddy.
And better it did, when Maddy was selected again in 2017 with her “horse of a lifetime” Monsieur Pomerol, owned by Peta Claridge, and for the 2018 junior Europeans on Sandy Phillips’ stallion Diamond Design.
“You do have to stop for a second and take it in,” says Maddy. “It’s very special when you’re abroad and the national anthem plays – that’s your time to reflect on how far you’ve come.”
In 2018 Maddy took her GCSEs, and the following year took over the ride on Christine Kirk’s Woodlander Rhythm ‘N’ Blues, known as RnB.
“I always got the schoolwork done, then focused on the horses – but I’ve been extremely lucky,” says Maddy. “Because I was competing internationally I met lots of friends through riding, and school was my social life.”
After leaving school Maddy joined BD’s advanced apprenticeship in sporting excellence scheme, and has been focusing on her partnership with RnB – which is already proving fruitful after a successful CDI at Keysoe in March.
Maddy, who is building up her yard offering training and producing, believes her success is down to “working to your own goals”.
“This year we’ll pick up again when we can and aim for the Europeans next year,” she adds.
“I wasn’t super-keen when I was really young”
Having a mother, Vicky, who has completed Badminton Horse Trials may be a tough act to follow, but Felicity Collins, 22, set out to make her own name known in eventing. The eventer reveals it wasn’t always plain sailing.
At eight, Felicity was confidently completing Pony Club one-day events on her 13.2hh Sherry. A progression to the 14.1hh Dana Scully paved the way for Felicity’s British Eventing debut, aged 13, the same pony she would aim at team trials two years later.
“I always knew eventing would be my career, but I wasn’t super-keen when I was really young because I got teased at school for having ponies,” says Felicity.
Being selected as reserve for the 2014 pony European Championships made Felicity more determined as she turned her focus to producing horses.
“I was producing horses who were not that experienced so I felt up against it – I started to think I wasn’t good enough,” she explains.
The break came in 2016 when Felicity was selected for the junior European Championships in Italy with the seven-year-old RSH Contend’Or, known as Mickey.
“When I got the call I cried my eyes out,” recalls Felicity. “I can’t put into words what Mickey means to me.”
Felicity and Mickey’s trusted partnership made for further team appearances at the young rider Europeans in 2017, collecting a team bronze, and in 2019 where their score counted towards the team gold. And while Olympic selection one day would be a “dream come true”, Felicity says running a successful yard and business is just as important to her.
“The aim is to have a team of loyal owners, nice horses and be competing as one of the top names – like Pippa Funnell,” she says.
“Going from a pony to a 17.1hh was different”
While eventing runs through Tabitha Kyle’s veins thanks to parents Mark, a former Olympian, and Tanya who has ridden to four-star (now five-star), it was showjumping that stole Tabitha’s heart.
The 12-year-old is already a household name within the showjumping world, and she counts breaking a HOYS record among her many achievements. Tabitha’s career began on the hunting field, where she was confidently off the lead-rein by six, with ponies Bobby Brown and Tinkerbell.
“I did Pony Club growing up and lots of events to get my confidence up. Then I turned to showjumping and really enjoyed it,” she says.
Tabitha jumped her first HOYS qualifier aged eight, and a trip to Olympia the following year marks a fond memory for the dedicated young rider, who competes up to nine ponies in a weekend.
“Olympia was a big thing for me because I was really just starting out,” she recalls.
Top prizes came thick and fast for Tabitha on home soil, and in 2019 she made her international debut competing in Lier, Belgium. Next she secured a place on the bronze medal-winning team at the children-on-horses European Championships with Grennanstown Sarco Lux Hill, a 17.1hh gelding known as Bart.
“I really enjoy going abroad – it’s such a different culture and it’s great fun making new friends,” she explains. “Last year I was still doing 128cms so it was a very different going from a pony to a 17.1hh.”
In October last year, Tabitha became the first rider to clinch both the HOYS 128cm and 138cm titles in the same year with Coreys Princess (Poppy) and Playboy Van De Zoetewei (Bugsy).
“HOYS was a big highlight for me,” says Tabitha, who dreams of Olympic stardom in the future.
“My ponies have taught me a lot, especially the 128cms like Poppy and Borderhill William – they were young when we got them so we grew up learning together. Going forward I’m hoping to do more with Bart and my ponies, and will be aiming for more team selection.”
“I’ve been very lucky, but you need to put in the work”
India Till, 13, has returned to HOYS almost every year since she made her debut there aged four, claiming title after title with her polished performances.
Starting on a Shetland pony called Brian, India moved on to show ponies, gracing HOYS for the first time on Kelana Oliver Twist. In 2015, the Till family bought Rotherwood Rainmaker, known at home as Rupert, whom India would pilot to the 128cm show pony of the year title the following year. The combination, produced by Katy Carter, repeated the splendour in 2018 and 2019.
India was unstoppable in 2018 with 138cm ride Drakemyre Puttin On The Ritz (Alfie), in addition to Rupert. They claimed titles at Royal Windsor, Royal International (RIHS) and HOYS. And last year India and Alfie soared to success at the RIHS, clinching overall supreme show pony.
“Winning supreme was very cool, I can remember the atmosphere in the ring,” recalls India. “To win what I have has been amazing; I never dreamt I would. I’ve been very lucky, but you need to put in the hard work and time. I ride almost every day, and if something doesn’t feel right, I’ll try something else – you have to think in your own head what you can make better.”
The sporty young rider, who balances four hours of daily home-schooling with her ponies, dreams of a career in horses – or football.
“I really enjoy playing football and played with Teddy Sheringham in Dubai,” she says.
“I also enjoy showjumping and have been teaching an ex-show pony to jump so it would be fun to try British Showjumping. The dream would be to one day have my own big yard with a barn full of horses – that would suit me.”
Ref Horse & Hound; 21 May 2020
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