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Ride of my life: Richard Hunnisett

Richard Hunnisett recalls his ride on Copper Thistle at the hunter chase final at Towcester

I keep a diary of my race rides, and some of the good days I’ve had with horses, particularly with Copper Thistle [Charlie], seem surreal; I can’t really believe that they happened to me. When I open the diary at 15 May 2000, itsays: ‘Maybe the best day of my life!’

There had been hot sunshine all that day, and it was a beautiful evening. Ideally, he’s suited by good ground with a bit of cut, but it was good to firm.

The diary says: ‘We got a brilliant start,’ and that’s important. He has to lead. Once he gets into his stride, his complete desire to win takes over.

People say: ‘Well ridden’ to me, and I think: ‘I didn’t do much.’ I might have been scrubbing and pushing, but he gives 100% anyhow.He wants to win as much as I do.

His jumping skills win him races – he measures his fences perfectly. Caroline Bailey, our trainer, is tremendous. ‘Trust him and kick on,’ she says. ‘Don’t interfere.’

We led virtually all the way – hejumped them ragged that day. They kept challenging, but coming up the hill he just powered away from them and we won by 11 lengths – the most exciting race of my life and a fantastic feeling of elation afterwards.

Charlie’s such an extrovert; he loves the applause and being fussed. He struts to the winner’s enclosure and then the next day he’s beside himself, bucking on the end of the lead rope.

I retired him on a winning note. He had six runs this year, and won his four last races in a row in tremendous style. His final success was the first running of the Dick Saunders Memorial Chase at the Pytchley point-to-point.

A young horse took him on; it was seven years old and the boy riding it was 22. I am 44 and my horse is 14, and it was his grit and determination to win that saw him through.

Copper Thistle is unique because he performed fantastically well and yet he’s so nice natured – a real sweetie-pie.

Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound (18 July) where Julia Woods talks about her ‘ride of a lifetime’ when she won the 1992 English Connemara Pony Society open performance award on Mystic Moonlight.

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