After a freak accident over three years ago at Lincolnshire County show, show rider Rowen Hilton never considered she would be riding her mare of a lifetime, Milford Fair Breeze (Breeze), at the 2021 Horse of the Year Show (HOYS). But after qualifying and standing section champion at Stoneleigh Horse Show last month, home-producer Rowen and 15-year-old Breeze are gearing up for their fourth trip to the NEC.
Rowen was first acquainted with Breeze, a former broodmare and multi in-hand champion, back in 2014.
“I was at HOYS in 2013 with Breeze’s breeder and my good friend, Kim Money of the Milford Stud, watching the mountain and moorland ponies,” says Rowen, who has worked with the Milford ponies for several years. “I was chatting about how I’d kill to ride in this arena and Kim mentioned that she had a mare in the field who was top quality and would do the job. While she’d been a broodmare all her life, Kim said that Breeze was a real ‘yummy mummy’. I said we’d have her there and then.”
Breeze joined Rowen on long-term lease in February 2014 and the mare took to showing “like a duck to water”, qualifying for HOYS at the Great Yorkshire later that year, standing sixth at the final and also qualifying for Olympia. The following year, the pair qualified for HOYS again and finished second, also contesting the championship in the main arena.
“In 2016, we had a frustrating run of seconds,” says Rowen. “After five runner-up rosettes, we finally got our ticket and after returning home to celebrate, we got a devastating phone call from the show to say that there had been a marking error and that the other pony who was on equal marks with us had actually won the ticket; we were beyond gutted.”
After qualifying for HOYS in 2017 and finishing seventh, Rowen — who had recently been gifted Breeze — decided to take a more relaxed approach to showing and chose fewer shows to attend. But mid-season, a freak accident took place which would change Rowen’s life forever.
“We were waiting in the collecting at Lincolnshire County, and after putting my number on, I set off to go and work in,” says Rowen. “I walked Breeze on and two horses suddenly shot in front of her, causing her to rear, something she’d never done in her life. She lost her balance and flipped over backwards, landing directly on top of me. I was rushed to hospital and found out my right femur had been snapped in two. Alongside this, I had suffered a stroke, a blood clot on the brain and it was also revealed that I had a hole in my heart, something which I am just about to undergo surgery for.”
Rowen had three years off riding and Breeze was put in foal, producing a strapping colt by Skellorn Bronze Soldier.
“Riding and teaching was my life, so I have been completely lost. Earlier this year I decided to do a little bit of ground work with Breeze. One day, I clambered on her when Mum wasn’t looking. We were both wobbling in places that shouldn’t really wobble, but she was as good as gold and I was beaming from ear to ear.
“I decided to go for it and enter her for a show and try to overcome my phobia, which had developed as a result of the accident. I wouldn’t settle for a local show so decided to enter her for the HOYS class at Stoneleigh; even if we stood bottom of the line it would be an achievement to be back in the ring. To our surprise, we won and took the section championship. I couldn’t believe my luck.
“We recently went to our pre-HOYS practice show where Breeze took champion again. For this mare to come back into showing like she has done is amazing. She’s something else and I can’t wait to be back at HOYS.”
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