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Dreams come true for Caithness rider at HOYS

By Jean Gunn

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Russell Skelton and Kincullen Moonstone took seventh place in the heavyweight cob class at HOYS. Picture: 1st Class Images.
Russell Skelton and Kincullen Moonstone took seventh place in the heavyweight cob class at HOYS. Picture: 1st Class Images.

A trio of Caithness riders taking part at this year's Horse of the Year Show all came home with rosettes.

Billed as the biggest week of the year for equestrian entertainment, the champion of champions show was back in all its glory at the NEC in Birmingham after a gap of two years.

The three local riders travelled down to the end of season celebration after qualifying to compete amongst the top horses from throughout the UK.

Young Jess Calder took part on the Friday (October 8) riding Coco Bongo, who made history at the last HOYS in 2019 becoming the first working hunter to stand supreme pony. That year Coco Bongo, known as Bluebell and owned by Will Calder of Scrabster Seafoods, clinched the major accolade while ridden by Chloe Lemieux.

Chloe and Bluebell won the 133cm National Pony Society (NPS) Snuggy Hoods 133cm Working Hunter Pony of the Year class after jumping a foot-perfect clear round, and then went on to take the championship when she was crowned the Ruckleigh School Supreme Pony of the Year 2019.

After a gap of two years it was the turn of Mr Calder's daughter Jess, who celebrated her 13th birthday at the show, to ride at the prestigious event after a very impressive season taking part in working hunter competitions throughout the country.

And Jess put in a faultless performance, coming third in the NPS/Mole Valley Farmers 133cm Working Hunter Pony of the Year class.

The young rider said she was "really excited" on the lead-up to her debut at HOYS but admitted that she started to get nervous the night before her class and lasted right up until she went into the ring. It wasn't until she got over the first fence that she started to feel fine. Helping to keep her mind on the job were her local trainers James Munro and Russell Skelton.

The exciting combination jumped a super clear round, scoring them joint top marks among the 20 other competitors. Jess also rode a perfect show and achieved the joint top score for that part as well.

Her father explained: "If the competition had ended there she would have won, but other ponies scored slightly higher in the conformation section and that put them ahead of her in the final placings. However, third out of the best ponies and riders in the country is still a fantastic achievement and they've another year together in the class before Jessica is too old for that height section on her pony Bluebell."

Jess Calder and Coco Bongo at HOYS 2021.
Jess Calder and Coco Bongo at HOYS 2021.

On the Saturday it was Russell Skelton's turn to ride at HOYS in the Harrod and Coles Family Heavyweight Cob of the Year class. He was delighted to come seventh riding Kincullen Moonstone (Riley).

Russell said: "It has been a dream for me to ride there in the International Arena having showed there previously in the supreme in-hand."

The locally based rider has also recently been enjoying making his debut into the dressage world, winning both his classes at his first affiliated outing.

Competing on Sunday, the final day of the show, Isla Miller riding her father Brian Bisset's impressive Clydesdale Stobilee Zac came seventh in the McNeil Family British Ridden Heavy Horse of the Year Championship.

This was the third time for Isla and Zac at HOYS – they took part at the last show in 2019, and in 2018, as a seven-year-old, Zac came second in the British ridden heavy horse championships. The impressive Clydesdale was purchased by the Bisset family as a foal.

Another Caithness rider qualified for HOYS this year, Emily Campbell, but she was unable to go due to her pony's annual height certificate being out of date.

Thirteen-year-old Emily was delighted to win a golden ticket for the prestigious show while competing at Stoneleigh earlier this year with her novice eight-year-old, 14hh part-bred New Forest pony Mockbeggar Rich Tea (Arty). It was their first year of competing together and she felt it would be a good idea to do some qualifiers to gain experience.

Local horse breeder Ashley Anderson, who was down at the show supporting the local competitors, was able to watch a three-year-old coloured filly she bred come fourth in the Price Family supreme in-hand final. Ashlea’s Perfect Spirt, by Free Spirit and out of Frekleton Perfect, a mare by Co-pilot, is now owned by Cheshire producer Vicky Smith and her partner Alan Marnie.

A horse previously produced by Team Skelton, nine-year-old Dublins Street Fighter won the heavyweight show hunter of the year title. The hunter qualified for HOYS in 2019 while owned by Freda Newton and ridden by James Munro.

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