Not for nothing is Rebecca Court’s ride, Beware Chalk Pit, known at home as Perfect Pete; they beat a strong field for the coveted title in the Birmingham NEC’s international arena. It was a special moment for Rebecca — HOYS was Pete’s last show, as the 13-year-old will now be retired.
“I was crying before the class,” she admitted. “I was emotional going into it, knowing it was our last ride together. He has been my horse of a lifetime and today was a fairytale ending. I always felt he was nice enough to win HOYS and he really deserves this.
“Being involved in his retraining has been really rewarding. That’s why we call him Perfect Pete — he’s so easy and genuine.”
Pete is owned by Ann Leftley, from whom Rebecca has him on loan, and is produced by Justine Armstrong-Small.
“I learned to ride at Justine’s when I was five and I’ve never left,” joked Rebecca. “I’m 31 now!”
Pete’s victory at HOYS is even more rewarding as this year Rebecca brought him through herself, winning not one but two of the hotly contested qualifiers, Bury Farm and Burghley.
“I really wanted to qualify Pete myself,” said Rebecca, who is senior lecturer in fine art at the Birmingham School of Art. “We’ve had a great season and today has been amazing. What a horse, what a star.”
Chris Bartram-Lawton, who judged the racehorses with Rachel Thomas, was equally enthusiastic, saying:
“The winner was the epitome of a retrained racehorse — a quality horse that has raced but now loves his second job. He was fit and in show condition, had light elastic paces and a very mannerly cadence. He showed he had taken to the show ring like a professional.”
Pete proved this last point when he rose to the occasion in the horse supreme at HOYS on Sunday night, to which he gained entry because of his R2R victory.
Beautifully ridden, he produced an impressively smooth, flowing show which included a perfectly-executed shallow canter serpentine, a good rein-back and a one-handed canter and extension — all of which showcased his perfect manners yet again in an electric atmosphere.
He has also earned several ribbons in riding horse classes — qualifying in that section at HOYS this year too — including standing reserve supreme amateur riding horse champion at the Longines Royal International Horse Show in July.
Second place in the HOYS final went to Helen Newbold with her own Emperors Jade, whom she described as an “impulse buy”. Helen bought the 12-year-old “JJ” at the end of last year from an advert for him on the internet, having lost her 2015 SEIB runner-up Tycoons Reflection due to unsoundness issues.
“I was undecided about having another ex-racehorse, but I spotted an advert for JJ as an all-rounder,” said Helen, who won this final in 2013 with Deep Reflection. “I always have my eyes open looking for the next one — if you are looking seriously, you never find. “JJ was completely amazing today and coped brilliantly with the HOYS atmosphere.”
Jo Bates was third with the elegant grey Grandeur, who had won just under £600,000 on the track. He belongs to Yvonne Jacques, who bought him as a yearling from Goffs.
Grandeur qualified for HOYS at his first attempt, when runner-up in the 30-strong class at Osbaldeston in April. He has also had several successful outings as a show hack, winning at the Addington Spring Festival, the North of England Summer Show and the British Show Horse Association National Championships last month.
“I’m so incredibly proud of how far he has come, considering we have only had him for 11 months,” said Jo. “He coped amazingly well with everything. He was a little twitchy in the prize-giving but he soon settled again. He is a complete star.”
Becky O’Neill’s Clonard Lad was fourth, ridden by Paul Langrick. The 12-year-old chestnut was seventh in 2015 — Becky admitted it had been a year too soon — and was sixth last year, so is making his way up the rankings. Becky was quick to credit Paul, whom she says is the most “dedicated and hard-working professional” she’s ever met.
A self-confessed “horse hoarder”, Becky first saw “Chester” at Market Rasen racecourse in March 2015. “He really didn’t race very well but I fell in love with him the first time I saw him,” she said.
“He’s a beautiful boy and he’s never known badness.”
Fifth was one of the most consistent partnerships of the season, Hannah Horton and Sarah Ward’s What Of It, known at home as Wotty. Hannah has been riding the 14-year-old ex-chaser for just over a year, and they qualified at Vale View in August. The horse ran 23 times under Rules and had 19 point-to-point starts, often partnered by Sarah’s son Tommy.
“Sarah asked me to ride Wotty at the beginning of last year, but he only went to three shows — including HOYS where he was a bit starstruck,” said Hannah. “He was amazing today — I couldn’t have asked any more. Each year he is better, more confident and stronger. Next year will be exciting.”
Allister Hood was sixth with Gateshead, the “baby” of the competition at just five. Bred by Juddmonte Farm, Zoe Turner’s gelding ran just twice without bothering the judges. He seems to have taken better to showing, qualifying at Vale View on only his third time in the ring.
Lucy Barlow’s Grey Topper made his first appearance at HOYS a good one by filling sixth place with Claire Oliver. He only ran five times and has been hunting before starting his showing career.
Donna Bamonte, who suffered a terrible blow in 2013 when she lost her R2R campaigner Steveys Lad in a collision on the way home from HOYS, finished eighth with Valentine Jak — who is easy to spot due to the perfect white heart on his forehead.
“Sadly, it was not one of our better days as Jak seemed unsettled and stressed, unlike his normal self,” Donna noted philosophically.
Ninth was Hannah Chisman’s Nicene Creed. She had bought the 12-year-old former chaser to go point-to-pointing but entered him in an ex-racehorse class at a local show, which they duly won. They also compete in ladies side saddle classes.
A notable absentee from this final was Katie Jerram-Hunnable with HM The Queen’s Barbers Shop, who finished runner-up in the 2016 contest.
“This morning he wasn’t 100 per cent himself, for the first time in all the time we’ve had him, so we made the choice not to put him in the ring,” revealed Katie. “We are devastated but they are horses, not machines.
“Well done to Rebecca with Beware Chalk Pit though — he looked amazing and thoroughly deserved his win,” she added.
Nicolina Mackenzie, marketing manager of sponsor SEIB, was also delighted with this year’s result, saying:
“Beware Chalk Pit was a fitting champion of what has been an extremely high-quality series. All six qualifying rounds attracted massive fields and the cream definitely rose to the top. They are all champions simply for having got here.
“We continue to apply stringent rules to both this series and the SEIB Search for a Star, and this year we have been dope-testing at selected Racehorse to Riding Horse qualifiers. We are determined to be the face of ethical showing and this year’s finalists have done us proud.”