Sam Catton hits HOYS – Guest Blog

Read all about local shower Sam’s trip to HOYS….

On the 3rd August 2013 I made the decision not to travel the 8 hour journey to Hickstead to compete at the Royal International Horse Show with my Large Hack; Downies Mystic Maestro. Instead we made the trip to Garstang Agricultural Show near Blackpool to compete in a Horse Of The Year Show qualifier. My dreams came true that day and Maestro behaved impeccably to secure a win and then to go on to be reserve champion and, most importantly, we booked our place at HOYS.

The hard work didn’t stop there as now we had just two months to make sure that Maestro looked his best, not an easy task when the weather was forever changing – we went from lightweight rugs to heavyweight in a matter of days.

One autumnal Saturday night I received a phone call from a lady asking me if I was able to take over the reins on her two horses that had already booked their tickets for HOYS. This was such a shock – not only have I qualified my own horse but now I was being given the opportunity to ride for someone else at such a prestigious show.

On a dark cold Tuesday night in September, just a little over two weeks before HOYS, Gavin Jamieson Horse Transporter turned up at the yard and unloaded my new rides, Dabernon Omen (Welsh Section C – stable name Ollie) and Monknash Moonwalk (Coloured Non Native Pony – stable name Sally). I couldn’t believe it – I only had two weeks before I had to ride both of these beautiful horses in the Caldene Arena at HOYS and, at that moment I hadn’t even sat on either of them!

The next morning the hard work began – up at the break of dawn to ride and start building a connection with both horses. With a total of six horses to ride each day, I called in a friend to help ride those that weren’t in preparation for HOYS. Two weeks of early starts and late finishes and all seemed to be going well – the horses were working beautifully and looked amazing then, one day, I felt like my world was falling apart. One horse went lame with a suspected poisoned foot and another had developed a sore back. How could my luck change so quickly? I thought my dreams of riding at HOYS were fading away but, thanks to the help of Alnorthumbria Veterinary Practice and Equine Physiotherapist Hazel Potter, both horses were quickly fixed and the journey to HOYS was back on track.

The day arrived, Tuesday 8th October, the lorry was packed, horses bathed and ready to set off on their journey to Birmingham. Having left the yard just after lunch we made the four and a half hour journey to the NEC, Birmingham. On arriving at our destination, the vet came and checked Maestro and Ollie to make sure that all their vaccinations were up to date and that their passports were correct. After making sure that the stables were fine and putting the biggest beds down to make sure they were both comfortable, we put both horses into their stable for a well deserved rest and some tea. At 7.40pm, Ollie was tacked up and in the Caldene Arena for his first warm up. This was the first time we had been in the ring together and, although we weren’t competing, the atmosphere was still electric. Ollie was a little stage shocked to begin with but then worked amazingly well and I couldn’t have been happier with how he felt. It was then back to the stables, which seemed like a million miles away from the arenas. I put Ollie back in his stable and made sure both him and Maestro were tucked up nice and warm with plenty of haylage, food and water to last the night. It was then time to head back to the lorry for a well-earned glass of wine before the pandemonium started in the morning.

My alarm rang at 4am and it was time to get up and start preparations for my first class of the week. First on the agenda was to make sure that both horses were worked thoroughly. Due to the strict timings for warming horses up, I had to make sure I had both horses ready. Maestro attended his warm up in the International Arena at 5am where he worked well and was impeccably behaved then it was a quick change onto Ollie for his warm in at 5.50am in the Caldene Arena which was a five minute walk from the International Arena.  Ollie also worked amazingly. Both horses were then taken back to their stables for a bit of breakfast before it was time for Ollie to get ready to “strut his stuff” in front of the judge.

OllieThe time had come. Ollie was polished, sparkled and looking fabulous and my nerves were starting to get the better of me. I had never ridden this horse in the ring before, I had never ridden in a Mountain and Moorland class before and the pressure was on as someone had believed in me enough to do their horse justice at Horse Of The Year Show.  After a quick pep talk with a friend, I came to see sense and that as long as I tried my best and rode to the best of my ability then I should be proud!

Off we went into the Caldene Arena where, firstly, we walked around in front of the judges before the class was then split into two sections. We then went in to trot and then canter, showing the judges what we were made of. The section was then pulled into line up where we were then asked to perform an individual show consisting of a walk, trot, canter and extension. Ollie and I were 2nd last to go – we came out and stood before the judge, then we were off – nice big powerful canter and the most extravagant trot I’ve ever ridden across the diagonal and a beautiful gallop, it felt breath-taking and the crowd gave a massive cheer!! Now it was time to swap with the other section and go into the collecting ring where we had to take off our saddle and present Ollie for the conformation judge. Ollie stood nicely, walked away and trotted back beautifully for the judge. It was time to get back on board, go back into the ring and wait for the final placings. The atmosphere was very intense as the crowds waited patiently to see who was going to be called forward as the NPS Baileys Horse Feeds Section C of the Year…firstly they started calling out numbers and I was sat patiently waiting to see who was the lucky people to make it into the top 11 then all of a sudden I heard them call forward 708 – it was me!! I couldn’t believe it I had made it into the top 11. In reverse order they called forward for the final placings – we ended up 10th. This was the most amazing feeling ever. After finishing our lap of honour, which seemed to go in a flash, I was met outside by all my family and friends with bottles of champagne. This was as good as winning!!

But my day was not over! There was no time to party just yet, as I was riding again the next day and I had to get Maestro ready so it was back to the stables to bath and plait Maestro as our ride in wasn’t until 10.15pm. Once all the jobs were complete, it was time to do some retail therapy in the shopping mall and catch up with some friends.


MaestroThursday morning dawned and it was Maestro’s time to shine. The hacks are a very difficult class to compete in as a bond between horse and rider is vital as the horse is also ridden by  the judge so therefore must be schooled to perfection. Maestro felt very relaxed and I was pleased with how he was going. After the initial go round, it was time for us to do our conformation first, so off came the saddle and Maestro was presented before the judge. Next it was time for the judge to ride him – this is always the part where I feel nervous as horses are unpredictable and everyone always wants their horse to go well. Thankfully Maestro gave the judge a nice ride. Now it was my turn and I didn’t let my boy down. I couldn’t have been more pleased with how Maestro went, however we didn’t make into the top places but it was an achievement to get there in its self. It was now time to have some lunch before setting off home for a day back at work and to swap horses.

Saturday morning arrived and it was Sally’s turn to make the trip down to the NEC Arena, so off we went back down the A1. Once again Sally was checked over by the vet on arrival, then it was her turn to have a trot around the Caldene Arena before her big day. She was so well behaved. Sunday morning arrived and the rain was pouring down. Sally warmed up amazingly and it was time to start getting her ready for the ring. After a extremely wet walk back to the Caldene, it was time for Sally to show us what she had. She came up trumps and pulled off a great show but, unfortunately, again we weren’t in the top placings. It was now time to head back to the lorry and head home.

SallyI couldn’t have asked for a better week at HOYS. I can’t believe how lucky I had been to have the ride on three amazing horses and I would like to thank my mum and dad for sticking by me all these years and driving the country and back again, to my brother Lee who, as much as I hate to admit it, is the best groom ever, to Sam Banister for giving me the opportunity to ride both her horses and finally the biggest thank you to Silvermoor Haylage for your sponsorship. My horses have never looked so great with your haylage and I look forward to our 2014 season.