Horse of the Year Show (HOYS). The arena of dreams. The show where anything can happen and even the most hardened veterans of the TopSpec Arena hope that luck is on their side. Over the past few years, the competitors in the showing ring have endured nearby flash-mobs, unattended children galloping up and down the seating at inopportune moments, and who can forget when a stray microphone malfunctioned and produced a series of noises similar to gunshots? After a long and exciting season of qualifiers, a full house of 18 horses entered the arena to chance their luck at lifting the title of the Simon Contstable Equine Vets and Binley Arabian Stud Caroline Sussex Ridden Purebred Arab Of The Year Championship.
The judges for 2023 were Emma Maxwell assessing the conformation and Penny Hollings judging the ride, manners, and way of going. Penny gave each horse a confident and forward ride, rewarding the horses for their trust in such a daunting arena. The audience was treated to a thrilling mixture of HOYS veterans and first-timers, with both making their marks on the final line-up.
Cipriana. Credit Diana Volpe
After impressing on the initial go-round, it was the consistent Cipriana (Mascot des Alpes x FS Cinderella) who lifted the title, including the Elustarius Trophy for the Highest-placed Gelding. ‘Raj’, as he’s known at home, was ridden by his delighted owner Jade Hateley and was bred by Joanne and Chris Lowe. After taking the reserve spot last year, Cipriana did one better in 2023 to score 45/50 marks with Penny Hollings and 41/50 marks with Emma Maxwell for a total of 86/100. The striking chestnut appeared to saunter around the arena with the ride judge and he gave his audience a glimpse of his powerful, flashy trot at the end of his lap of honour. He looked positively delighted with himself, as well he should, and he was a joy to watch in the Andrews Bowen International Arena on the Sunday night in the final judging of the Supreme Horse of the Year.
Rafeekah. Credit Diana Volpe
Taking this year’s Reserve Champion spot was the previous two time champion Rafeekah (Designed x Kaamelia), who sat one mark behind the champion (43/42-85). Kimberley Bates once again rode for owner, her mother, Kerry Bates and although the 10-year-old grey gelding was only lightly campaigned this year, he appeared completely unfazed by the whole morning and dutifully gave another classy performance to great appreciation from his connections. Bred by Helen Cawley, Rafeekah was the second horse to be ridden in the class, ably throwing the gauntlet down to the other competitors. From four HOYS appearances, Rafeekah has not placed below third – what an achievement!
In third this year was another HOYS veteran, the 12-year-old Cbeebies (Monther al Nasser x FS Cinderella), who was another to catch eyes on the go-round for owner/rider Amanda Miller. Cbeebies is out of the same mare as the champion, and congratulations must go to breeders Joanne and Chris Lowe for the successes of these half-brothers. This grey gelding was only four marks behind his brother (42/40-82) and appeared to give a lovely ride so early in the class. The top three all came from the second group to do their go-round, thus the first group to be ridden, and I did make a non-specific bet the winner would be among them as the proverbial gauntlet had been well and truly thrown down by some of the best Arabians on the circuit.
Xquisite Dream. Credit Diana Volpe
Fourth place went to Xquisite Dream (Psy Dream x Xquisite Design) who was beautifully ridden by Lucy Amy for owner Diane Atkin and breeder Sarah Chettle. The Meads Show team qualified four horses for HOYS again this year and when Kirsty – one half of the prolific team of Kirsty and Tash Nelson – injured her back, it was fantastic to see all four horses still presented and shown so beautifully by their riders. We wish Kirsty a speedy and successful recovery; one team qualifying four horses is no simple feat. Xquisite Dream proved popular with Penny Hollings and received the highest ride mark of the day (47/33-80) despite being the last to be ridden and she received the Berugia Perpetual Trophy as the Highest-placed Mare in the class. Affectionately called any variation of ‘Bish Bash Bosh’ by the team, the 10-year-old mare was the highest placed HOYS first timer this year.
Bellflower. Credit Diana Volpe
In fifth place was another HOYS first timer, and another 10-year-old grey mare. This was Bellflower (Psalm x Wentworth Estate Bellisima), bred by Miss EM and Mrs DR Whittome. This year’s Royal International Champion was expertly piloted around the Topspec Arena by the inimitable Darren Crowe, who gave a masterclass of professionalism. Bellflower was another to score well with the ride judge and it was clear that the young mare had a good experience of the show after giving both Darren and the judge comfortable looking rides with obedience and a willingness to perform (45/34-79). Owned by Georgina Rees, Bellflower qualified at the Royal Norfolk Show and it was wonderful to see the Crabbet influence still so apparent and successful in the modern show-ring. Long may it continue.
Waliandro. Credit Diana Volpe
Rounding out the top six was Waliandro (EKS Alihandro x Walena), ridden by Sian Warman for Daniel Botwright and Anne Bevan. Bred by Husted Arabians in Denmark, this seven-year-old stallion received the Cantsfield Perpetual Trophy and appeared to enjoy having his turn in the spotlight for the ride judge, behaving wonderfully as the first of the second group to be ridden. That end of the lineup has a lot to contend with due to the comings and goings of the audience, but Waliandro was unfazed and exuded a quiet confidence throughout the class that was wonderful to see (36/40-76).
Noor al Noorfus. Credit Diana Volpe
Taking seventh place was another for The Meads Show Team, Noor al Noorfus (Muhaned al Rayyan x Om el Sariya) ridden by Maria Pook for owner Linda Bensley. Jane Fraser Brown bred this eight-year-old mare, who began her year in pre-novice classes. What an achievement for the young mare to finish her season by picking up a placing at the Horse of the Year Show. Despite a couple of moments where her inexperience showed, Noor al Noorfus scored well with the judges to put herself firmly in the final shakeup (40/36-76).
Zebauri. Credit Diana Volpe
In eighth place was the sweet chestnut stallion Zebauri (KZ Ibreez x Araura), who reminded all of us that 15 is not old by anyone’s definition, something that is particularly important in a sport which is seeing increasingly younger horses and ponies expected to have the physical and mental maturity of the ‘grown ups’. Having taken the stallion ticket at the AHS National Championships, rider Harriet Podd’s hard work clearly paid dividends and Zebauri gave a pleasant and well-schooled ride for good scores (41/34-75). Homebred by owner Hazel Lefevre, Zebuari was one of the last to be ridden in the class and stood patiently for his turn.
The placings were concluded with another chestnut stallion, Michelle Segre’s Alonzo (Abha Qatar x Casablanca Bint Djammal) in ninth for rider Stephanie Zebedee, who qualified the 12-year-old early in the season at the Devon County Show. Alonzo has placed at HOYS before and settled to give another smooth performance this year in a very competitive line up. Bred by Michelle and Hugh Segre, it was a pleasure to see Alonzo back in the NEC and it was delightful to see all three qualified stallions feature in the placings after good performances (33/40-73).
Congratulations to all those who qualified their horses for HOYS and thank you for bringing them forward to be judged on the day. What happens in the class can make dreams come true, but it can also bring disappointment. To those who were not able to live out their fantasies this year, there is always another day, another show, and another show season. The TopSpec Arena has an atmosphere unlike any other, and horses can react adversely to any number of unpredictable stimuli that only seem to present themselves in Birmingham. HOYS giveth, and HOYS taketh away. It is an unspoken contract that qualifying is the dream, the show itself must pass in a blur of adrenaline, champagne, and 24 hour toasties.
The 2023 HOYS Ridden Arab Champion – Cipriana. Credit Diana Volpe
Thanks must be extended not only to the riders, grooms, owners, and breeders of the 18 fantastic horses forward, but also to the sponsors that ensure Arabians are still seen at the ultimate celebration of the horse. Thank you Simon Constable Equine Vets and Caroline Sussex of the Binley Arabian Stud for all you do for the Arabian breed.
Katherine Bertram is an English young rider who competes in a variety of different disciplines on her mother’s homebred pure and part-bred Arabians. Having achieved advanced rider status in Endurance after her first season at age 14 on Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica), Katherine turned her attention to showjumping with his progeny, at which she currently competes at Senior Newcomers (1.10). As well as also delving into showing, eventing and, occasionally, dressage, Katherine juggles her studies while attending the University of Birmingham.