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‘I’m so grateful I had her’: Farewell to exhibiting star who ‘knew how stunning she was’

Penny Hollings’ prolific home-bred 153cm show hunter pony contender Pendle First Light has been put down aged 18. The bay mare won Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) and the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) in 2009 as a five-year-old and reigned on the circuit for many more seasons.

Pendle First Light, known as Pandora, was out of Penny’s homebred show mare After Dark (Lou Lou), second at HOYS in 1998 with Sian Warman, and by dressage stallion Roulette.

“I’d wanted to breed a riding horse from Lou Lou, a daughter of my first mare, Sheer Gold, who I qualified for HOYS in 1987, and went with Clive Halsall’s Roulette as the sire as he was a lovely horse with a fabulous temperament,” explained Penny. “Pandora lived her first year at Mark Fitton’s New Hill Farm Stud before coming home and being turned out.”

Pandora showed signs early on that she was destined for a career at the top.

“We backed her and started hacking her and she took to it straight away,” said Penny, who found Pandora’s first rider in Chelsea Foster. “As a four-year-old she did a few shows, finishing her season standing novice champion at Cheshire Premier.”

In her five-year-old season Pandora, ridden by Chelsea, took the circuit by storm, qualifying for the RIHS first time out, standing novice champion at the British Show Pony Society winter championships, taking champion at the Royal Show, winning the RIHS 153cm show hunter pony final, becoming supreme hunter pony at the BSPS summer championships and finishing the year as 153cm show hunter pony of the year as well as section reserve.

“At Hickstead she was pulled eighth and went up to win,” Penny said. “She loved her gallop in the main ring there; she always relished the gallop in a big main ring. She was always such an easy horse. No matter which show she went to, her warm-up would consist of a quick trot round and a couple of gallops. She loved going to shows; she’d load herself up into the box.”

Pandora’s next jockey was Georgia Butterworth, who loaned her for the 2010/2011 seasons. The pair enjoyed multiple wins and championships as well as placings at HOYS and the RIHS.

“We’d had a lot of interest in her but I’d always intended for her to be my daughter, Alex’s pony,” Penny said. “Alex took over at the end of 2011 and rode her from 2012 until 2016. She won many different 15hh classes all over the country, including Great Yorkshire, Lincolnshire County and the Royal Highland.

“She knew her job inside out and never once said no. In her in-hand performance she knew exactly how to stand. She’d look into the judge’s eyes as if she knew how beautiful she was. She wasn’t everyone’s type, but she was a proper hunter pony.”

After her partnership with Alex, Pandora became Penny’s horse and narrowly missed out on HOYS and RIHS tickets as a riding horse. In 2018, she was crowned supreme of show at the NCPA pony of the year show in-hand.

“At home she nannied so many horses out hacking — she was called ‘Nanny Pad’. She also went cross-country schooling and would always pop a log or two. She was doing dressage until the end of last year, too.”

Pandora developed sarcoids as a five-year-old and while these were successfully managed with treatment, they recently grew in size.

“They got worse and worse over winter and so the tough decision was made with the vets as we didn’t want her to be uncomfortable in any way. We paid for having a brilliant horse by not having her for so long. I miss her so much, she was incredible and I’m so thankful I had her in my life.”

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