One really striking 148cm showjumping pony is catching the eye in more ways than one this season. Nine-year-old Eden Ace and his young jockey, 16-year-old Imogen Rome, have qualified for the winter JC final at the Royal International next month, as well as two finals at next week’s Royal Highland Show. To top it all, Imogen has fulfilled a long-held dream by securing two tickets for this year’s Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) in both the pony newcomers and pony Foxhunter finals.
But while Ace is proving a real superstar in the jumping ring, he was actually bred by Robert Bowman, brother of carriage driving legend George Bowman, as a driving pony and has had quite a journey to the winner’s enclosure.
“We only got him in March 2022 and he hadn’t done any British Showjumping (BS) at that stage,” says Imogen’s mother Joanne. “He was originally bred to be a driving pony by Robert Bowman at Penrith, so he’s a Dutch warmblood-Gelderlander kind of pony.
“He’s quite unusual because he’s chestnut with loads of white on him, so he’s almost skewbald because he’s got white flashes on his belly and a big white face. So he’s quite different looking!”
Ace had been sold through a Cumbrian horse sale, near where the Rome family live close to the Scottish border, but Joanne only later heard about him through a friend, who happened to be teaching a girl who was riding Ace.
“The lady we bought him from had purchased him from the sale as an unbroken four-year-old – he was a bit wild and I think he was too spirited to pull a carriage – and she broke him in and did a bit of Riding Club before her friend’s daughter started riding him,” reveals Joanne, who was by that time looking for a 14.2hh pony for her youngest daughter Imogen.
“My friend Chloe said: ‘I’ve seen this pony who is absolutely perfect for Imogen’. I watched some videos on Facebook and I really liked him but we heard from the owner that he had a rider so he wasn’t for sale. Which was so disappointing!”
‘The viewing couldn’t have gone worse’
However, in February last year the owner was in a position to sell Ace.
“We were so excited to go and see him, we were so expecting it to go really well,” recalls Joanne. “Well, it couldn’t have gone worse – he stopped and Julie [his owner] fell off him. That wasn’t how we thought it would go! I did really like the pony, I was just worried about his temperament and I was conscious that Imogen only had two years left in 14.2hhs.
“I just felt that we weren’t going to get to where we wanted to get to with the pony in that short period of time.”
Joanne left to consider her options and a couple of weeks later they were offered the chance to ride Ace again, this time at Morris Equestrian. However, in the meantime, Imogen was offered the ride on the brilliant 148cm Chivaz, a super pony who has helped many young riders during his 25-year career.
“Of course she jumped at the chance to ride Chivaz, but I thought I don’t need two ponies and I’ve already agreed to try Ace again at Morris,” remembers Joanne. “Anyway, Ace went really well for us that time and I could really see the potential. So we ended up with two ponies arriving in March last year!
“She learnt so much from Chivaz and she’s taken that on to Ace. He came on way quicker than we thought he would and we actually went to our first show two days after we got him. We started at British novice, then put him in his first newcomers at the beginning of April and he got his double clears for that. He did the newcomers Masters at the nationals last year, he just missed out on HOYS, and he jumped in the JC/JD at the Highland. He progressed so quickly and did everything we wanted him to.
“This year we went to South View and he stepped up to do all the bigger classes, and that’s when we thought ‘OK, this is really exciting!’ So after qualifying for two finals at Horse of the Year Show we’ve just been left thinking ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this!’ That was the wish list at the start of the season but he’s just ticked them off as he’s gone.”
Eden Ace: “Buzzy and excitable – always keen!”
Imogen describes Ace as “buzzy and excitable”, but “he loves his job – he’s always keen!”, she says.
“He’s a bit nervy at first but he’s comfortable and trusts us now,” says Imogen, who is just finishing her GCSE exams. “The bigger the jumps, the more he respects them.
“He’s such a good boy!” adds Imogen, who is also producing another 148cm pony, Llansansior Seren, who she got in September.
The teenager has represented her native Scotland on 128cm and 148cm pony teams, but this will be Imogen’s first time competing at HOYS.
“It’s so exciting. Ever since I was on 128cms I’ve wanted to go to Horse of the Year Show,” says Imogen, who is already preparing for next month’s Royal International. “I’ve never jumped him on grass before and he doesn’t have shoes on, so I’m going to practice with him on grass soon. He likes a big atmosphere, he goes really well in it, he quite likes the attention, so hopefully he’ll like it at Hickstead.”
Ace competes barefoot, a decision made originally because he kept getting his foot stuck in the field fencing, but he’s clearly thriving on jumping without shoes.
The family’s nearest arena is several miles away so “we only tend to jump at shows or at arena hires when training” reveals Joanne.
“He’s a pony many other people wouldn’t even have looked at,” she reflects. “But he’s a really springy pony, I’ve never seen a pony bounce and extend the way he does, he’s so athletic.
“We’re competing against so much money in this game, so to have produced a pony ourselves makes it special,” she says.
“This really is a dream come true.”
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Credit: Phil Hiller/Landscape and Horses