Leyland’s Grace Wood is hoping to trot to victory at this year’s Horse of the Year Show

Grace Wood with Chloe

Grace Wood with Chloe - Credit: Archant

For eight-year-old Grace Wood, it is a huge achievement to have qualified for the prestigious Horse of the Year Show staged in Birmingham during October.

Laura Clibburn and Grace Wood with Chloe, Paddy and Digby

Laura Clibburn and Grace Wood with Chloe, Paddy and Digby - Credit: Archant

However, it is an even bigger achievement for the young rider to have qualified in the first round, while being completely unaware she was even taking part.

‘We decided not to tell her,’ said mum Sally Wood. ‘There are 23 qualifying rounds all over the country, and we thought we would just take her to the first one to see how she performed. We never expected her to get through on her first attempt, it was such a lovely surprise.’

Grace Wood riding Digby

Grace Wood riding Digby - Credit: Archant

Grace said: ‘Mummy started crying when my number was called and I didn’t know why as I didn’t think we’d won anything!’

Digby and Grace share a moment

Digby and Grace share a moment - Credit: Archant

The youngster, who lives in Leyland, has been riding horses since the age of five. ‘We are very much an equestrian family,’ said Sally, who is a partner at Maria B Evans Estate Agents. She met her husband John when she used to ride so it was only natural for Grace to start riding too. ‘She was aged six when she took part in her first show. Over the last 18 months she’s grown up so much, and her skills have advanced.’

Grace, who qualified for HOYS at the National Pony Society Area 5 summer show at Bold Heath, St Helens, will be competing in the Mountain and Moorland Mini Lead Rein Pony of the Year for children under nine years. She will be riding Dodden Hill Coral Chloe, known as just Chloe at the stables, who is seven. Grace will be led around the ring by family member ‘Auntie Laura’, Laura Clibburn.

‘She has been competing for just over 12 months and has placed near enough every time,’ said Laura. ‘To qualify in what is the world cup of the equestrian world is amazing. There are only 23 places, so it is tough. Chloe hadn’t competed in any shows until June 2013, so she has done brilliantly too. Most ponies have been competing for five to six years to get to this level, so she is still a novice.’

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Grace, who attends Eccleston County Primary school, also has two other horses, Digby, 19 and Paddy, 9.

‘Digby is my favourite,’ smiled Grace. ‘If customers come to see him I’ll make him do something naughty!’ The horse, who Sally joked often acts like an old man with a smokers cough, was originally a schoolmaster’s horse on a six month trial with the Woods. ‘Grace loved him so much we kept him,’ said Sally. ‘We would never sell him now.’

The Horse of the Year Show celebrated 65 years in 2013 after being established by Captain Tony Collings in 1949. The first show was staged at the Haringey Stadium before it moved to Wembley in 1959 and then to Birmingham in 2002. Last year, the show featured 1,600 horses and ponies and 65,000 spectators.

Every day after returning home from school, Grace practises her horse riding and jumping as well as mucking out her three horses. ‘She really does live for it,’ said Sally. ‘Grace gets up early every weekend for shows at 5am – even earlier than me as she is frightened that I’ll sleep through my alarm!’

Horse of the Year Show at the Birmingham NEC will take place from October 8 to 12.