It was the day after her 17th birthday in 2015 that young event rider Hannah Francis received her diagnosis of aggressive bone cancer in her pelvis and right hip joint. Two days earlier she’d been given the news that she’d been accepted on to the Rider Development Pathway Assessment Day training camp that summer – a Pony Club initiative designed to act as a stepping stone for young riders aiming towards the talent pathways of the Olympic Sports.
It was the chance purchase of a soft toy by Hannah’s show jumping trainer, Jayne Smart, and her daughter Emily, which set Hannah on a path which culminated in the creation of a registered charity designed to support other young people in a similar situation. The small toy horse, dubbed Willberry Wonder Pony by Hannah, has turned into a global phenomenon. With a website , over 44,000 followers on Facebook, over 7,200 followers on Twitter and over 43,000 followers on Instagram, it’s little wonder that having raised over £100,000 for charity, on 29th March 2016 the charity became official.
You can follow Hannah and Willberry’s story on their blog, where they recount brilliant exploits such as riding internationally for Great Britain in top hat and tails (Hannah), and going round Badminton (Willberry – aided and abetted by Ben Hobday). Here at e-Venting Towers, we’ve been following Hannah’s blog with no small amount of admiration and awe, and it’s been great to see so many famous riders backing this new charity.
In addition to Wilberry there are several other Berry Ponies in the family who are getting up to all sorts of adventures including hitching rides around a number of cross country courses around the world. One particularly special pony is Wanderberry Pony, whom having recently been given his very own FEI passport, is heading off to the Rio Olympics with Team GBR photographer Jon Stroud. The question now surely is whether Wanderberry will have the chance to ride round the Olympic course?! The adventures of the Berry Pony Family can also be followed on the Facebook page.
A new award to be known as the ‘Hannah Francis Award’, which of course also includes Willberry, is also currently in the process of being created by equestrian Artist Amy Goodman, best known for her life size War Horse in Romsey which was unveiled just over a year ago. A group of 15 Equestrian companies spearheaded by KBIS are jointly funding the sculpture which will be presented to an inspirational young eventer at the Event Owners Association dinner in November.
There are now several ways people can help support Hannah’s charity, from wristbands and chocolates available via the website to products from long standing e-Venting supporters Hi Ho Silver and Kate Negus.
Hi Ho Silver have produced a great sterling silver Willberry charm, whilst the Kate Negus padded international bridle is now the Willberry’s Choice bridle, and a donation will be made for every purchase.
The other way to get involved is by becoming a Friend of Willberry through a monthly (or annual) subscription. Just £25 a year signs you up as a Friend, and will allow the charity to grant Willberry’s Wishes to other young people suffering from serious illness.