Melton show jumper Joss Williams goes up against the world’s best on Saturday night thanks to a wonder horse he picked up for a song on a boozy weekend.
Their top-of-the-bill appearance at the Horse of the Year Show this weekend will mark a terrific comeback story for his courageous mount Culmore Prospect.
The 16-year-old was thought past her best and had not even seen a show jumping arena for a few years when Williams spotted her at auction in Ireland.
But this Saturday, Culmore Prospect will rub fetlocks with the great and the good of the equestrian world in the prestigious puissance event.
Only the top in-form horses are invited to compete at the NEC and the Melton pair rubber-stamped their place with a win at Solihull last weekend.
Williams (23) was the only rider to successfully jump two metres, one of the biggest clearances of his career.
“I did an interview with Horse and Hound just after and she asked me if I was going to the Horse of the Year Show.
“She told me just to ring up and find out if I could enter so I did, and they said yes.
“I haven’t looked at the entry list yet, but I do know the best in the world will be there along with a little lad from Melton.
“Just to ride through the curtains into that arena will be magical.”
It’s a far cry from two-and-a-half years ago when Culmore Prospect was being paraded in front of sceptical prospective buyers at auction.
Most of the glances cast her way were doubtful, but Williams had an instinctive hunch.
He said: “I bought her on a whim on a drunken weekend and it paid off. It was obviously fate.
“She hadn’t really done anything for a few years and obviously people were wary about why she hadn’t jumped for so long and why a horse like this was in the market.
“She was the spitting image of a pony I had and had the same bad attitude, but I just had that gut feeling about her and couldn’t walk away.
“For what she is and what she has done, she was a bit of a steal. The whim was certainly worth the hangover.”
The puissance event pits entrants against a daunting wall which gradually increases in height throughout the competition until only the final handful of successful horses remain.
Williams believes they will have to clear a height of around 1.85m just to make it through the opening round. Last year’s winner cleared a daunting 2.14m.
“It will be pushing us out of our comfort zone quite early on, but we both enjoy a challenge,” he said.
“There is no pressure or expectation, I just want us to be able to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy ourselves.
“As a kid I was taken to the Horse of the Year Show and I used to sit there and think ‘one day maybe I’ll be out there’. It means so much.”
Williams is no stranger to high profile competition and has competed among good company on the hallowed turf of Hickstead.
But Olympia will be another huge leap up the ladder, and while he has belief in Culmore, he knows his own nerves must be conquered to get the best out of her.
“I think she will be fine – I have all the faith in the world in her,” he added. “It’s just whether I can contain my nerves.
“To clear two metres was massive. We have jumped some big fences, but I never thought we would be able to jump that.
“She has the heart of a lion and is stupidly brave. She’s the horse of a lifetime.”