This was to be Sally Neal’s year . . . except she hit a slight hiccup just before then end of 2023.

The Okaramio mum of two rather active boys was celebrating Christmas with family at her parent’s Okiwi bach when disaster struck. As much as she would love to say her accident happened while dancing on tables with a glass or two of bubbles, she can’t. “I tripped down the stairs, broke my ankle and managed to attract more people into the street when the helicopter arrived than the Okiwi Bay Santa Parade,” she says. It was also her father’s first call out as a volunteer driver for the Okiwi Bay Fire Brigade. However, there is always a silver lining to things, and this time it came in the form of the wider equestrian community.

Sally has qualified for the Horse of the Year Show for the past three years, which have all been cancelled. This season has been a cracker for her and her off the track Hong Kong racer Outfoxed – or Mule as he is known by his mates. They have won six championships on the trot and qualified for 2024 LRHOY. The ferry is booked, everything is sorted . . . but she is now in a moonboot with plates and screws in her ankle. “I did a good job.” As word got out, she started receiving messages of help to ensure she stayed on track for HOY. “It was all a little overwhelming,” says Sally. “I was sitting in Nelson Hospital and the messages were just flowing in. There were so many offers of help with riding. The horse community are amazing.”

Mule is now in work between her lunging him from a camping chair in the round pen and the help of some super friends. “He’s a special creature,” says Sally. “He’s a funny brown colour – hence the name Mule. He came through Event Stars, who do such an amazing job. He has his quirks, and can be a bit grumpy, but is so loveable and just gets on with the job. Gina (Schick, who owns Event Stars) is immensely proud of him.” Sally says Mule will never be leaving her paddocks and has a home with her for life. But for now, the focus is on LRHOY where they will do the rising star hack and thoroughbred classes. “I have never been to HOY before so we are going in a completely blind.”

As a keen hunter Sally tried hunting Mule but discovered the hunting field is now a no-go area. “He thought he was back on a track in Hong Kong when we hunted.” But she has her fingers crossed that despite a bit of a rocky start to 2024 things will be back on track for her debut outing at HOY.