When fate brought together a teenage boy and an Arab filly, no one gave the relationship long but two years later they are inseparable.
William Bentley-Lovell's riding career had to take a back seat in 2009 when he was diagnosed with a heart condition. He had just been bought a 13.2hh hunter pony but at the same time she also had health problems. The following year he had a successful operation but his pony did not have the same luck and had to be put down, causing devastation for William.
It was just a few days later when the Bentley-Lovell's, who run a busy competition and livery yard in Sticklepath, near Barnstaple, were offered an unbroken pure-bred Arab filly.
"My aunt rang me up out of the blue and said a friend of a friend wanted to find a home for a three-year-old Arab filly," explained William's mother, Nicola, who admitted the family had not had many dealings with the Arab breed and what they knew of Arabs at that time was "not very complimentary".
"The upshot of it was that we went to Susan George's yard on Exmoor to collect Viola Des Alpes who was officially given to us by her then owner Ian Smith," she added. "We were shown her papers and told how lucky we were as her breeding was exceptionally good."
While both Nicola and Andrew (William's father) were a bit "sceptical", William, who was recovering well from his operation, was "totally excited".
In the late summer of 2010, Viola, as she is known at home, was shown lightly.
"William was desperate to help break her in," said Nicola, "and so he gently got back into his riding and this is where their amazing partnership really began."
The plan was for Nicola to show Viola the following spring. "She didn't like me. She'd cavort around and do anything to embarrass me but when William jumped on board she went beautifully!" quipped Nicola who made a point in looking up the Arab Horse Society rules to discover there was no minimum age for a rider in Open and Novice classes.
"I was relieved while William was thrilled to take on the ride," added Nicola who watched her son qualify Viola for HOYS in their first season together – last year.
"We were told he was the first child to have qualified a pure bred Arab which was very special," added Nicola. "They have never looked back. They had landed many Novice wins and have become such a good partnership."
This year the inseparable pair have seem themselves at HOYS again where they finished a highly credible eighth. "At 13 he was the only junior contesting the HOYS Pure Bred Arabian classes and so to qualify and get placed was a huge achievement," enthused Nicola, who noted that the pair were only a handful of combinations that did a "proper" gallop at HOYS. "We just seemed to click from the moment I first sat on her," said William who soon discovered, and loves, gallop mode on Dartmoor with Viola.
"She is different and doesn't really go well for anyone else," explained William who also plays rugby for the Okehampton 14 and under junior squad in the second row. "She has a lovely bouncy stride and the most amazing expression."
William has started to jump her at home and wants to have a go at the combined training at the Nationals. They will also be on the pony club dressage team for the Eggesford Pony Club.
"Soon I'll be getting too tall for her," added William, "so I'll ride her while I still can and then my plan is to retain her as a brood mare and put her to something bigger with the idea of having a horse that I can then ride."
"They definitely have a terrific bond together," said Nicola. "I am a great believer of 'things happen for a reason' – when we got Viola home we had a good look at her, she was beautiful and had the exact same colour and markings as the pony we lost. William felt that she was sent for him, knowing what I know now I have to say I tend to agree with him, I also think she was not just sent for William but for all three of us as we have met some really lovely people on the way and made some very good friends as well. Viola and William are a complete partnership and my plan is to sign the mare over to him."
She quipped: "I think we'll be seeing a few more Arabs on our yard in the near future if William has anything to do with it – he's just got to convince his father!"