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Pint-size wonder; Justine Halifax finds out about a Midland champion's love of miniature horses.

Byline: Justine Halifax

Black Jack is a national champion, but while the name of this stunning horse may conjure up images of a grand black in fine form to win the Derby or the Nationals, this prestigious Horse Show of the Year winner stands proud at just 33 inches tall. And his owner, student Claudia Foulkes, wouldn't have it any other way - for her petite is definitely best.

Born into a horse-owning family, she was just five years old when she saw her first miniature horse and fell in love, pleading with her mother Maxine to buy one for her.

But what was at first dismissed as a young girl's fad did not fade with age and instead her fascination blossomed.

Claudia was just eight when she got her first miniature, Max, and she's not looked back - in fact it changed her family's life. They waved goodbye to the big horses and standard scale accessories to make way for the miniatures and everything was scaled down, including the stable doors.

Now Claudia, of Fradley, near Lichfield, who is studying illustration and animation as part of an art degree at Coventry University, has her own collection of miniature horses, including Ella, and new foal Yankee Doodle Dandy, which she also plans to show at the Horse of the Year Show next year.

The former pupil at The Friary in Lichfield, says: "When I first said that I wanted a miniature my mum said: "Don't be silly, what are you going to do with it?" "But I got my first miniature at eight and I've never looked back.

"It's strange, people still say what do you do with them but apart from not being able to ride them you can do just as much with them as you can a normal size horse - Jack can jump 35' inches which is taller than he is.

"Some people laugh and think it is a strange hobby but they soon change their minds when they meet the horses - as they are beautiful and really great to work with.

"I get so much joy out of caring for them and showing them. They're just fantastic, I absolutely love them. They're such little individual characters and they love the shows too, if they didn't want to do something they wouldn't."

She adds: "While I've been showing horses at the Horse of the Year Show for a number of years, and we'd been proud to get a number of seconds and thirds, we'd never won the Champion Miniature Horse of the Year title.

"Ella took third and I had hoped that Black Jack would have a chance at an award too, but I was surprised when he won the championship title. I just didn't know what to do with myself. But it's taken us 10 years to get here."

Now Claudia hopes to lift a championship title at the The Royal Horse Show in Hickstead next summer.

"I've done it backwards really," she said. "But now I've got a championship title I'd like to go back to see if I can do it there too. I'd then like to go to show my horses in Europe to see if I can get titles there too."

The student, who appeared on ITV's The Alan Titchmarsh Show with Black Jack, has high hopes that Yankee Doodle Dandy, which she bred herself, is another champion in the making.

She confessed: "All my horses are very special to me, but we think we have something special with Yankee."

When Claudia isn't working towards her degree or with her miniature horses she can be found pulling pints at the Fox and Hounds in Shenstone, near Lichfield.

Pub landlord Ken Gardner says: "Some of the regulars joked that she should be entering it in the Derby or the National and now it is a champion. Everyone was delighted when she brought in her Champion's rosette - she's a real favourite here.'' Look out for Claudia at next year's Horse of the Year Show from October 5-9 at the NEC. Tickets are already on sale, call 0844 581 8282. For more on Claudia and Black Jack visit www.dragonaraminiatures.com

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Claudia with champion Black Jack at the Horse of the Year Show
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 18, 2010
Words:708
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