It was an emotional night all round at the NRM Horse of the Year Show tonight when Catriona Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the celebrationary black tie dinner.
Sir Mark Todd had to pause as he announced to the 280-plus crowd that his dear friend, and the founder of CatWalk, was the inductee.
“Tonight we celebrate the achievements of someone I admire tremendously,” said Todd. “Someone who has been both an outstanding competitor at, and supporter of, the NRM Horse of the Year Show. Everyone in this room, including my friend and I, have come to know each other through the world of horses – our partners in the great times, the good times and the worst of times.”
Todd said being around horses was a constant challenge.
“They bring out the the best in us, although on difficult days, it's hard to remember that. This person has never let the dark days get them down. And when the times aren’t so easy, it’s been their resilience . . . their ability to get going again, which sets this person apart.”
Todd said he was honoured to play a part in inducting Williams, who was a finalist in the New Zealander of the Year Award, into the Hall of Fame..
He highlighted Williams outstanding career as a competitor both on and offshore, as well as her contribution to the show as a commentator, energetic ambassador for the show and a huge help to show director Kevin Hansen in liaising with and negotiating sponsorships.
“Catriona, your positivity is outstanding and you make things happen. You are a giver and not a taker . . . and you have given a huge amount to HOY over three decades.”
Todd ran through an impressive list of Williams' ponies, paying tribute to her parents Maureen and Stuart.
“Your determination to achieve shone through from the start. Those who watched, say you never thought you were already the best, but you were always determined to become the best.”
And she had made her mark on almost every significant jumping trophy at HOY, including the Saba Sam Shield, the Somerset Fair Cup for Pony of the Year, the Lowry Medallion for Rider of the Year, the Big Red Trophy, the Tony Vallance Trophy for show hunter, the Blackmore Cup for the speed champs, the Norwood Gold Cup and more.
She had shone in eventing too, winning the advanced and intermediate three day championships, the intermediate one day championship and twice the novice accumulator series. Williams also competed with success in Australia.
Offshore, her eventers finished in the top 20 at Burghley, Badminton and Saumur. With her horse of a lifetime – Falcon – went to the 1999 World Cup showjumping finals in Sweden, and qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
However, in 2002 her life changed when she became a C6-7 tetraplegic after falling from a friend's horse while eventing.
Todd didn't want to dwell on the accident, but instead added to Williams own personal roll of honour describing her as resilient, having incredible ability to fight back from adversity, having an ability to make people feel special and her “sheer bloody mindedness”.
“This leads of course to the wider stage you are now tackling. Somewhere, somehow, someday, someone will find a cure for spinal cord injury. And when that day comes, Catriona Williams will have more than played a part in the breakthrough.”
CatWalk patron Zara Phillips sent her congratulations, saying how impressed she always has been with Williams tenacity and total commitment.
“She inspires people in so many ways,” she wrote.
Williams was visibly moved by the honour.
“This (her injury) wasn't what (my husband) Sam and I signed up for, but if it wasn't for that, I probably wouldn't have met Zara (Phillips) or got to Richie McCaw so well!
“I have been incredibly lucky – people see me and think you poor thing, but I don't see the chair. I would give anything to be back on my feet, but Sam and I lead a pretty good life.”
And if there was one small thing they could do that would ensure others did not go through what she had (because of her injury), then it would all be worthwhile.
Earlier in the evening, Leicester Jarden (Waikanae) was awarded the David Ross Memorial Trophy, and Peter Morris received the Pilmer Plate Volunteer Lifetime Award.
World-beating jockey Lance O'Sullivan was interviewed by radio personality Jamie Mackay, entertaining the crowd with stories of some of the fantastic horses he has ridden over an impressive career.