A PONY rescued from the side of the A19 has become a national dressage competitor "by complete mistake."

Alan the horse is undoubtedly the best £5 that his owner Vicci Smith has ever spent, after she purchased him blindly from a friend who had rescued him from a life kept beside the major road near Hartlepool.

"The moment which I bought Alan was the first time that I had laid eyes on him," said Ms Smith, from Whitby.

"My friend was looking to rehome him because he hadn't grown big enough for her, so we struck a deal that I would buy him for £1, with the price just being a gesture to show a deal had taken place between us. But when I turned up to collect him I only had £5 on me, and I didn't feel I could ask for change," said Ms Smith.

The Northern Echo: Alan the horse with The Smith family’s youngest riderAlan the horse with The Smith family’s youngest rider

Known formally as Spartacus VI, Ms Smith's children renamed the horse on his arrival because they simply felt 'he looked like an Alan.'

"Spartacus is his posh name, it's what he uses in dressage competitions and its on his passport, but it doesn't suit him at all because he's too small and hairy.

"From the minute I took him home, he became part of the family. He had such a gentle manner with the children, and was so accepting to them riding him," said Ms Smith.

A horse-lover her whole life, Ms Smith had plenty of experience keeping ponies and entering equine competitions, but she was still unsure where to place the unusual Alan.

"He wasn't naturally talented in any particular discipline," said Ms Smith, "but he seemed to really respond well to dressage. We began to enter a couple of events, and he did surprisingly get good scores."

Last year, the pair entered the British Dressage competition, qualifying for the prestigious Petplan Equine Area Festival at Northallerton, in which they took second place in the Prelim Silver category and qualified for the festival's final, in which he took 4th place.

Now, the pair are pushing themselves further by entering the national Petplan Equine Area Festival Championships in April, but Ms Smith isn't too optimising about Alan's chance of success.

"If I'm honest, I'm not at all hopeful for a win," she said. "We're under no pressure at all, we're just treating the event as a fun family day out and not getting overly competitive.

"We're proud of Alan because he is climbing up the dressage ladder, just very slowly. At times, I'm sure he has no clue what he's doing with dressage, but he enjoys himself and so do I, and to me and my family that's all that matters."

To mark his fifth birthday last year, the Smith family made Alan a cake to celebrate.

"When I think about the life that he could have had living by the A19, it is quite moving, because no one deserves a good life with a loving family around him more than Alan." said Ms Smith.

"He might not be the dream show horse, but we're all very lucky to have him.