Marengo with Napoleon
What really famous horses can you name? There are few horses that cross all boundaries and become heroes in the minds of both the wider equestrian community and the non-equestrian world. Horses that would continually feature in quiz questions on more than two continents! High up on most lists would be Alexander the Great’s Bucephalus, Napoleon’s grey Marengo, Roy Roger’s
palomino Trigger, and Anna Sewell’s heart breaking creation Black Beauty.
DRESSAGE AND EVENTING
From Dressage the list is short. Possibly included would be those two multi Gold medalists, Swiss rider Christine Stuckleburger’s giant Granat and from Germany, Nicole Uphoff’s supercharged Rembrandt and the current wonder horse Totilas, ridden by Edward Gal. From Horse Trials the spring heeled pony and Pan Am Gold medalist Theodore O’Connor, ridden by Karen O’Connor of the USA, broke all records for column inches in the papers until his tragic accident and death last year. Karen had previously found similar fame with the Irish bred Biko, who was voted the USET horse of the century and was Chelsea Clinton’s favourite horse. I am proud to have found Biko as a three year old and produced him for almost three years before he went to the USA. In fact my wife Sarah was the very first person to jump him under saddle, which doesn’t say much for how I took care of her because Biko was an expert at dislodging riders!
Of course racing in all its’ forms reaches a huge audience and racehorses are therefore probably the most famous in the world. From the simply exquisite and legendary thoroughbred sire Hyperion, who was only 15.1 at the time of winning the English Derby, to the giant stride of Triple Crown winner Secretariat, one of only three horses to feature on the front cover of Time magaxine. From the most valuable
stallion in the world Saddler’s Wells to the people’s champion Seabiscuit,
whose life is now immortalized in the film of the same name. In the world of Steeplechasing a particular favourite of many was Jay Trump, with wins in both the Maryland HuntCup in the USA (3 times) and the British Grand National. However Red Rum, with his three wins and two second places the Grand National, holds all the audience records on his
way to becoming a true national celebrity. It is worth going to Aintree racecourse, near Liverpool, just to see the life size bronze statue of Red Rum.
In Steeplechasing there are few who would now argue with giving the Irish bred Arkle the accolade of being ‘the greatest.’ To this day he is
the highest rated chaser of all time. Winner of fourteen championship races, including a three time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, he was even featured on Irish postage stamps in 1981. He also has the rare honour of a life size portrait owned by the State. It is by the brilliant artist Nicola Russell, and hangs in the Irish equivalent of the White House, Farmleigh House in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. He was not classically beautiful but what supreme ability and courage he had.
GEORGE STUBBS AND WHISTLEJACKET
A number of horses reach a large audience through great art and sculpture. There is none more famous than George Stubb’s masterpiece, Whistlejacket. It is simply breathtaking.
Show Jumping now has fewer horses that are household names as it no longer generates the vast audiences of the 1950’s and 60’s, when it was a top rated TV sport and the final competition in the main stadium in the Olympic Games. For
example pictures of Italy’s Piero D’Inzeo, with his Irish bred grey show jumper
The Rock, used to grace the front covers of all Europe’s top magazines and they
made the front page of the New York Times when jumping at Madison Square
STROLLER AND DUNDRUM
Being smaller than normal is always popular with a wider audience so it was not surprising that those two Irish ponies Stroller and Dundrum hit the headlines. Stroller won the individual silver medal at the Mexico Olympic games in 1968, ridden by Marion Coakes, when only five years earlier he was the top rated jumping pony in Britain. Dundrum’s story is even more extraordinary as he started life in a cart, bringing luggage from Tipperary station to local hotels. But he proved too unruly and was sold on to Tommy Wade who with him won everything from International Grand Prix, to Speed classes and Puissance. He regularly jumped over 7ft and was probably the best pound for pound show jumper of the last century. Every Irish politian at the time knew that the way to get their audience on side was to mention the name of Dundrum!
Dundrum was always described as a Connemara pony, but he was in fact by the TB Little Heaven, who was brought to Ireland as a stallion to add quality to the Connemara pony population. Sadly he died just four years later but he was so successful as a sire that it is now difficult to find a top performance Connemara pony without Little Heaven in the genes.
The same applies to all the horses I have mentioned in this blog. With one exception they all contain at least 50% TB blood…yes even Trigger was half TB! The one exception is the dressage horse Granat, but even he was 25% TB, although you would be hard pressed to find this in the press releases which just describe him as a Holsteiner.
The superb Shutterfly, recent third time winner of the World Cup with Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, is probably closest to becoming a household name in
modern showjumping. From a breeding point of view what is interesting is that although Shutterfly is described as a Hannoverian he is at least half TB and has more TB genes than those from any other stud book. What a shame it is that the TB influence in the modern sport horse is so often hidden. It leads us astray and often leaves us with inferior horses.
HEROES HAVE NAMES
It is also a shame that unlike horse trials so many modern international show jumping horses lack normal names. In my opinion this contributes to the reduced appeal of show jumping and why there are currently so few horses that are genuine household names. Thank goodness Shutterfly has a normal name. The public can relate to this but they cannot relate to long sponsor infiltrated names that change every coupe of years and have odd letters attached at the beginning or the end. I totally understand the need for sponsorship, but a big audience is the best financial stability any sport can have and to generate big audiences we need to praise and promote our best horses, who may well become heroes in time. To do this effectively they need normal names….Trigger, Black Beauty, Red Rum, Biko….there is a lesson here.
Of course most of us in Barnmice have our own heroes or heroines at home. Horses that make such a very real difference to our own lives. Happy Days. William