He was charged with the near-impossible task of following in the footsteps of the incomparable Sapphire, but with his exuberant post-round bucks, pinned-back ears, and oversized heart, Rothchild has etched his own very unique place in show jumping history.
Sagamore Farms’ little chestnut gelding (Artos—Pitchounette Du Bosquetiau) has not only become a sentimental favorite among show jumping fans, but with McLain Ward aboard, he has also written himself a résumé worthy of elitist status. Rothchild has leapt to victory in the Grand Prix of Devon and the American Invitational; he has been a part of winning Nations Cup teams in Barcelona and Hickstead; he helped the U.S. team win bronze at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France); and he finished fifth individually at the WEG, just 0.31 points out of the final four.
While Rothchild, affectionately known as “Bongo” at Castle Hill Farm in Brewster, N.Y., and Wellington, Fla., appears fierce in the show ring, he is actually as sweet and as gentle as can be. There’s plenty more to be learned about the little chestnut with the big jump:
- You can’t force Bongo to do anything. It’s best to just work with him. He almost always complies, but things have to be done on his terms. For instance, after grazing, Bongo will intermittently pause on his way back to the barn as he takes in the sights around him. Tug all you want; he won’t budge. It’s not worth the fight. But as soon as he decides he’s ready to continue, he walks on without urging – until he wants to stop again.
“He’s a horse that, you kind of have to know his quirks and work with them, not against them,” groom Diane Puopolo said. “If he doesn’t want to do something, you kind of have to work with him to guide him toward what you want, but you can’t make him do anything, whether it’s in the ring or in the barn.”
- He’s not angry. That’s just his “game face.”
“He pins his ears in the ring, but he’s not a mean horse,” Puopolo said. “He’s very nice to work with. He plays a little bit, but he would never bite you, and if he ever did, it would be a complete accident. He always has his ears forward in the stall. I think that’s just more of his game face, when he pins his ears like that in the ring. He knows it’s his job, and he always wants to compete.”
- His soft side comes out when peppermints are involved.
“He’s really cute when he eats mints,” Puopolo said. “He’s so gentle. He’ll flap his lips wide when you hold your hand out. He’s not greedy. He does want another one and he expects another one, but he’s kind about it.”
“Whenever he eats peppermints, he has to lick the wall for at least 10 minutes afterward,” she added. “He’s very peppermint driven.”
- The “Breakfast of Champions the Champion” consists of: donuts!
“We go to Dunkin’ Donuts every morning, and he always gets a donut every morning, so he does expect that and he looks forward to that,” Puopolo said. “He prefers glazed, but he also likes blueberry glazed, too.”
- Ever wonder why Bongo’s chestnut coat always glimmers like a shiny copper penny? In addition to receiving a good grooming, compliments of Puopolo, Bongo devotes considerable time to working on his tan.
“We’ll put him in the wash stall, and he just loves sun bathing,” Puopolo said. “He’ll stand there, shut his eyes, and rest on a leg, and he’ll hang out there. He’ll be tacked up and he’ll wait a few minutes for McLain, and when we go to pull him up to the mounting block, he won’t move, because he’s sun bathing, and he just loves hanging out in the sun. Again, it’s one of the things that you have to work with him and can’t force him to do. I can’t pull him. He pulls back harder. So, I have to have a mint. I’ll crinkle it, and then he’ll walk up to the mounting block. He will go to it without. It’s just easier to do it his way. McLain made a point that he has me more well-trained than I have him.”
“We call him the Sun God,” she added. “Obviously, he’s the color of the sun, but he’d stand in the sun for hours if we allowed him to.”
- In Bongo’s eyes, if you’re not first, you’re last, even when it comes to daily turnout.
“He gets turned out in the paddock, and that’s one of his favorite things to do,” Puopolo said. “He gets very upset if he’s not one of the first to go out in the turnout group, and he’ll whinny a lot. If you call out his name, he’ll whinny back to you. You can say, ‘Hey Bongo!’ and he’ll say, ‘Hey, did you forget about me?’ He doesn’t like to be last. He’s the King, and he gets his way.”
- He has routine down to a T…
“He knows his routine so well. It’s crazy how well he knows it,” Puopolo said. “I’ve been with him for six or seven years, and his routine has pretty much been the same in that time. Nothing has really changed, which is pretty amazing. Same bridle, same routine warming up…it’s a nice thing having that. It makes everything comfortable for everyone around.”
Bongo and Diane Puopolo
- He more than welcomes his adoring public.
“When he’s walked around the show, he can be pretty arrogant,” Puopolo said. “He likes to be admired by everybody, and he really likes when people are around and just talking about him. When you’re at the ring, or just walking him around at the show, he’ll just stop and look around, and he’ll sort of say, ‘Everybody look at me!’ And he’ll try to see if people will give him treats. He likes to be admired.”
“He thinks he’s just the King, but really, he should be treated like royalty!”