It’s easy to wax lyrical about the world’s best event horses. For those who are thus disposed, a line from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” seems most apropos: “and though she be but little, she is fierce.” You get the impression on meeting Classic Moet, known at home as Molly, that such a suggestion would elicit an eye-roll at best, and probably a derisive insult at worst.
You see, Molly isn’t the type for poetic aphorisms, nor for fuss and photos. She’s just totally and unapologetically her own horse, comfortable in her own skin and tough as nails. She might not be big—16.1 hands is an optimistic estimate, even fully studded—but she knows her role in life. And what is that role, exactly? Well, to be the speed-queen of eventing, of course.
We caught up with New Zealand rider Jonelle Price’s 2018 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials winner to find out what makes the 15-year-old British Sport Horse (Classic—Gamston Bubbles, Bohemond) tick.
• She’s not a girly-girl.
“She lives outside, and her favorite thing to do is get dirty and be in the mud. The worst thing, for her, is being tarted up,” explained Lucy Miles, Tim and Jonelle Price’s head groom, who has looked after Molly for four years. “If she was human, she’d be like [British comedy character] Vicky Pollard.”
Jonelle agrees. “She’s a real tomboy,” she said. “Unladylike is probably the best way to describe her. She’s a real individual, and she knows what she likes.”
The Prices’ website, perhaps, describes it best: “Molly would, if she were a person, come from Swindon (or West Auckland, for our New Zealand followers), be a couple of stone overweight, have several tattoos, wear a too-tight leather jacket over skintight leopardskin pants, have a boyfriend with an IQ of 10 who’s a club bouncer, and four children by four different fathers.”
• And what does she like? Well, going fast, mostly.
“Everything has to be done flat-out,” said Jonelle. “She’s the most awful hack; she doesn’t spook or anything, but she just wants to go flat-out the whole time. I call it the tranter. She tries to trot so fast that she can’t trot anymore, and it turns into this pace; you rise for two beats, sit for one. The guys on the yard do all the hacking and quite a lot of the fitness work, too.”
Miles sticks to the ground where Molly is concerned. “I think she’s probably too fast for me,” she said with a laugh.
• Despite her penchant for speed, Molly is easy to take to competitions.
“She’s exactly the same out competing as she is at home,” said Miles. “The only thing she does is paw; I think it’s because she wants to go cross-country. She’s a pretty good free-grazer, too. We can just let her go.”
• Despite their almost legendary relationship, Jonelle only got the ride on Molly five years ago, when the horse was 10. But she didn’t always think the mare would be the force of nature she’s proven to be.
“We did the two-star at Hartpury [England] that year, and I thought, ‘I don’t know how fast this is going to be.’ Thankfully, she’s proven me wrong,” Jonelle said. Molly is owned by Trisha Rickards, who also owns Jonelle’s four-star mare Faerie Dianimo.
“My connection with Trisha came through a great friend, Jackie Green, whom Tim and I were based with when we first came to England,” said Jonelle. “Trisha’s rider at the time was heading out of the sport a little bit, so Jackie had taken Molly under her wing, so to speak, and had a few riders based with her who would ride her. Jackie would ride her at home, and they’d compete her.”
The first of those riders was Ireland’s Esib Power, and then fellow Kiwi Caroline Powell took the reins.
“When Caroline moved from Jackie’s yard up to Newmarket, Molly was in need of a jockey, and so she came to me,” Jonelle said. “She was running intermediate and two-star as a 10-year-old, so she was pretty late to start her path to the top level, but, you know, age is just a number.”
The mare, whose career trajectory Jonelle describes as “pretty extraordinary,” wasted no time in playing catch-up; a year after that first event together at Hartpury, the pair represented New Zealand at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France), finishing in fourth place individually.
• Molly is a new mother, just like Jonelle. The pair took much of the 2017 season off, as Jonelle was pregnant with her first son, Otis. While husband Tim took the ride on many of her up-and-coming horses, Molly and Faerie Dianimo were deemed too small, so they had time off from competition before reappearing at the end of the season to tackle the SsangYong Blenheim Palace CCI*** (Classic Moet) and the Pau CCI**** (Faerie Dianimo). In the meantime, Molly, who is predominately Thoroughbred, had a foal by embryo transfer, born on Good Friday and sired by French rider Tom Carlile’s three-star stallion Upsilon (Canturo—O’vive, Fusain Du Defey).
“Trisha is a breeder; Faerie Dianimo is the first of that family, and Tim’s ride Xavier Faer is out of the same mare,” explained Jonelle. “She’s had a lot of success breeding, but we’d never considered it too seriously with Molly, because she’s not as classic in her conformation and way of going. But she’s had some very good results, and with me being off for the year, it seems the perfect opportunity. The choice of stallion was Trisha’s call, and as soon as she mentioned it, I thought it was a fantastic one. If you were to look at Molly individually and think about what Upsilon could add to her, you’d get the perfect horse. Equally, if you took Upsilon and added Classic Moet to him you might think you had the perfect horse. I don’t think breeding’s that easy, but on paper it sounds good!”
• She might not be the best show jumper, but it’s not for lack of effort. The Price family spends five weeks on Spain’s Sunshine Tour each winter, jumping their string in international classes to prepare them for the season ahead. Molly’s clear round at Badminton was her first clear show jumping round at an international event in four years. Jonelle credits the time spent on the tour with helping to get the mare in top shape and ready for Badminton, particularly after a difficult start to the season when an uncharacteristic abscess delayed their early competition plans.
• She has more heart than her small frame should hold.
“She’s so unspecial that she’s incredibly special,” said Jonelle. “There’s nothing fantastic; she’s quite an ordinary mover, a bit of an unorthodox jumper, but she’s got a ginormous heart. She’s got a huge will to be an event horse, and she’s fierce and courageous, but equally, she’s like that every day, in everything she does, which doesn’t always make her the most enjoyable in terms of the dressage training!
“I’m sure even at the end of my career, I’ll look back and have had some of my best cross-country rides on her,” she continued. “When you gallop around a four-star, and no one’s made the time all day, and you come home on her as the fastest of the day—she’s done that a few times—and to make it as smooth and easy as she does, well, that’s pretty special. I’ll always look back at her fondly for that.”
• She gave Jonelle and Rickards their first four-star win—a long time coming, when you look at the stats. In 17 internationals together, they’ve finished in the top 10 in over half, and come inside the time on cross-country in eight. Of those outside the time, it’s only ever by a smattering of seconds.
“Dreams do come true,” said a beaming Jonelle in the collecting ring at Badminton. “She’s like my best friend.”