Every once in a while, fate intervenes to bring the right horse and the right rider together at the perfect moment.
Rumba’s partnership with John French couldn’t have come at a better time. The U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s ambitious effort to bring show hunters back to their roots and promote the sport on a high-performance level finally came to fruition during the debut season of the International Hunter Derby series. While the nascent program enjoyed largely positive feedback, its long-term success depended on the momentum escalating during the inaugural $100,000 ASG Software Solutions/USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals held at the Kentucky Horse Park.
With the future of the high-performance hunters in the balance, the sport needed a poster child, and it got one in Rumba.
There were plenty of ripples coming from the West Coast about a spectacular Danish Warmblood. Reportedly, he could jump, he could move, he could win with a professional or a junior aboard, and he had that look. He was, by all accounts, the ideal show hunter.
And when he put in a foot-perfect performance in Kentucky to win blue for Mountain Home Stables, Rumba won over the 30,000 viewers who tuned in live online to see him in action, exciting both long-time hunter fans and those unfamiliar with the sport.
“He’s a fabulous jumper and a beautiful mover and was magnificently ridden. What else can you say?” said George Morris, one of eight judges for the Final, after seeing him in action.
Rumba rounded out his season with a perfect professional record: wins in all three derbies French contested with him, and second year green tricolors everywhere he went, including the grand green hunter title at Capital Challenge (Md.). He cleaned up in the junior divisions as well, earning large junior hunter, 16-17, titles with Taylor Siebel. But his biggest triumph came as an ambassador for the sport.
“At [Arizona Season Finale II] a father came up to me and said, ‘You don’t know who I am, but I want to tell you that I read about you in the magazine. I’ve seen the pictures. I watched the rounds. There aren’t many people that do something in their life that’s monumental, and what you and that horse did was. You’re very lucky,’ ” recalled French, of Redwood City, Calif. “That made me feel really good.
“So many people came up to me after the derby finals and told me that they weren’t sure about the derbies, but watching the Final and seeing Rumba made them want to do it,” he continued. “I’m so glad he helped bring interest back to the hunters.”
The gelding had already turned plenty of heads in the hunter ring before French started with him, winning the $25,000 Dearborn Stables Open Hunter Classic at the Del Mar National (Calif.) and the grand green hunter title at Capital Challenge as a first year horse with Erin Duffy, and amateur-owner accolades with owner Chelsea Wilkinson aboard. When French went looking for a top junior hunter, the lovely gray was already on his radar.
“We knew we had a really special horse, but I don’t think we really knew how great he was,” said owner Stacey Siebel, Taylor’s mother. “Under John’s riding and training he really blossomed even further. When he walked in the ring for a big class, you could hear a pin drop. He has that charisma and turned himself on. He’s really hard to ignore. When I saw how people reacted to him, I knew he had to go to Kentucky.”
By the time derby finals rolled around Taylor had turned the ride on Rumba over to French full time so she could focus on the jumper ring, but Stacey encouraged him to take the horse to the Finals. Even tragedy striking the Siebel family right before the Finals couldn’t change Stacey’s plan to see Rumba wear blue against the best hunters in the country.
In early August Stacey’s husband, Tom, was charged by an elephant while on safari in Tanzania. Tom’s left leg was gored, his right leg crushed, and he suffered several broken ribs. By derby day, on Aug. 22, Tom was back in California on the slow road to recovery, and Stacey found herself immersed in new responsibilities.
“I didn’t ever think of pulling [Rumba] even if I couldn’t go,” said Stacey. “I thought he had a good chance of winning.”
Taylor and Stacey watched the qualifying round online and flew to Kentucky for one quick night to watch their horse perform.
With 18-year-old Taylor moving on from the hunter ring, the Siebels made the difficult decision to sell their dream horse. But that didn’t mean that Taylor didn’t appreciate having the chance to campaign the spectacular animal.
“Even just walking around at horse shows I felt so proud to be on him,” said Taylor. “I always knew Rumba was going to be good, and it was up to me whether we’d place well or not.
After Capital Challenge the Siebels said goodbye to Rumba as he left with Destry Spielberg, who debuted him to the children’s hunter, 12-14, championship at National Preview (Calif.).
“It will be great for him to be the horse of a lifetime for someone else,” said French. “He will be able to make another child’s dream come true.”
Background: Bred by Else Kristensen of Mosegaarden Farm, Rumba, 10, was born Mosegaarden’s Caramba (Carano—Brandibah, Limebrand).
Bit: plain D-ring snaffle.
Barn family: Carrie Robinson kept him legged up at home, Tammy Schipke managed all the details of his travel, and Garrett Warner kept him in shape at shows.
His strange phobia: Seeing himself on TV. “At [the 2008 Pennsylvania National] with Erin Duffy he saw himself on the monitor right by the in-gate and got very distracted,” said John French. “This year after the first round at [the $100,000 ASG Software Solutions/UHSJA International Hunter Derby Finals] he saw himself on the big screen in the ring when we went in to get our ribbon after the handy round. His head went straight into the air, and he wouldn’t leave the ring. Luckily, for the second round we galloped away from the screen, but those are the only two times he’s ever been spooky at anything.”
2009 COMPETITIVE HIGHLIGHTS
1st—ASG Software Solutions/USHJA International Hunter Derby Final (Ky.)
1st—ASG Software Solutions/USHJA International Hunter Derby (Calif.)
1st—ASG Software Solutions/USHJA International Hunter Derby (Calif.)
HITS Desert Circuit (Calif.)—second year green hunter circuit champion, large junior hunter, 16-17, circuit champion.
Menlo Charity (Calif.)—second year green hunter champion, winner $10,000 grand hunter challenge
Capital Challenge (Md.)—grand green hunter champion, second year green hunter champion, co-winner EMO Trip Of The Show
Like This Article?
If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing to The Chronicle Of The Horse. “The Chronicle Of The Horse Show Hunter Of The Year: Rumba” ran in the Feb. 5 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.