“When she walked into the ring, she had a swagger to her. It wasn’t a walk. It was like, ‘Here I am, so you’d better hang on.’ Every time she went into the ring it was 100 percent try,” recalled trainer Linda Hough of Bavaria.
“And she was a very bright, elegant, beautiful chestnut mare. She was just spectacular. She had that ‘thing’ that all great horses have, like movie stars,” Hough continued. “It’s a charisma. She drew peoples’ attention just from being her.”
And in 1987, Bavaria drew the judges’ eyes at the Washington International Horse Show, jumping to the grand hunter championship after collecting reserve championships in the regular working and regular conformation divisions.
“You can’t do that anymore! Thank God for the old system,” Lise Quintero Gregory said with a laugh about riding Bavaria to the grand hunter tricolor at Washington without winning a division championship. The week before, they’d also been grand champion at the Pennsylvania National. And the week after Washington, Bavaria was regular working champion and regular conformation reserve at the National Horse Show (N.Y.) but ceded the grand hunter title to Two For One.
Gregory has fond memories of showing Bavaria to tricolors at all the biggest shows in the late ‘80s. “She was a WOMAN. She was sheer woman,” Gregory said. “She was a mare through and through—100 percent what you love about a mare when you get one, and 100 percent what you hate about one when you get one. She had opinions.
“We had very specific things we had to do to keep her happy, which was great because Linda was a fantastic manager of horses. She was the hands-on person on the ground and what a horseman she is,” Gregory said. “She was already well known on the West Coast when we got her, but when Linda brought her east, everyone was like, ‘That big heavy thing won’t be able to jump.’ But Linda really believed in her, and she said, ‘Oh yeah? Watch this.’ That mare did so well for us.”
Bavaria was just 7 in 1987 when she first stormed to East Coast indoor championships. “She was brought along by Brad Laird as a green horse. He was a great rider, and he brought her up beautifully,” Gregory said. “She was just out of her second year when we got her and started showing her in the regular working. And thank God, because I can’t imagine facing her to a smaller jump! She easily had the scope in her to do the jumpers, and she had the fight in her to do that well, too. Thank God for Brad for getting all that organized and under control before we got her.”
Bavaria only shipped in a box stall, whether she was traveling by air or by road, and she was bedded knee-deep in straw in a double stall at every show. “She was a big mare, and she liked her space. She was gentle in the stall, but she did like to have room,” Hough recalled. “I had my head man, Francisco Vega, take care of her the whole time, and she really was attached to him.”
Bavaria had a habit of over-jumping in the warm-up. “And she usually continued to jump like that in the ring, which was pretty spectacular,” Hough said. “She was just good at everything she did. She was always eager to please. She was just a winner. Lise and I just adapted to whatever the mare wanted to do and most of the time that was pretty darn good.”
Gregory, who was 22 in 1987, remembers that it was almost as if Bavaria had read the course map before each class. “She knew the way,” Gregory said. “She was very smart, and she knew where the single jumps were, what [strides] the lines were, and when you were getting near the end of the course. She was incredibly consistent from fence 1 to the last jump. She never let you down anywhere on course; she always tried to jump her best. And she was ambidextrous for sure—very good on both leads.
“She was very powerful off the ground and very square in front,” Gregory continued. “It was really easy for her. She could have jumped much higher. And you could just drop the reins and let her jump. You didn’t have to hold her off the jump—you just had to get her in range, and she would do the rest. I was very lucky. It was a pleasure to ride a horse like that.”
Bavaria was the Chronicle’s Show Hunter Horse of the Year in 1989 after three years of grand hunter championships and a clean sweep of the grand tricolors at the 1989 indoor shows. She also showed with owner Shana Johnstone in the amateur-owner division.
“Since the derbies have become so popular, I just wish that they would have been around when she was around, because they would have her name all over them,” said Hough. “She was so powerful and strong and brave. There are so many wonderful horses now, but she was amazing, and I’m sure they would all be chasing her if she was around!”
After a few more years of showing, Bavaria retired to the Johnstone family’s Stoney Hill Farm in Morgan Hill, Calif. She had two foals, but neither one duplicated Bavaria’s success in the show ring. “She lived a pretty long life. She was in her 20s when she passed away,” Hough recalled.
Gregory felt honored to have shown a star like Bavaria so early in her professional career. “I was blessed to work for Linda and ride for the Johnstone family; I started in my early 20s and was there for quite a few years,” she said. She went on to be a successful international grand prix rider, serving on U.S. Nations Cup teams and competing at venues such as Aachen (Germany).
Now, Gregory has settled in Bozeman, Mont., with her husband Todd. They focus on training young horses and a sales business, while Lise also freelances as a manager for clients. “I have an interesting job now, thanks to all these years of doing this,” she said. “I get hired to manage people, to assist at certain shows like Spruce Meadows and indoors and that kind of thing. It’s worked out well.”