Michelle Parker and Cupilor are on a hot streak. The pair bested 29 other combinations to win the $40,000 Snapbac Grand Prix at the first Temecula Valley Horse Show on April 21 at Galway Downs in California, and they then followed that up with a big victory in the $100,000 Del Mar Grand Prix (California) on May 5.
In Del Mar, the pair laid down a brilliant jump-off over a course set by Olaf Petersen, beating out eight others. Parker admitted she might not have taken quite as fast a track had she not watched Carly Anthony and Clochard go before her. Knowing her horse is naturally fast though, Parker put the pedal to the metal, and it worked out perfectly.
But things with the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Lupicor—Libre, Edison) have not always gone according to plan.
“I first saw Cupilor in Northern California when I was shopping for an amateur who wanted to get a young horse,” said Parker, who is a professional hunter/jumper trainer based at Cross Creek West in San Marcos, California. “He was on the list, but when I saw some videos I didn’t think he would work for her.
“I was not looking for a horse,” Parker emphasized, “but I wanted to see him anyway because I really liked him. He was wild that day, and I didn’t even ride him. I saw him jump two crossrails, and he was awesome. I went home without him however, because I figured that he was only 4 years old, so he wasn’t going anywhere. But I kept thinking that there was just something about him I liked. I went back about a month later to make sure I could even sit on him, because he looked hard to sit on. He was much better that day, and I figured I could stay on him, so I went ahead and bought him.”
The gelding came with a full set of X-rays, so it was a complete surprise when Parker’s veterinarian watched him walk down a hill and noticed an issue. It turned out Cupilor had fractured his hip at some point. Nobody noticed, and nobody knew.
“When I rode him he felt completely sound,” said Parker. “The people I bought him from offered to give me my money back, but I really liked him, and I just wanted to keep him. It was an old injury that wasn’t currently bothering him. Here he was on my property, and my mom had bought him for me, and as I said, I liked the horse. My vet said something like, ‘With some horses this just won’t bother them.’ So we just decided to take the risk and keep him.”
The old injury does affect his conformation. He will stand with that leg turned out more, and he is a bit roach-backed. He also moves in a way that compensates for it, but Parker stressed that he is very sound.
“If there is a weak point in him it’s his muscles, so we just work on keeping his muscles relaxed and not over-using them,” Parker said. “I don’t do tons of injections and jumping anyway. I want the horses to last longer.”
His first show was in Del Mar in October of 2011. He immediately had a fan club because he jumped feet over everything. At the end of that first week of his show career somebody even offered to buy him, but the deal fell through.
Parker never felt like she had to show Cupilor a lot. “He was very easy. People always think he looks so difficult, but he suits me,” she said. “He is really feisty, and he does silly things, but he always jumps the jump, and he wants to leave them up.
“As a 5-year-old he was so brave,” she continued. “I only did a few A shows before the YJC Western League Finals. In the finals he unfortunately had an uncharacteristic rail down, and we ended up fourth. But as a 6- and 7-year-old he won both of those finals. He has always been a winner.”
But they hit a bump in the road last year when, a week after capturing the $40,000 Showpark Racing Festival Grand Prix (California) at the end of July, Cupilor colicked and had to have surgery.
“The surgery went well, and they didn’t have to remove anything,” Parker said. “The first day he was depressed, so I went and hung out with him and just petted him and groomed him a lot. He really likes people and was up and eating two days later.
“When they sent him home they said he would continue to lose weight, so to make sure he got plenty to eat,” she added. “Two weeks after he got home I noticed that he was getting really fat. I had to put him on a diet!”
He went back to work after three months of rest, and Parker found his muscles were quite weak at that point. So she abandoned any competition goals and just focused on the process of building him back up.
“All of a sudden he just kicked into gear, and the last two months he was great,” she said. “I took him to the second half of [HITS Coachella Desert Circuit (California)] and did two 1.40-meter classics. He won one and was clean in both of them.”
Parker hadn’t intended to enter Cupilor in the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix this spring due to his colic surgery, but when the horse she was planning to ride couldn’t go, she reconsidered.
“I thought, ‘Well, Cupilor feels amazing,’ so he ended up getting to do it after all,” she said. “He just had an early rail—my fault—but being naturally quick he was the fastest with 4 faults. He finished up 10th, and that was his eighth class back in the ring.”
Cupilor is not without his quirks. On the ground he is a puppy dog. But under tack he can spin like a cow horse, and he is leery of strangers. He doesn’t like open water, but he will jump liverpools all day long at a show. At home though, he might give them a peek.
“He can be naughty and screw around when he’s too fresh,” Parker said. “And if he is fresh you need to put on less bridle, not more, otherwise he will start to rack behind or cross-canter. He’s grown up a lot, so it’s a little less now, but if the jump crew is moving around, or if kids in the stands are running up and down, he can be really spooky.
“And he can spook at everything outside of the ring also,” she added. “But once you get jumping he’s pretty focused. Oh, and for at least two or three years taking my visor off was a real problem. He was worse about the visor than if I took a jacket off.”
Parker didn’t buy Cupilor necessarily thinking he’d be her next grand prix horse. “I didn’t know what he was; I just really liked his character,” she said. “I thought he might be a 1.40-meter horse or that we would re-sell him as a high junior/amateur horse. But now he’s 11, and I’m thinking he really needs to do the 1.60-meters. The jumps are easy for him!”
And the horse is no longer for sale. Michelle’s mother Carol, who purchased him, made that decision when he was 7, and her daughter didn’t argue!