He look like just another plain bay gelding, but Panache has never been a horse to blend in with the crowd. At 20 years old, he’s not only usually the oldest horse on a grand prix start list by a number of years, he’s also almost always the only representative of his breed: the American Thoroughbred.
Panache out-jumped all comers during the three weeks of Mid States Horse Shows in Mason City, Iowa, on June 7-21, winning all three $20,000 Mid States Grand Prix classes and two of the three welcome stakes.
“He’s actually going better these last two years then he probably ever has,” said Panache’s long-time rider Janine Weatherby, who has known Panache for 17 years. “He used to get in trouble and over-jump things and get a little scared. He’s finally gotten to the point where he’s comfortable with anything now.”
Weatherby first met Panache as he was coming off the track as a 3-year-old. After a lackluster eight-start racing career in Iowa and Arkansas, an Iowa-based horse dealer known for repurposing OTTBs as hunters bought him to sell to a show home. Weatherby runs Phoenix Equestrian Center out of Bellevue, Neb., and her client Chris Falewitch bought Panache, then racing under the Jockey Club name Quarter Circle (Victorious—Sorted Change, Fast Gold), as an amateur hunter prospect.
“His stallion produces a lot of hunters, and I was riding him for her and he wasn’t really going to be a hunter,” Weatherby said. “He’s a little tense and hotter. He wasn’t even really that hot but he jumped really big, so she thought he’d be a jumper.”
Falewitch decided to keep the gelding and let Weatherby steer him toward a career in the jumper ring while she looked for a different horse for herself. When he was 5 and 6, Weatherby competed him in the Young Jumper classes, where both his scope and some flaws became evident.
“As a joke we call him Panic, because he can panic about things,” Weatherby said. “He was one that would always have to back down and do a smaller class, because he would always over-jump and get himself in trouble.”
Weatherby moved Panache up to the grand prix level when he was 7 and won their first prix together when he was 8. In the 12 years since, they’ve racked up grand prix wins throughout the Midwest and Arizona, all under Weatherby’s saddle and all under the same ownership. Weatherby credits his longevity at the top of the sport to a frugal approach when it comes to training Panache.
“He really never jumps at home; his owner hacks him at home on a loose rein and that’s pretty much all he does,” Weatherby said. “I went to show him in the spring and he had literally not jumped a jump from the time we came home from Arizona until that first day I took him to the horse show. I think he has very few jumps in him, and I try not to jump him that often.”
Weatherby has also found success on the less hot-blooded horses—she showed her Holsteiner stallion Lieutenant Kije to the grand prix level and now does a fair bit of breeding with him—but a good old fashioned Thoroughbred is hard to beat in her book.
“[Before Kije] I didn’t know if I could ride the warmbloods, because I’ve always done the Thoroughbreds, and their heart is just so different,” Weatherby said. “I think that’s why I breed all my warmbloods to Thoroughbred mares, it just gives them more of a heart. They want to try a lot harder and their work ethic is almost always right on.
“The warmbloods are great, and they’re a little easier; they don’t take quite as long,” Weatherby continued. “But they definitely don’t have the heart the Thoroughbreds do.”