Harrisburg, Pa.—Oct. 21
Bonnets have become nearly ubiquitous in the jumper ring, and liquid titanium masks are gaining in popularity too. But how many equine competitors wear a pirate eye patch in the ring? At the Pennslyvania National Horse Show, the answer is one.
Ryan Kenny competed BenDeLaCreme in the adult jumpers with an eye patch over the gelding’s left eye.
Two years ago, the 9-year-old warmblood owned by Michael Britt-Leon developed an eye infection that ultimately resulted in removal surgery. While there are many one-eyed sport horses on the circuit, Britt-Leon and Eleese Shillingford, who leased the gelding in 2021, decided to have a bit of fun with it. Shillingford purchased a skull-and-crossbones patch online, and “Ben” has been wearing it ever since.
“We thought how cool if he could just wear a patch and be a little bit different than the rest of them,” said Britt-Leon. “It kind of makes him look a little more cool in the jumper ring.”
Britt-Leon purchased the gelding three years ago. He described the gelding as spooky during that first year but said his whole demeanor changed after losing the eye.
“Ever since that happened, and he had to have that surgery to lose his eye, all of a sudden he’s relaxed,” he said. “The kids ride him. My husband rides him. He’s very easy to go around and safe and turned into a whole different animal. He’s kind of everybody’s favorite animal because of that.”
Ben was named after the drag queen Benjamin Putnam, who used the stage name BenDeLaCreme. The gelding has become the ultimate teacher in Britt-Leon’s program.
“He hears the buzzer go off, and he tries to win,” he said. “He goes fast; he turns quick. He is the most honest animal I have as far as he will jump from anywhere for anybody. He’s taught kids to jump around 1.30 meters, 1.40 meters. Ryan’s jumped his biggest jumps on him. He’ll teach a .80-meter kid the first time in the jumpers over at Tryon [North Carolina], through the meters. [He’s taught] a lot of kids in my program because he’s just so sweet and so honest, and literally every single person can ride him and lesson on him and love on him.”
Find results here. Want more Pennsylvania National? The Chronicle will be on the scene through grand prix night bringing you photos and stories. Plus see more analysis from the Pennsylvania National in the Nov. 7 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine.