Behind The Stall Door With: Babylon, The Chronicle's 2022 Horse Of The Year

Jan 24, 2023 - 7:58 AM

Around John French’s barn in Wellington, Florida, if you’re having a bad day, there’s one horse who can lift your spirits: Babylon—or “Crumbles,” as he’s known in the barn. With his pony face and extravagant blaze, he’s hard to resist. And that’s before you get to know his personality.

“He looks at you, and you can’t help but smile,” is a common refrain from those who know him well.

He’s a horse who never pins his ears at horse nor human, and he will poke his head out of his stall as soon as he hears someone in the aisle.

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It’s hard not to smile when Babylon is around. Kimberly Loushin Photo

And while he’s got a winning personality, the 8-year-old Oldenburg (L.B. Crumble—Die Cera, Balou Du Rouet) bred by Harm Thormaehlen, also more than holds his own in the show ring. In 2021, he won his first WCHR Professional Challenge at Capital Challenge (Maryland) with French, a feat he repeated in 2022. Last year, owner Ariana Marnell took the reins in the small junior hunter, 15 and under, division, earning grand championships at the National Horse Show (Kentucky) and the Hampton Classic (New York) as well as the grand small junior title at Devon (Pennsylvania).

Other notable accomplishments include championships at the Adequan/USEF Junior Hunter National Championships—East (Michigan), Capital Challenge, Washington International Horse Show (Maryland), the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida), WEC-Ocala (Florida) and second in the $100,000 WCHR Central Hunter Spectacular (Michigan). He also was named the Chronicle’s 2022 Overall and Show Hunter Horse of the Year.

We went behind the stall door with Crumbles to get to know him better.

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Babylon stands 15.3 5/8 hands. Kimberly Loushin Photo

• He’s an attention hog and wants to be your best friend. If he’s not sleeping or eating, he’s got his head out waiting for attention. He also likes making friends at horse shows, something Marnell loves to let him do.

• You know the dog who carries his stick with him everywhere in hopes that someone might throw it for him? That’s Babylon, just much larger.

He’s been known to pick up a plant or two on his way out of the ring, and he has a toy to keep him entertained during turnout.

“They had to put a toy out there with him, and he carried his ball around with him,” French said. “He’ll take a piece of fence off, and he’s carrying the piece of fence with him.”

• Babylon’s not the tallest guy in the barn. He’s 15.3 5/8 hands, and apparently standing on his tiptoes isn’t quite enough to ensure adequate views, so he takes things into his own hands—or hooves—and can often be found standing on the lowest fence board in the paddock or on the door frame of his stall.

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Sometimes you just need to find a little more height when you’re a little guy. Photos Courtesy Of John French

• Babylon is a talker.

“He’s a little better [now], but when he gets to a new facility, or when we take him out on the trail for the first few minutes he used to whinny and be calling,” said French. “I remember Michigan when he was a pre-green horse, I’d take him up to the ring and ride up from the stalls to the ring, and he’d just whinny the whole time, just calling through the barns, waking everybody up.”

While Babylon’s grown out of calling to everyone on the showgrounds, French said the gelding still talks to him during rides.

“Now it’s like he always wants to have a little bit of a conversation,” he said. “Sometimes he does a little bit of whinny; maybe we’ll be cantering around, and he’ll be ‘OK, I think we can walk now.’ I can sort of tell the different whinnies of what he’s trying to say. That’s a special thing about him. I’ve never had a horse that talked as much as him.”

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Babylon, Ariana Marnell and John French at the National Horse Show (Ky.). Kimberly Loushin Photo

• Sometimes getting up to find a better grazing spot is just too much effort.

“He’ll just lay on the grass eating and then just roll over to the other side and eat on the other side,” French said. “Can’t be bothered to stand up.”

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Babylon loves being lazy. Photo Courtesy of John French

• He loves his snacks, especially bananas and donuts—maybe a little too much, as his veterinarian has warned he should cut down on his sugar consumption, much to Babylon’s disappointment.

“You give it to him, and he thinks it’s something he should eat. He’s not picky at all,” French said.

It doesn’t help that he’s got a face that is nearly impossible to resist.

“My mom’s like, you’ve got to stop feeding him people food, and I’m like, how could I?” Marnell admitted.

• If you ever noticed Babylon drifting in the warm-up ring or on course, just take a look at in the direction he’s heading, and you’ll immediately find the reason: Usually you’ll spot French or another member of Babylon’s team he’s headed toward.

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Babylon loves his people, especially owner/rider Ariana Marnell (pictured) and rider/trainer John French. Kimberly Loushin Photo

• Babylon loves his trail rides.

“When he was green and was kind of spooky, I would take him on trails and would ride him all around Wellington, and we’d go out for like an hour and a half down roads and other people’s barns,” French said.

While it started out as an exercise to give him experience and keep his job interesting, it’s become a staple of Babylon’s routine. On his first ride after a horse show, don’t even think about taking him in the ring.

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Babylon loves being outside, especially on long show weeks. Kimberly Loushin Photo

• Babylon has a lot of opinions about his clothes. Namely, that he doesn’t want to wear them, especially if he deems them too hot.

“[The barn staff are] always saying that he won’t keep his blankets on,” French said. “He takes his stuff off. He takes his wraps off. He’ll take his boots off in the paddock. The other day we were at a show, and the [horse nextdoor’s] blanket ended up in his stall. He took the horse’s blanket off that was in the stall next to him and pulled it into his stall.”

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Babylon has a hard time wearing his clothes properly. If he doesn’t like them, he’ll find a way to remove them. Photos Courtesy Of John French

• While some horses travel with stuffed animals tied to their stalls, those are off limits for Babylon. If you leave one with him, you’ll return to find the toy in shreds with stuffing everywhere.

And don’t leave anything within reach outside of his stall because he will make a grab for it. One year he found a way to reach his Christmas stocking and was caught trying to take the carrots out.

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Babylon will definitely steal anything you leave within his reach. Kimberly Loushn Photo

• Speaking of putting things in his mouth, if you want your ribbons to stay pristine, don’t leave them on his bridle without keeping a careful eye on them. As soon as you aren’t paying attention, he’s got them in his mouth.

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Just helping out! Photo Courtesy Of John French

• He’s the guy who thinks everybody loves him, and thanks to his kind nature, it’s usually true.

“If he was a person he would be a very magnetic person, the kid that everyone wants to talk to and hang out with and to have on their team,” said Marnell. “He’s cocky. I’ve had some horses who are cocky and can be a little rude and a little stubborn, but he’s not really like that. He’s like, ‘I’m amazing; let’s go compete,’ not, ‘I’m amazing; don’t tell me what to do.’ He wants to use his greatness, and he’s a huge team player.”

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Babylon meets a miniature version of himself. Photo Courtesy Of John French

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