Castle Larchfield Purdy’s veterinarian calls him “Benjamin Button” because the 19-year-old Irish Sport Horse seems to keep getting younger, like the character Brad Pitt played in the 2008 movie, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
He’s already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with Lauren Billys, the California-based eventer who represents Puerto Rico. He was acquired by the Purdy Syndicate specifically for an Olympic run, and the pair fulfilled that goal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and hope to repeat the feat in Tokyo.
Despite a major colic, Inflammatory Airway Disease, the discovery of many allergies, and the year-long COVID delay, they’re on track for their second Olympics. A tune-up in the Land Rover Kentucky 4*-S in April did not go quite as hoped on that rainy and challenging cross-country day, but otherwise it’s all systems go toward Tokyo. Billys currently is fundraising to get them to Japan and taking donations on her website.
Most recently, Billys and “Purdy” finished second—adding just a handful of time penalties to their dressage score—in the advanced division at The Spring Event at Woodside, held May 28-30 in Woodside, California.
“Watching his comeback and the work he and Lauren did has been super impressive,” groom Andrea Bushlow said of the 17-hand Irish Sport Horse gelding (Karistos—Hallo Purdy). Bushlow joined Billys’ team in early 2019, as the horse gradually was returning to work after a life-threatening colic bout.
We went behind the stall door with Purdy, Bushlow and Billys to get to know this impressive 19-year-old.
• Big emotions are for other horses; this guy is calm, cool and collected—unless it’s cross-country day.
“He is really a stoic guy that will show you these goofy sweet moments here and there, when he wants to.” One of those goofy things happens in the turn-out paddock at his home stable in Carmel Valley, California. “He loves to roll. Especially if I’ve just hosed him off, he looks at me and says, ‘I’m going to do it!’ He gets really dirty, and I think that’s one of his favorite things.”
Most of the time, he projects a vibe of: “‘You can just leave me alone. I know what I’m doing. Just let me do my job,'” Bushlow said.
At the Galway Downs International in March, Billys and Bushlow noticed Purdy acting happier than they’d seen him in a long while. “He’s more inquisitive of what everyone is doing. He has his ears forward and is more curious when we go in his stall. Not in his keep-to-myself mode.”
Purdy’s chill baseline mode goes out the window on cross-country day. “On the big day, I can’t even walk him by the cross-country field because he just loses it.” Or at home, any time the trailer is hooked up, he perks up. “This is what he lives for.”
• He loves a good trail ride.
At Purdy’s age and experience, his fitness routine is “basic” with an emphasis on a fine balance between conditioning and not adding unnecessary wear and tear. At home, he loves hacking on nearby trails, hauling a short distance for gallops, and walk and trot work on a conditioning loop that includes a stretch at a roughly 10% incline.
Purdy and Lauren work regularly with Bea and Derek di Grazia, who are based nearby. Dressage has not been Purdy’s favorite phase, but “he’s learning to enjoy it,” Bushlow said. Focused work with coach Volker Brommann has played a part in that.
• You wouldn’t know it watching him gallop cross-country, but Purdy struggles with respiratory problems.
Other aspects of Purdy’s health are trickier. When legging him up after the colic recovery in early 2019, Billys noticed signs of respiratory struggle. He was sticking his tongue out on conditioning gallops. While he wasn’t roaring, “You could hear that he was struggling to get enough air,” she recalled.
The internal medicine specialist who gave Purdy the nickname Benjamin Button, Dr. Phoebe Smith, diagnosed Inflammatory Airway Disease and prescribed a careful management plan. It was proven resoundingly effective with Purdy’s second-place finish in the Rebecca Farms CCI4*-L in July of that year.
Steaming his hay in a Haygain hay steamer to reduce inhalable particles, Aleira supplements and Flexineb Nebulizer treatments are critical to maintaining Purdy’s respiratory health. Between competitions, he gets nebulized corticosteroids as needed. At shows, it’s twice-daily nebulized saline solution to keep his airways moist and clear. Bushlow likes to handwalk Purdy during the treatments to deepen his inhalations. Like many horses, he seems to welcome the treatments, she adds.
• He gets a special diet because he’s allergic to corn and some other common feed ingredients.
Also while coming back after the colic, Purdy presented with severe allergic reactions. It turned out that at-home meds he was receiving for IAD had suppressed the allergic reactions. Severe bouts of coughing and hives arose. Allergy panel testing determined that corn, fescue hay and rice oil were among the common diet components that are problematic for Purdy. Hygain cereal-free concentrate, canola oil for fat and Red Cell supplements have helped replace those things.
Calm, cool and collected as he normally is, Purdy does pull out some tricks on occasion. “He knows how to wrap his head under the lead rope and pull the halter over his ears,” Bushlow said.
Most of all, Purdy loves his job. Any pretense of disinterest shown in the stable gives way to perked ears and keen focus for the dance, the jumping and, especially, the cross-country gallop.