Tuesday, Jun. 25, 2024

Behind The Stall Door With: HSH Blake

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With results rarely outside of the top 10, an individual gold and team silver medal from the 2023 Pan American Games (Chile) and being named to the U.S. Eventing Team for the Paris Olympics this summer, HSH Blake has become a superstar of the sport at just 9 years old.

In his first season eventing in the United States, the Irish Sport Horse (Tolan R—Doughiska Lass, Kannan) bred by Justin Burke won the Dutta Corp. USEA Young Event Horse East Coast 5-Year-Old Championship (Virginia) with rider Caroline Pamukcu. In 2022 he traveled to the FEI World Breeding Championships at La Mondial du Lion (France) on the Holekamp/Turner Young Event Horse Lion d’Angers Grant as a 7-year-old and finished 10th in the CCI3*-L.

Last year “Blake” did his first four-star at The Event at TerraNova (Florida) where he finished third and was subsequently named to the team for the FEI Nations Cup Poland CCIO4*-NC-S at the Strezgom Horse Trials, where he and Pamukcu finished second individually en route to helping the team take second. That fall they headed to Chile for the Pan American Games, where they added a single rail to their dressage score for the gold medal.

Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake competing at the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S (Ky.) this spring. Kimberly Loushin Photos

Now 9, Blake entered 2024 in strong form, winning the Tryon International CCI4*-L, taking second at Setters’ Run Farm Carolina International CCI4*-S (North Carolina) and finishing fifth at the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S held during Defender Kentucky.

We went behind the stall door with Mollie Hoff, Sherrie Martin, Caroline Pamukcu and Deniz Pamukcu’s handsome black gelding to get to know him better.

• Originally named Galwaybay Blake, Blake was sourced in Ireland by Caroline’s business partner Kelley Hutchinson of Hutchinson Sport Horses. Mary Mangan produced Blake at the beginning of his career and competed him in the 4-Year-Old Young Event Horse class at the Royal Dublin Horse Show (Ireland).

Hutchinson followed Blake as a 4-year-old, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, his 5-year-old year, she finally had the opportunity to purchase him.

“We kind of had to tentatively watch him for a while, and then as a 5-year-old, Mary was like, ‘I think he’s probably destined for bigger things than I want,’ ” Hutchinson said. “She loves the sourcing, starting. She actually bought him as a foal, did all of that, so we got the chance to buy him. And I was like, ‘Caroline, this is the one you really need.’ ”

HSH Blake with Caroline Pamukcu (mounted) and Kelley Hutchinson.

Hutchinson said she was drawn to his breeding. His sire, Tolan R, is known for throwing progeny that are brave and honest.

“I just love their attitude,” she said. “They’re always working; they’re super blood. And then he’s Kannan on the dam side, so he has that bit more of a jump. He’s really talented.

“From the day we saw him as a 4-year-old, he just had a canter you could sit,” she continued. “He just found life easy, and it just naturally was that easy. It helps to set them up and everything. … [Mangan’s] produced three or four of them that have now gone advanced. She does a really good job. She’s from a racing background herself, but she really wants them to go to top riders and kind of push in that direction. So we bugged her for good six months before we got the opportunity to go and sit on him.”

• Like most of Caroline’s imports, Blake was purchased as a sale horse, but she was reluctant to let him leave her barn given his talent. A couple of people looked at him, but ultimately passed.

Mollie and Andy Hoff, whose daughter Lizzie Hoff has ridden to the three-star level, were among Caroline’s first owners and stepped in to secure Blake’s future as co-owners alongside Caroline’s parents and husband.

Blake is jokingly called Princess around the barn.

• Blake’s stunning good looks, along with his belief that everything should be about him, led them to jokingly give him the nickname “Princess.”

“He’s annoyingly beautiful, like he just loves being the star of the show, like [at] the Pan Ams when there was 10 people fussing over him,” said Hutchinson.

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Oh he was like, ‘Jackpot!’ ” added Caroline.

Blake has a prime stall at home and dislikes when the other horses get attention instead of him.

“He does get a bit annoyed or jealous if he’s left at home,” Hutchinson said. “He does like the attention. If he’s not, then you can see, the stall guard has been pushed a little bit more.”

And when Caroline goes to events with other horses, Blake will express his dislike of being left behind the next time she rides him.

“If I go take him on a trot, I bet he’ll spook at everything just to let me know that I should’ve taken him to the show and [he should’ve] been the center of attention,” said Caroline.

Blake loves getting attention (pictured with Caroline Pamukcu).

While he’s occasionally spooky when things change at home, he doesn’t bat an eye at anything at shows. Hutchison recalled taking him to the World Equestrian Center—Ocala in March to jump courses set by Paris Olympic Games co-course designer Gregory Bodo who was visiting to build courses for the Ocala leg of the Longines League of Nations.

“Full up 1.30 meters, he goes in, not being in there, canters around, jumps beautifully,”  Hutchinson said. “He’s such a professional in his mindset. At home if you move anything or do anything different, he’ll spook. At the show, he’s like, ‘Everyone’s here for me.’ He knows his job.”

• When it comes to traveling, Blake is as easy as they come. Having already experienced multiple trips to Europe and a long flight to South America, he’s a veteran flyer.

“You don’t have to worry about him getting there, stressing, not drinking,” Hutchinson said. “He’s like, ‘Who’s here for me? Where am I going?’ ”

Blake knows he’s special.

Though he’s lived a first-class lifestyle, Blake isn’t concerned when his travel accommodations aren’t the fanciest out there. When the trio attended the Pan Am mandatory outing at Loch Moy Farm (Maryland), they pulled up in a two-horse bumper-pull trailer towed by Caroline’s camper.

 “We stopped at the gas station … and we all jump out like ‘Hey, pony!’ ” said Hutchinson. “And I was like, if only people knew that this is actually a really special horse.”

• Blake isn’t picky about the kind of attention he gets. Grooming? Sounds great. Carrots? Perfect. Snuggles? Bring it on!

“He destroys his Likits. He loves them,” Hutchinson said. “And they’re really good, but in a day like it’ll just be in pieces.”

“He loves granola by Likit. He’ll eat those in one sitting,” said Caroline. “And then this great thing about Florida is when you go into Publix, they have 20—or maybe it’s a 50—pound bag of carrots. … He loves his cookies. The carrots, I’d say, from Publix and his Likits, are his top two.”

Blake loves his friend Mollie.

• Blake gets turned out with a miniature horse named Mollie, whom he shares with another of Caroline’s advanced horses, King’s Especiale.

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“Kings Especiale goes out and dotes on her and loves on her,” Hutchinson said. “Blake chases her nonstop. You try to mind him, because obviously he’s quite priceless; this is a big year. He gallops her up and down the paddock, up and down, every day, and you’re like, ‘Please stop running!’ He never stops.”

• While he might keep his mini well-exercised, Blake has a soft spot for his canine friends.

“He’s the type of horse, if we had to, we could put all the dogs in [his] stall for the day and you would know they would all be safe,” Caroline said.

• As a young horse, Blake didn’t understand the concept of vacation. At the end of the season, Caroline pulls his shoes and gives him two months off in a huge field at her farm in Springtown, Pennsylvania. That first year he jumped out of the field and laid down in Caroline’s front yard.

“We jokingly call him house cat,” she said.

• When his vacation is over, Blake is a perfect gentleman for his first ride back. A month and a half into his post-Pan Am holiday, Caroline jumped on him bareback for a photoshoot with the U.S. Equestrian Federation.

How many top-level event horses are as happy to go for a bareback ride as they are running cross-country?

• Blake knows his schedule quite well, and he likes to make sure everyone keeps to his internal watch.

“Even though he’s quite affectionate, he’s quite workmanlike. He knows his schedule, and if he’s maybe an hour later than he’s supposed to come in, he will let you know,” said Hutchinson. “He’ll lap the fields and say, ‘Hey, I want my dinner.’ He’s pretty focused. He’s like, ‘You’re wrong, I should be in now.’ ”

• Caroline spent 2022 in England based with Pippa Funnell, and since then road work has factored prominently in her horses’ schedules. Blake, for example, will have days dedicated to an hour-and-a-half long trot on the road.

“He does a lot of just conditioning because he is only 9 this year, so we’re trying to build more of a topline. There’s no shortcuts,” Caroline said. “It doesn’t matter how much time you spend in the show jumping or the dressage arena, it’s not going to build the muscle that he’s going to get with age and just basic fitness work, so we don’t drill them a whole ton. We won’t drill really any of our horses; we’re kind of old school in that sense that we do, I would say, 75-80% fitness work and then the 20% would be in the dressage and show jump arena [plus] a little cross-country, of course.”

“He’s just a bit of a unicorn,” Caroline Pamukcu says of Blake.

• While some horses struggle to show jump on the last day, that’s never been a problem for Blake, and neither Caroline nor Hutchinson are concerned about having to possibly jump two rounds on the final day at the Olympics.

“You don’t have to put him back in the box. Like, he’s not like a such a crazy out of control cross-country horse that needs to get put back on a 12-foot stride,” Caroline said. “He can do that for himself.”

• They both described him as an overall good guy.

“You would want to bring him home to Mom and Dad, and they’d be like, ‘He’s too perfect. What’s wrong with him?’ You know, like, does he really like you?’ ” said Caroline. “He’s pretty perfect. Is he real? He’s just a bit of a unicorn.”

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