Show jumper Andy Kocher is the first to admit that his business is sales first. Most of his grand prix mounts are short-term projects. He wins a few classes, and then they move on to careers with other riders. But there is one horse that has worked his way into the show jumper’s heart and has earned a lifetime with Kocher—Le Conte.
“It really wouldn’t matter if he ever jumped again or if he ever won another class or if he ever did anything for me,” said Kocher. “He’s got a home.”
Kocher admits he’s had more talented horses since Le Conte first came into his life four years ago: Prof De La Roque, Uppie De Lis, Navalo De Poheton. But Le Conte was with him when he first sold his interest in Westminster Farm in Alabama in order to live on the road, and his winnings helped pay the bills whenever money was tight.
The 16-year-old Holsteiner has been a constant in Kocher’s life, and the short time when the gelding had to stay home due to an injury was rough.
“The six months he was out was before I had really any good horses,” said Kocher. “So to me at that time it was like my Gem Twist. He was awesome.”
But Kocher has had to load the trailer to go to shows without Le Conte since September. The horse’s last show with Kocher in the saddle was at the Upperville Horse Show (Va.) in June, and then Kocher’s wife Jenny Jones showed him in some high amateur-owner jumper classes over the summer. But this fall, Kocher made the difficult decision to retire Le Conte, who now lives on rolling grass fields at Springfield Farm in Middleburg, Va.
We went behind the stall door to get to know the special horse who helped make Kocher’s career happen.
• Kocher first came across Le Conte when the gelding was competing under Kristen Vanderveen’s saddle. Kocher tried for six months to buy the horse but didn’t have the funds to purchase him. Ultimately Kocher traded Vanderveen three horses for Le Conte, but he didn’t scream top grand prix horse at the time.
“He’s very, very careful, and I thought I could afford him because he was getting eliminated from the classes,” said Kocher. “He would see a combination and duck hard left and go around it. And he looked a bit difficult to ride. I’m not saying that I wanted a horse that would run around the combinations and was difficult to ride, but I knew I couldn’t afford a horse that could jump like him. He could jump 1.50 meters, and he hardly ever touches the jumps. I can’t really afford that, so I’ve got to look for something that’s difficult, and I found him.”
• There was no quick fix to Le Conte’s combination problems, but eventually as Kocher and the gelding got to know one another the eliminations started to disappear.
“I didn’t really have to do anything to him at all; he just came around,” said Kocher. “I was just nice to him, and he came around.”
• Left turns remained a problem, so Kocher called up farrier friend Mike Felton to help him create a bit for Le Conte.
“It was a piece of rebar that we’d stretched out, and it stuck out literally like 7 inches out to the left because I couldn’t get him to ever turn,” said Kocher. “I rode him in that for a while, and he won the first grand prix that I won with him in Scottsdale, Ariz., in that bridle.”
• After the turning issue was addressed, Kocher went through about every combination of bridle and spur to figure out what worked best for the gelding. By the end of his career, Le Conte showed in a soft rubber bit.
“He’s not exactly the most responsive off your leg, and he doesn’t have the best mouth,” said Kocher. “That’s the best bridle he ever went in. I could turn him left and right; I could slow down; I could add one. He jumped good into it. I’ve started using those bits on almost all the horses. Maybe I don’t have good hands, I don’t know, but the horses seem to go well for me in them, so I’ve been using them a lot.”
• Le Conte was only out of work once due to injury when he dislocated his pastern the day after he won a class in Wellington, Fla.
“We came back the next day, and his leg was as big as a stovepipe,” said Kocher. “He literally had to sit in a stall for six months, and they said he wasn’t going to come back to jumping. He had a better career after that than he did before.”
• Le Conte is hydrophobic. Water jumps? No thanks. Walking through puddles outside of the barn? Not a chance.
“I cannot get him near a water,” said Kocher. “I tried it three times; I can’t even get him within 10 feet of it. If there’s a puddle he won’t go over it. You can’t chase him over it. He won’t even leave the barn if there’s water around. He hates water. He would never make an event horse in his life.”
• You can convince Le Conte to jump a liverpool, but expect to use a lot of sweet talking and a little bit of bribery.
“I used to kind of get into him for it, ride him aggressively and maybe go in and let him take a look and maybe just touch him with my spur,” said Kocher. “Then I got in the ring, and I stood in front of the liverpool, and I’d give him two or three treats. That seemed to work a lot better than being aggressive with him. I think he just got crazed. With the treats he said, ‘Oh it’s fine, I’ll jump it.’ ”
• Le Conte once shared his stall with a miniature horse named Peanut because Kocher was renting stalls at horse shows and didn’t want to pay for an additional one.
“She lived with him for like a few months,” said Kocher. “They got a little attached. The pony more attached to him than him to her.”
• Le Conte is well traveled. He and Kocher have competed in 21 states and Canada together.
“He was the first horse that I had that ever won anything,” said Kocher. “He kind of led me into these better horses. I’ve had better horses than him probably, but I’m attached to him so I won’t sell him. He’s been everywhere with me.”
• Le Conte is easygoing on the ground, which was a blessing when Kocher lived out of his trailer going from show to show without any grooms. He took six horses in the $15,000 Gallop In The Glen Grand Prix (Tenn.), and all six qualified for the jump-off. So he tied Le Conte to the fence while he rode the others and enlisted someone to keep an eye on him.
“That just shows how laidback he is,” said Kocher. “You could literally just tie him there.”
• Since Le Conte is so easygoing, he was typically the first horse new hires got to care for and ride, but they all knew there was one catch.
“If anything happened to that horse you were fired, so just quit,” said Kocher. “It’s true. It didn’t really matter if it was your fault or not. He’s special to me.”
• Le Conte is an easy keeper in most aspects. Anyone in the barn could ride or handle him, and he’s not picky about food or treats.
“He’s warmblood, but he’s got some Thoroughbred tendencies,” said Kocher. “He looks like one, and he’s hard to keep weight on.”
• When he was in work, Le Conte liked to keep busy. He was ridden every day on the flat unless he was on an extended break, and then he lived out 24/7. When it was time to leg him back up, Kocher knew their first few shows were going to be less than stellar.
• Kocher says Le Conte would jump 99 times out of 100, but when he did dig in his heels, the best approach was to call it a day and try again at a different show.
“I’d leave it alone, and it’s no big deal,” Kocher said. “He wasn’t a horse you can be mean to, or he just mentally freezes, and it’s over. He has his reason. He obviously has a memory and something happened, and he can’t tell us what it was.”
• “Longeing is the one thing he was terrible at,” said Kocher. “Don’t ever longe him. If you ever took him to longe, he just took off at the end of the line and dragged you across that parking lot, and you wouldn’t stop him. I only tried that once, and I never longed him again.”