Monday, Jul. 22, 2024

Behind The Stall Door With: Luke 140

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If you walk down the aisle between Boyd Martin’s unassuming shed row stables in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, Luke 140 might not be the first horse to catch your eye. From the ground, the 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Landos—Omega VI, Limbus), owned by the Luke 140 Syndicate, appears a somewhat diminutive and laid-back character. But once he’s under saddle, watch out (which, as we learn below, to spectators means, “Watch out; he’ll perform like a star,” and to riders means, “Watch out; he might have you off 3 seconds from now.”). 

Over the weekend, in his first five-star, the gelding took fourth place at the Longines Luhmühlen CCI5*-L (Germany), as one of just a handful of horses to finish on their dressage scores (30.1 in his case). The finish was not only impressive in its own right, but it was the crown on a triumphant, two-year comeback that saw the horse go from earning a ticket to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics to an injury in June of that year, during final preparations for the Olympics, that left him sidelined for a year.

Luke 140 and Boyd Martin were the highest placed U.S. pair at the Longines Luhmühlen CCI5*-L (Germany), June 14-18, finishing fourth in the gelding’s debut at the level. Shannon Brinkman Photo

In 2020, a year when many top events were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Luke earned his first international win with Martin in the rescheduled CCI3*-S at Virginia Horse Trials in July. That fall, they made headlines when they won the Galway Downs CCI4*-L in Temecula, California, after receiving a share of the Land Rover/USEF National Competition Grant to offset travel expenses between California and their hometown of Cochranville, Pennsylvania.

Luke came out blazing in spring 2021, finishing second in the advanced division at The Fork at Tryon International Equestrian Center (North Carolina) and then winning the Jersey Fresh International CCI4*-L. That performance, at the final selection event for the U.S. Olympic Team, secured him a ticket to Tokyo, as first in Martin’s string. (After Luke’s injury the following month, Martin ultimately contested the Olympics with his stablemate Tsetserleg TSF instead.) 

Bringing him back, Martin competed him sparingly, starting out with dressage and jumper shows before an outing each at the modified, preliminary and intermediate levels. In April 2023, Luke returned to the advanced level at Fair Hill (Maryland), and after a fourth-place finish in the CCI4*-S at Tryon (North Carolina) in May, he boarded a plane to Germany along with his stablemates Tsetserleg and Fedarman B to contest Luhmühlen, June 14-18.

At Luhmühlen, Luke’s dressage score was good enough to put him just inside the top 10 after the first phase, and from there, he and Martin never looked back. After accruing time penalties in every cross-country round along their comeback trail, the pair didn’t just make time but came in 4 seconds under.

On cross-country, he lived up to his watch-out reputation by leaving the start box like a “raving lunatic,” as Martin told the U.S. Eventing Association, but then settled in as the 11-minute course progressed.

“I’ve specifically run him slow and relaxed at all the lead-up events, but it didn’t do me much good when I came out the box because he was flying,” Martin told USEA. “Luckily for me he started to get a little bit tired about halfway around, and then he was luxurious to ride. 

“I’ve never had a horse that’s so keen to get through the flags,” he added. “As soon as he locks on to the jump, he’s like, ‘Leave me alone. I know what I’m doing!’ and I’m trying to balance him and steady him up. He’s a wild man, but I love him to bits. He’s a true fighter. He did it quite easily in the end.”

To get to know Luke a little better, we got the scoop from Martin and his head groom and barn manager Stephanie Simpson. 

• Luke is chill on the ground but intense under saddle.

He’s a serious jock kind of guy,” Simpson said. “Literally good at everything but very wild. He’s on a varsity team but has house parties every night and gets the cops called on him a lot. He might be Boyd as a younger person; he’s really good at what he does but feral.”

Luke 140: Gorgeous, talented, fourth at his first five-star … and just a little extra in the energy department. Amber Heintzberger Photo

Martin agreed, calling Luke “a pretty wound-up, feisty individual.” 

“On the ground, he’s pretty laid-back and chill, but once he gets fired up when you’re riding him, he can be quite a handful,” he said. “He often reminds me of one of my kids after they’ve had too much sugar.”

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• While Luke may be super focused on the athletic side of competition, he’s got no use for getting glammed up.

He loves rubbing out his braids, Simpson said. 

“I can never braid him beforehand, or he’ll make it his mission to get them out. I can put something over them, but it doesn’t matter, he’ll rub them out. He has this crazy, thick, out-of-control hair. It’s just who he is: His hair is wild; he’s wild.”

• No time is a bad time for a good roll, as far as Luke’s concerned.

He loves rolling right after a bath,” Simpson said—but that’s not the only time he’ll stop and drop.

“He’s rolled in the parking lot at Devon; he rolled after the cross-country at Tryon—still tacked up,” she recalled. “At Kentucky, walking back from cross-country, as soon as he got to a patch of gravel, he rolled.”

While barn manager and head groom Steph Simpson works on him, Luke plots where he’s going to stop and drop after this bath is over. Amber Heintzberger Photo

• He’s also a fan of bananas, peel and all.

After Luhmühlen Martin videoed a wrap-up of the event, discussing the performance of each of the three horses he took; he also finished eighth on The Annie Goodwin Syndicate’s Fedarman B in that horse’s first five star, adding just a rail in show jumping to their dressage score, and 25th on the Turner family’s Tsetserleg TSF, who picked up a refusal cross-country. Standing in Luke’s stall, Luke first eats the banana itself and then comes back for the peel, taking it down in three bites.

• Luke gets lots of free time before his daily ride. 

 I like to put hism out first so he can get his buck out in his paddock instead of under saddle,” Simpson said. “He gets ridden little later so he can burn off some energy.”

That energy level gets particularly tricky to handle when Luke is coming back into work, or whenever the point of a ride is relaxation.

“I like all my horses to hack for about 45 minutes before I get on, and luckily I have a couple assistant riders who are brave and have figured out a trail ride that’s nice and quiet, away from the schooling cross-country course,” Martin said. “They take him well away from the commotion on the farm, out in the woods, so he doesn’t get too amped up.”

• Relaxation and softness are continual focuses in his work.

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Martin credits former U.S. team coach Erik Duvander and Olympic show jumper Peter Wylde, the latter of whom came to Germany to help him at Luhmühlen, with bringing out the best in Luke.

“[Duvander] has been helpful making sure Luke is truly letting go and relaxing in his body,” Martin said. “He’s so talented that he can look amazing even when he is really holding a lot of tension in his frame, but the goal is getting him truly relaxed and loose.”

Relaxation and softness are a focus of Luke’s work at home. Amber Heintzberger Photo

Wylde helps improve the gelding’s show jumping. 

“The biggest thing is the rideability and slowing him down a bit between fences and, especially in a combination, getting him to take a breath and settle down,” Martin said. “He used to jump a jump and then tear off around the ring, so we’ve done a lot of bringing him back to walk, calmly, and teaching him that I’ll always be asking him something on the landing side of the fence.” 

• At competitions, he knows how to put his best foot forward.

He’s all about business but not afraid to throw down if he thinks something is fun,” Simpson said. “He requires a little more prep and warm up than someone like [On Cue or Tsetserleg TSF] because he’s still a bit young and fresh.”

It’s often Simpson who handles that extra bit of warm-up, giving Luke a light longe on show mornings to let him get his extra energy out.

He spends a lot of time with Stephanie, and she’s his main handler at home and at the competitions,” Martin said. “There’s a special connection with those two because they travel to so many weird and wonderful places together. They’re connected first thing in the morning and at the end of the day.”

“There’s a special connection with those two because they travel to so many weird and wonderful places together,” Martin says of Luke and Simpson (pictured). Amber Heintzberger Photo

• Unsurprisingly, a horse as high-energy as Luke also has his quirks. 

From Simpson’s perspective as a groom, one of the biggest is the way he handles icing.

“He refuses to stand ice boots; he’ll only stand in a tub,” she said.

As a rider, Martin knows Luke’s funny little under-saddle hang-up.

He always shies in the same corner in any jumping ring: It doesn’t matter, the bottom right-hand corner, if you have a line of fences, he often lands and spooks,” he said. “Our jumping ring in Pennsylvania is a little tricky because the cross-country schooling is right there, so it’s very difficult to keep Luke’s focus. I think his mind is wandering, and he’s wishing he was out there galloping around.”

It’s perhaps that little idiosyncrasy that might be to blame for one of Martin’s most embarrassingly memorable moments with Luke.

That was about the second day after he landed in America from Germany,” he recalled. “He arrived in Aiken, South Carolina, and he was quite an expensive horse. I’d had to borrow the money off of about three people, then syndicate him with about 14 shares to repay my lenders. The Bruce’s Field showcase was that weekend, so I had a bunch of owners in town, and I thought it would be a great idea to pull him out of the stall at Stable View and impress them with my new horse. I was riding him around the ring at Stable View and showing them what a wonderful walk, trot and canter he had, and then he spun, jumped in the air, threw me off and ran back to the barn!”

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