In an age where fancy warmbloods are taking over the eventing scene, successful five-star eventer Never Outfoxed is solid proof that the Thoroughbred still reigns supreme.
Holly Payne Caravella brought “Fox,” a 13-year-old (Veronica’s Sir—Caroverse, Opening Verse) owned by the Fox Syndicate, from training to CCI5*-L level in four years. Together they’ve earned three top-20 finishes at the five-star level at home and abroad.
We went behind the stall door to learn more about this cross-country machine:
• Caravella bought “Fox” sight unseen as a 4-year-old from a Georgia eventer, Mary Kate Mallory.
“He actually sold me on the video,” said Caravella. “You know at the end of a YouTube video, they always have suggested other videos, and his suggested video said, ‘Fox learning to swim.’ It was the girl who owned him; he was a 4-year-old at the time; she’s riding him bareback, and she takes him into a lake. He swims a little circle, and I’m like, ‘OK, he has a good brain, and he’s brave.’ ”
Fox learning to swim:
• He was bred by Mason Lampton, the master of Midland Fox Hounds (Georgia). Lampton’s father-in-law, the late MFH Benjamin H. Hardaway III, founded the hunt in 1950. He’s best known for developing the Hardaway crossbred hound, and his many accomplishments in the sport are documented in his autobiography, “Never Outfoxed: The Hunting Life of Benjamin H. Hardaway III,” which Fox’s name mirrors.
“They actual bred him to be a steeplechase horse, but they thought he was too small, so they ended up foxhunting him. Instead of sending him to the track they foxhunted him as a 3- and 4-year-old, which was probably worse [than the track] as far as his brain goes,” said Caravella with a laugh.
“I liked his type so much. The way he travels—he’s so light on his feel, and he’s so quick and adjustable, and from the very beginning he was like that. He was so fun to ride and so fun to jump, I just thought he for sure had the talent to go all the way, and he actually flew up the levels really quickly. Everything was really easy all along the way,” she said.
• Like a cheesy answer you’d hear in a job interview, Fox’s biggest weakness is that he “tries too hard.”
“He just tries so hard to be so perfect all the time, but when you ride him he’s too sensitive and too overly like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to do exactly what you want.’ And he’ll get really upset with himself if he does it wrong. He’s really hard on himself,” Caravella said.
• His perfectionism rears its head most prevalently in the dressage, but it gives also Caravella a huge advantage on the cross-country.
“His issue is he tries too hard, especially with the dressage. He doesn’t have a mean bone in him, but if he was a person, they’d probably put him on Xanax,” she said “He’s so funny that way, but you can’t fault him for it—he’s trying to do everything for you, which is what’s awesome on the cross-country.
“He’s the best cross country course I’ve ever had. He looks for the jumps—if he even thinks you’re supposed to jump it, he’s going to jump it. He has the biggest heart of all the horses,” she said.
• Ready to lose a bet? Despite his outward expressions of anxiety, the Thoroughbred doesn’t have any diagnosed medical issues.
“Funny enough, he’s never scoped for ulcers, but we treat him like he is one because he’s sort of that type. We treat him like he’s a total ulcery horse even though [he’s] not,” she said. “He’s also a horse that carries so much tension in his back and topline that we X-rayed his back thinking he might have issues with his back, and he has perfect back X-rays. He’s very deceiving that way. Clinically he looks perfect. But mentally he needs to chill out.”
• With this Thoroughbred, Caravella achieved a lifelong dream of competing overseas when they finished 19th at the 2016 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials CCI5*-L (England).
“It was surreal. It’s always been a dream of mine to go over and compete him at Burghley. I had taken him around Kentucky three times, but when you go over there it’s a completely different thing,” she said. “I was so thankful to be sitting on Fox at Burghley. There aren’t very many Burghley-type horses, but he just ate up the cross-country.
“It rained that year. It rained all day, and I was second-to-last to go, and that was also really tough,” she continued. “I sat in the tent all day as it rained just watching people getting destroyed on the cross-country. It was nerve-racking, but as soon as I got out there he made it so easy.”
• Caravella has a theory: She says he learned everything he knows from her first five-star horse, Madeline, over the pasture fence.
“When he was younger he used to be really bad in turnout. We tried to give him friends to keep him happy. I said, he is the nicest horse in the world, but he’s an energizer bunny and annoyed everyone to the point that they would hurt him,” she said. “At the time I had Madeline, and we figured out if we put her next to him she kept him in line because she wouldn’t let him play over the fence. She liked him, and she’d hang out with him but basically told him to stay on his side of the fence and behave. He learned!”
Now, it’s Fox’s turn to give back to the next generation: “Now he goes out next to ‘Charm’ [Charm King]. We always joke about what they must talk about. We say ‘Charm, talk to Fox about the cross-country. Give [Charm] a pep talk; tell him what it’s all about.’ ”
“He’s the horse of a lifetime,” she said. “He’s not one that’s going to go be a team horse because he’s not going to be settled enough in the dressage, but he’s that horse for me that’s taken me around the world and given me the experience and the confidence to take on these big tracks. It’s really hard to get a horse that would do that for you.
“I have complete trust in him,” she continued. “He might be a little flighty and spooky, but he’s the one I trust more than anything. To have a horse like that—I’m so grateful for it. It helps you too for every horse you have in the barn after him. It might be green or weak, but Fox has given me the confidence that I can take these other horses up the levels. He’s not the easiest, but a horse with a good heart, you can’t turn that down,” she said.