Pavarotti has been a familiar face at the top of the North American eventing scene for almost a decade with Jessica Phoenix. Despite being a new partnership in early 2011, Phoenix and Pavarotti became Canada’s gold medal-winning heroes of that summer’s Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. The pair followed that up by winning individual silver on home soil at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, as well as representing their country at the FEI World Equestrian Games in 2014 and 2018. This summer they finished fifth individually at the Pan Ams in Peru and helped Canada earned team bronze.
The now 18-year-old Westphalian gelding (Pavarotti Van De Helle—Fidelia, Foxiland xx) is still going strong. Let’s learn more about what Pavarotti is like behind the scenes.
• Phoenix first met Pavarotti when he arrived at her barn in February of 2011 to be sold. “His owner, Don Good, called and said he had this horse he wanted me to take on to sell,” she explained. “When he told me the horse’s name I about cried because I had watched his career to that point and knew what a special horse he was.”
After riding the gelding for a few days, Phoenix was so smitten that she told Good the horse could never leave her barn. “It was fate. I believe things happen when they are meant to happen,” said Phoenix.
• Known around the barn as “Rotti Baby,” the gelding is very people-oriented. “I just started calling him that one day, and it stuck. He’s got such a big personality and is so fun to be around,” Phoenix noted. “He’s also a real lover who talks to people. If he sees someone he will whicker to call you over and try to pull you into his stall for attention.”
•If Pavarotti was a person, he’d be Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. “He has these highlights in his forelock just like Tyler, and he’s always throwing his hair around in dramatic fashion like he’s a rock star. He’s definitely a performer who loves being in front of an audience,” said Phoenix.
• He’s very food-motivated but also an easy keeper. “He loves treats, and if there’s food anywhere around, he’ll find it,” Phoenix said with a laugh. “He’s also trained everyone to give him extra hay by acting up at times just so that we’ll give him another flake to get him to settle down. It’s definitely a clever and deliberate strategy.”
• He knows how to make an entrance. “His new habit is that when we go in for show jumping and halt for me to salute the judge, he lifts his front leg to salute as well. It’s not a trick; he’s somehow trained himself to do it. It’s just the craziest thing to see, and now it’s a crowd favorite,” said Phoenix.
• He’s an equal opportunity competitor. According to Phoenix, Pavarotti doesn’t care if it’s dressage, cross-country or jumping, he just loves being in the ring, regardless of discipline. This competitiveness also means that he likes being the most important horse in the barn and doesn’t like sharing attention. He’s top dog, and he likes being No. 1.
• Pavarotti is Phoenix’s “horse of a lifetime.” “I like to think I’m his favorite person, and we have such a special connection. We’ve had so much time together, and he’s my best friend,” she said. “You know when your dog looks at you in that adoring way that lets you know you’re their ‘person’? Well that’s how he seems to look at me every day, and it’s such a rewarding feeling, and I think that connection translates to performance as well. He always wants to take care of me especially on cross-country, riding that line between being ‘all-in’ and super competitive while still keeping me safe.”
• His favorite equine buddy is a little dapple gray pony mare named CowDog. Yes, CowDog. “My husband Joel and son Jacob were at a cattle auction, and this pony was going through the ring for meat,” Phoenix remembered. “While my husband wasn’t looking, Jacob, who was only 2 at the time, was bidding on the pony and bought her for like $40. So Jacob gave the pony to his sister Jordan, and they are just the cutest together, and Pavarotti adores her. We go hacking together, and he loves hanging out with her.”