Before the 2018 season, it would have been fair to say that Piggy French’s 12-year-old Quarrycrest Echo was slipping under the radar a bit, at least when compared to his stablemate, 2017 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (England) runner-up and recent Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (England) winner Vanir Kamira.
But last year Quarrycrest Echo galloped out of the shadows with an early win in an advanced section at Burnham Market (England), before placing 10th in the Grantham Cup CCI4*-S at Belton (England)—no easy feat in a spring season that saw myriad cancellations and left many riders fielding a string of under-run horses.
Then, he ventured to Chatsworth (England) where, tucked away in the grounds of the glorious Derbyshire estate, there lurks a cross-country course that’s renowned for its well-nigh impossible time.
“Red” obviously doesn’t read too much into statistics; he delivered a foot-perfect weekend at Chatsworth that rocketed him to the win in the first Event Rider Masters leg of the season. Then, the whispers started.
French is a stalwart of the British eventing team; she’d clocked up four senior championship appearances by that point, and after taking the 2016 season off to have her first child—son Max with her partner Tom March—she was only getting better and better. With the FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina) looming, it was odds-on that she’d earn herself a spot. But would it be with her fast and ferociously talented mare or the young gun gelding?
It was Red, Jayne McGivern’s Irish Sport Horse (Clover Echo—Royal China, Cavalier Royale), who got the call-up. He traveled to Tryon, and he delivered the goods by flying across the country and then adding a solitary rail to his 27.8 dressage to finish 10th and help the British team earn gold.
Gorgeous in the ring, Red is even more compelling in the flesh. With a sparkle in his eye to match the shine in his coat, he’s a horse who’s so obviously possessed of a killer sense of humor—and a sprinkling of jockish arrogance—that it’s hard not to fall in love at first sight. We’re just glad he’s a horse; if Red was human, he’d be a Jilly Cooper character writ large. We met up with French and her poster boy to find out more about the inner workings of Red.
• He’s the apple of French’s eye and her stamp of a near-perfect event horse, despite some early misgivings.
“He’s the most beautiful horse. He’s nearly perfection, isn’t he, of a model and a type,” she said. “He’s got a lovely head, big eyes, and he’s stunning. I’m very lucky. He’s becoming one of those horses of a lifetime. I would have said at the beginning that his trot wasn’t good enough, and he wasn’t blood enough, but he’s done nothing but try to go the right way.”
• Much of his success can be attributed to the variety of work he’s experienced. Red enjoyed some team chasing in his formative years, and even now he breaks up his winter with trips out hunting.
“I don’t do masses with him now, but he loves it and behaves beautifully,” said French. “It really made him as a young horse. He was careful enough, and it made him enjoy feeling free and crossing the country and being out in the open, just getting braver and enjoying himself. So why not still do that? There’s only so much you can do with a horse. I don’t drill him in the school at all; I’m always aware that because he’s taken a while to get strong, trotting round and round endlessly isn’t what he needs physically. He’s not a blood horse, so fitness is something we have to concentrate quite hard on. Hunting and doing fun things is a lovely way for them to enjoy themselves getting fit, rather than constantly visiting gallops. It works for his personality, too; you can’t take them if they’ve not got the brain for it, or they get too hot or strong. His gallop has improved beyond recognition.”
• He’s the king of the naughty boys’ club at French’s Northamptonshire yard.
“We’re all very fond of him, and he’s very special to us, but he’s a character,” said French with a laugh. “He was cut late, so he was left as a stallion for his early years, which is probably why he has that arrogance. He knows he’s very good-looking. I think he was used—though I might be very wrong—I’ve always respected the fact that he likely was. As soon as I ever think he’s God, he’ll be a crafty bugger and have a whip round or a spook or something and catch me out. So I remain on my toes with him, but he’s got better and better over the years.”
• French’s head groom Amy Phillips enjoys her time at home and on the road with Red.
“He’s quite a nice one because he’s one you have to razz up, rather than trying to control him,” she said. “But he can be a bit cheeky. He likes to keep you on your toes, so you can never quite trust him! He tries to escape all the time—anyone who’s new on the yard has to be reminded to shut the door. He’s very smart and very switched-on, and he knows exactly who’s dealing with him. We’ve got a couple of younger girls who he’ll just walk all over. But he’s very sweet. He’ll always chat to you as you’re walking down the barn.”
• He began his career as a show jumper and made his competitive debut with Holly Gillott, who contested 6-year-old jumper classes with him and introduced him to eventing too.
“She’s an amazing rider and a great person, so she knows exactly what she’s on,” said French, who took the reins in late 2013. “He’s always been a fabulous jumper, but he’s a typical Irish horse—each year he’s got stronger and stronger. As a young horse he was quite weak in his movement, especially in his trot, and that’s definitely taken years to get better. Jayne, his owner, has been fantastic and patient and helpful. We’ve given him everything he needs, and hopefully she can reap the rewards for being so patient and great with him. You never know with horses, so we just enjoy him while he’s going well.”
• He knows the value of a good nap.
“He lives out at night most of the time. We’ve got a few pens, and quite a few of ours go out at night,” said Phillips. “Then he comes in and just sleeps for most of the day. He’ll put himself to bed, and I’ll say, ‘Pig, you can’t do Red next. He’s gone to bed!’ ”
When he commits to his naps, he goes all in, even if he’s at a competition. The clever gelding kicks his shavings into a pile to make himself a pillow, and he won’t be woken up before he’s ready. “He gets grumpy if you wake him up,” said McGivern with a laugh. “Forty-five minutes before his cross-country round at WEG, he was down and out. We all stood there looking. Fortunately, he woke up five minutes later!”
• He enjoys five-star hospitality, but there’s a limit to how much fuss he likes.
“At WEG, they brought us buckets and buckets of apples, which he definitely loved,” said Phillips, who keeps a stash of Polo mints from McGivern for Red to enjoy at home. Red likes to relax in his massage rug, but despite his penchant for creature comforts, he’s not that keen on endless cuddles.
“He likes a bit of it, but on his terms. He’ll let you know when he’s fed up,” said Phillips.