There aren’t many horses in the world who could cause a retired five-time Olympian to rush out and catch the next plane to Europe. But when Robert Dover learned that FBW Kennedy might be for sale, that’s exactly what he did.
Dover first saw “Turbo,” in 1999 when he was beginning his Grand Prix career with Lone Jorgensen of Denmark. Impressed, Dover wondered if he might possibly be for sale, but was met with a resounding, “No!” Jorgensen soon began picking up prizes with the horse, including team bronze at the 1999 and 2001 European Championships and top-10 finishes at the 2000 Olympics and 2002 World Equestrian Games.
But “over the years I would see her and always comment on how I loved him,” said Dover. “We always kept in touch and joked a lot.” His persistence paid off when a disagreement between the Danish Olympic Committee and Jorgensen meant a loss in funding, and she decided to give Dover a call.
“I knew I was going to love riding him, and I knew he was going to be my type of horse to ride before I ever rode him,” said Dover. So he called his longtime owner, Jane Forbes Clark, and she encouraged him to get on the next plane.
Dover knew and admired Turbo’s hot temperament, but he underestimated it during his first ride. He laughingly recalled, “For a second he was a little bit lazy, and I gave him a tap with my heel. He almost sent me flying over the fence. He went into this wild bucking spree because he is extremely sensitive. You do not hit him hard, and you do not kick him hard, because your next movement will be one that’s flying through the air. He’s a bronco.”
Despite this experience, or perhaps because of it, Dover brought him home in late September 2003 to start preparing for the Olympic selection trials. Some critics accused Dover of buying a schoolmaster and worse, but he knew that wasn’t the case. “I would challenge them to give him a spin around the arena on a windy day when the birds were flying around,” he responded.
And Dover found the prospect of preparing for the Olympic trials to be daunting. “It was a challenge because you’re not only wanting to live up to the quality that this horse has already put out, but you also have to change certain things to meet your own sense of what is comfortable and what is competitive for you.”
Changing Turbo’s pacey and lateral walk became his first challenge. “When the horse was young he probably was such a forward horse that as [Jorgensen] went to collect him, his walk became marginal–it got sort of lateral,” Dover surmised. “People around her told her, ‘Don’t take up the contact too much, keep him marching forward a little bit rapid and basically get through it.’ I divorced myself from the entire thing. I took a contact and practiced walking in the rhythm I set in my seat and mind. Basically, he just started walking better. His natural instinct was to walk correctly, but his trained reaction was to walk incorrectly.”
That was just the beginning of the process of establishing a partnership with him. Kennedy is a horse of routine, so Dover and his groom and assistant trainer, Katherine Bateson, had to get everything just right for the quirky genius. Although Turbo quickly accepted Dover, they learned that he would do things on his own schedule. “There’s no telling him. You’ve got to sort of talk him into everything, and then he’s fine with it,” said Bateson.
They follow a strict regimen that starts with Dover riding him at 9 a.m., five days a week, with a day off and a longeing day on Thursday.
“Lone had told me that was part of his routine forever, but when we first got him we had forgotten a little bit about it,” said Bateson. “He was just getting hotter and hotter, and then we said, ‘Well why don’t we longe him?’ So I longed him and he went crazy, and then he felt a huge relief.
“Much as it scares us, we boot him up and longe him just with a halter,” she continued. “He leaps around and bucks and gallops, and then he feels much better. He lets you know when he’s done; he walks and says, ‘OK that’s it.’ “
Turbo’s hot temperament may be a challenge, but it’s also part of what makes him a show horse. “He never thinks a backward thought, he never thinks anything but doing the right thing,” said Bateson. “He makes you want to cry watching him go because he’s so honest and has such a big heart. It’s an x-factor that I don’t think you can pick out.”
Dover’s first outing with Turbo was in November 2003 at The National in Wellington, Fla. He won his only class, the Grand Prix Special, and as the pair improved their communication, their scores soared toward the June selection trials. They swept those selection trials, finishing with an outstanding 81.70 percent in the freestyle. And in August Turbo carried Dover to his best finish ever, in his sixth Olympics.
“What was most enjoyable for me was to see Robert so happy,” said Clark. “It was one of the most fun, happy rides he ever had, and I could see that in his face.”
Dover’s next goal with Turbo is the FEI World Cup Final in April. And after that, Dover’s not sure, because of his chronic back pain.”I’ve had a blast riding him and just as much being around him every day,” said Dover. “When you walk into the barn, he calls you to him. He’s got an enormous smile in his expression. His eyes light up, and he is so excited just to be part of everything. You can’t look at him without smiling.”
Description: Ch. g., 16, Baden-Wurttemberger, by Tiro–Katy, Karata, bred by Karl Gaibmaier in Germany.
Height: “On a good day with his feet long, he’s 16.1-hands,” said rider Robert Dover.
Owner: Jane Forbes Clark, Cooperstown, N.Y.
Home: With Dover in Wellington, Fla., during the winter and Bridgehampton, N.Y., in the summer.
Quirks: “Every day he stretches. He does one of those cat stretches with their shoulders down and their front feet out in front of him,” said groom Katherine Bateson. “So you have to put his saddle pad on and put the gel pad on, and then you show him the saddle, and when he sees the saddle he’ll do his stretch. Also, anytime he sees a bird, he wants to jump away from it and make a little scene.”
Personality: “He’s so smart. He’s like a person smart,” said Bateson. “We had a saddle incident. Robert was trying a new saddle and rode him [Kennedy] in it for a week. All of a sudden he started walking off funny and got funny in his back, like it was a little sore. So just as an experiment we brought out the new saddle. He put his ears back and made a face and swished his tail, and when we put it on him he made a face and swished his tail. So we brought out his old saddle and showed it to him, and he licked it twice and put his head down in my lap. We put it on him, and he just stood there like, ‘Yes, that’s the saddle I like.’ “
2004 Competitive Highlights
U.S. Dressage Selection Trials–1st Grand Prix (76.29%), 1st Grand Prix Special (78.64%), 1st Grand Prix (78.91%), 1st Grand Prix Freestyle (81.70%); 1st overall.
Aachen CDIO (Germany)–9th Grand Prix (71.37%), 9th Grand Prix Special (72.16), 9th Grand Prix Freestyle (75.77%).
Wickrath CDN (Germany)–1st Grand Prix (73.13%).
Lingen CDI (Germany)–1st Grand Prix for freestyle (73.12%), 2nd Grand Prix Freestyle (81.42%).
Olympic Games (Greece)–5th Grand Prix Special (74.04%), 7th Grand Prix freestyle (78.47%); 6th overall, team bronze.
USDF Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle Horse of the Year.