This grand prix jumper is discovered missing but finds his rightful place with a little help from his friends.
The adventure started out like a hundred other horse deals. After three years of showing Good Guinness, Patrick Seaton put him on a trailer in Petaluma, Calif., on Sept. 8, 2008, and sent him to Frank Madden’s barn in East Norwich, N.Y., to be sold for owner Richard Konecky.
A dark brown gelding with a star stepped off the trailer at Madden’s stable on Sept. 14. His halter and passport said Good Guinness, and he started showing in the children’s jumpers at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) in January of 2009.
On March 7, Seaton was in Florida looking at horses, and he decided to stop by and visit “Guinness.” Over the previous months he’d been in contact with agent Ali Nilforushan, who originally brokered the deal between Seaton and Madden, about offers on Guinness and his performance on the East Coast. Seaton had been disappointed to hear that his grand prix jumper was only competing in the children’s jumpers, however, he didn’t suspect anything was amiss.
But when grooms directed Seaton to the gelding’s stall, he quickly ascertained that the horse standing in it wasn’t the 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse he’d put on the trailer. This horse had a scar on his right hind leg and was missing his front teeth. He also had a Holsteiner brand.
Panic ensued as Seaton tried to figure out what had become of Guinness.
“He called me freaking out,” said good friend and fellow California trainer Kristin Hardin. “He was due to leave the next day. He took some pictures of him, photographed his missing teeth and alerted Frank to the fact that it wasn’t the right horse.”
Hardin got on the Internet and started asking for help as she and Seaton tried to trace every horse that had been on the truck Earl Jacques drove from California to New York. Jacques had stopped in Texas and Tennessee before overnighting at McLain Ward’s farm in Brewster, N.Y., and finally sending a two-horse trailer on to Madden with another driver.
They followed several false trails until a poster on The Chronicle of the Horse Bulletin Board wrote about a horse showing in the junior jumpers on the Gulf Coast Winter Classic (Miss.) circuit under the name of Kanye that belonged to Ward.
Samantha Arnholt, a Virginia resident who didn’t know Seaton, had been following the thread on the bulletin board, and she tracked down photos of Kanye that had been posted on the Internet by the show photographer Flashpoint Photography. She e-mailed Seaton the link so he could compare. He positively identified his horse and discovered he was living at Annabel Benito’s Resolution Farm in Long Valley, N.J.
Seaton sent Sophie Benjamin, a student who had ridden Guinness in California and now attends Princeton University (N.J.), out to Resolution Farm so she could identify him. It was indeed the real Good Guinness.
While rumors of foul play ran rampant, it turns out this mix-up was an honest mistake. Ward was expecting a jumper from Texas in trade. That horse had a good show record including some grand prix placings. Although the two geldings didn’t look identical, they were close enough that when their halters were switched after an overnight at Ward’s farm, the markings on the passport still matched up.
“We were in Europe at the time. The whole deal was handled by very competent people at our farm,” said Ward. “We turn around more than 100 horses a year. He matched the health papers, so the only thing we could assume was that it was the right horse. Even if a vet had come and looked at the health papers, which didn’t indicate a brand, he would have said they matched. The health papers didn’t have any mention of the missing front teeth, which were the thing that made it very obvious.”
Guinness was only at Ward’s barn for a few days before Benito came and tried him and took him home.
“We tried another horse of Barney’s [Ward], and it didn’t pass the vet. He said, ‘I’ve got an even better one for you. It just came in on trade, and it has a better record.’ We didn’t think anything of it. It was exactly what he said it was. What a coincidence that the two horses would be on the same truck,” said Resolution Farm trainer Amanda Flint.
“Unfortunately, the shipper mixed up the horses—it’s as simple as that,” said McLain. “The horse came in and was supposed to be a low junior jumper. He jumped around a 3’6” course just fine at our place, as he was supposed to. The next day, he was tried and leased. He didn’t spend longer than four days with us.”
Although Madden was slightly disappointed in the quality of the horse that stepped off the truck at his farm, he was never suspicious.
“It wasn’t like someone had sent me a children’s hunter,” he said. “It jumped 1.45 meters, but it didn’t do it with the quality I hoped. It was a normal situation where somebody sends you a horse, describes what the horse is, and it was described as being a little nicer than it is. There was a note on the passport that I could see it on YouTube. It looked like the horse.”
Jacques was deeply apologetic after he realized the mistake was his. “Earl spends a lot of time driving. He was tired and put the wrong halter on the wrong horse. I know it was inadvertent,” said Hardin.
“All of the professionals involved have really handled it well, once it was realized,” she continued. “It’s all going to be OK. I was on the phone with Barney and Frank and Earl, and everyone’s going to be OK.”
Good Guinness will return to California. Seaton wasn’t sure whether or not he’d be up for sale again after his adventure. “I told the owners they should give him to me. I’ve had him for three years. I’ve won a lot on him. I was happy for him to come home,” he said.
Kanye, the horse that had been masquerading as Guinness in Madden’s barn, was returned to the Wards.
“The person who loses in all this is Maria [van Buskirk, the 16-year-old who had been showing the real Good Guinness],” said Flint. “Barney has been great and has offered to give us a different horse or give us her money back. She was pretty attached to him, and she didn’t even get to say goodbye to him. We tried to buy Good Guinness, but they wanted a lot more money than Barney’s horse. They’re going to get their money back and take a step back.”