Sunday, Mar. 3, 2024

He’s Larger Than Life

This year’s American Horses In Sport issue marks our 21st annual celebration of sport horses and horsemen in the United States. And while we’ve honored a variety of incredible athletes from various sports as our Overall Horse of the Year, this year’s honoree, Theodore O’Connor, is the first pony to ever receive the award (p.16).

And he was a popular choice.
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This year’s American Horses In Sport issue marks our 21st annual celebration of sport horses and horsemen in the United States. And while we’ve honored a variety of incredible athletes from various sports as our Overall Horse of the Year, this year’s honoree, Theodore O’Connor, is the first pony to ever receive the award (p.16).

And he was a popular choice.

In 2007, Theodore O’Connor, known to his friends as Teddy, captured the hearts of just about anyone fortunate enough to see him bounce around the advanced-level cross-country courses with his equally famous partner, Karen O’Connor.

The chestnut pony, a mixture of Thoroughbred, Arabian and Shetland blood, bred by P. Wynn Norman of Florida, became the sport’s No. 1 underdog as he galloped and jumped his way into the record books with a third-placed finish in the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** and double gold medals at the Pan American Games (Brazil) last summer.

When we first began American Horses In Sport in 1987, our goal was to recognize the best sport horses throughout the country and document their achievements. From the beginning, we hoped to highlight horses bred in the United States and to recognize those breeders whose dreams were realized when their horses (or ponies) stepped into the spotlight and to the apex of their chosen discipline.

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Initially, we published our special issue to aid the Horses In Sport Federation, which sought to establish a database of pedigree and performance records. Choosing our horsemen and horses of the year was a secondary part of that mission. Unfortunately, the HISF was unsuccessful, and the tracking of pedigree and performance in U.S.-bred horses is still yet to be solved. Therefore, over the past two decades this AHIS edition has evolved, and telling the wonderful and often inspirational stories of these humans and equines has become our mandate.

And Teddy’s story is about as good as it gets. He now joins an elite group of 10 other U.S.-bred horses that have earned our Overall Horse of the Year title—For The Moment, Gem Twist, Shannon, R.O. Grand Sultan, Sassy Reason, Rox Dene, Monday Morning, Pieraz, Saluter and The Foreman.

Although some of these horses were bred specifically for sport, such as Teddy, Gem Twist and Rox Dene, many others found their glory in their second careers. While these Olympic medalists, World Champions and national champions have represented a variety of breeds and bloodlines—Thoroughbred, Dutch Warmblood and Arabian—they all have one thing in common: These stars rose above all others because of their tremendous heart.

Horsemen always hope to breed or discover one of these special horses, and Teddy once again provides that inspiration. He shows us that a champion can come from anywhere, in any breed or even size.

Looking ahead to 2008 and the Olympics in Hong Kong, I’ll be following Teddy’s progress, among countless others who have fallen in love with him. If Teddy can take another leap into the history books with a place on the U.S. eventing team, he will truly be the American breeder’s dream come true.
Teddy may be just 14.1 hands tall, but his story is already larger than life.

Tricia Booker

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