Specifically, I’ve been amazed by some of these event horses over the last three days. Not only are many of them marvelous physical specimens, but they also have mental qualities unknown a decade ago, the kind of mental qualities that two days of dressage especially proved today’s event horses absolutely have to have.
The two horses I’m mostly talking about at Galan De Sauvagere and Primmore’s Pride. They’re clearly the prototype of the modern event horse. They’re huge, rhythmic movers, for whom the lateral work and extensions of the dressage test are simple work, and they have the stride and more than enough scope to make four-star cross-country jumps and distances look like training exercises.
But what’s really, truly remarkable about them is their minds and attitudes. They’re intrinsically relaxed and calm–confident, really–undaunted by the environmental factors that have customarily unhinged most hot-blooded, aggressive, on-the-edge event horses. Other than the fluidity, range of stride and ability to make the hardest movements look easy, the thing about both horses’ outstanding dressage tests was their absolute attention to the their riders, despite the howling wind, the fluttering flags, the chattering fans, the colorful signs, and the rest of the “environment.”
Yes, Galan De Sauvagere and Primmore’s Pride are the new generation of event horses (along with Winsome Adante and Ringwood Cockatoo, who, as exceptional as they are, don’t quite take your breath away just by being in the ring). And that brings me to the real point of today’s journal: Ready Teddy, and how this great horse’s career is concluding here as a signal of what I suspect (actually regret) is the end of his type.
“Teddy” was an Olympic champion with Blyth Tait half a life ago (he’s 16 now and was 8 when he won the gold medal in Atlanta in 1996), and he did it then the old-fashioned way: with a fast cross-country round, accomplished before he reached the peak of his physical abilities. He reached that point two years later, winning the World Championships with his extraordinary jumping. There, in Pratoni del Vivaro (Italy), he capped his victory with what I still think is the most beautiful show jumping round I’ve ever seen from an event horse.
But eventing’s changes were overtaking him, rewarding obedience–both in the dressage ring and over jumps–more than boldness and verve. On Monday, he just plain blew up in the ring–Tait said Teddy just wasn’t with him at all–and it left him 54th, 34.4 penalties off Galan De Sauvagere’s score. And now, in his third Olympics (along with two World Championships) “Teddy” probably won’t even get to show jump for the individual medals tomorrow night because he’s in 33rd place and only the top 25 get to do the second round.
But today, on cross-country, Teddy was in his element–galloping, solving the fences’ questions and problems, and flying over the big, galloping fences. Still, he was 3 seconds slow, perhaps yet another sign that the twisting turns and the narrows, which make time faults instead of jumping faults the deciding factor, have passed by horses like him, horses who can really gallop down to big fences and jump them out of stride.
I found myself getting teary eyed as he approached the last few jumps, teary eyed at the realization that one of the world’s greatest event horses was galloping toward his final finish line with barely a mention. And no one else seemed to notice, so I just had to write about it today. Because Teddy is the last of his type–the type of iron-willed Thoroughbred who’d run and jump through fire and ice but could barely handle or tolerate dressage–and I’ll miss him and his incredibly brave predecessors.
Godspeed back to your retirement in New Zealand, Teddy, and thanks for thrilling us so.