A 14.3-hand Welsh Pony/Quarter Horse might not seem like the natural choice for an ambitious eventer, but when Ali Holmes-Smith first saw Paddington as a 4-year-old, there was something about him that struck her.
Now that he’s about to turn 20, the gelding has been eventing for longer than Holmes-Smith’s daughter Tosca, 14, has been alive, but the pair tackled their first one-star together in November at Galway Downs (Calif.), finishing on their dressage score.
“He’s definitely not bred to be a higher level event horse, but he’s got tons of heart,” said Ali. “He is without question the smartest horse I’ve ever ridden.”
Ali and her husband, Canadian Olympic eventer Nick Holmes-Smith, came across “Paddy” during one of the summer camps they held at their farm in British Columbia, and where they hosted the Chase Creek CCI* until 2003 when they took time off to have a family and run their ski resort, Mustang Powder.
An 11-year-old girl was riding Paddy, and Nick was impressed by his jump.
“At the end of the camp, they came to us and said, ‘We’ve got the horse on trial. Do you think we should buy him?’ And Nick and I looked at each other, and Nick finally said, ‘Yes, you should buy him, and if you don’t we will. And if you do, we want first option on him when she outgrows him,’ ” said Ali.
That family did buy Paddy, and were good to their word to pass him on to the Holmes-Smith family. Two years later, Ali began competing him.
The pair moved up the levels quickly and won the CCI** at Rebecca Farm (Mont.) in 2008 before Ali retired him from that level in 2010 due to age and a minor injury.
After recovering, Paddy proved he wasn’t ready for retirement and took Ali’s older daughter Carmen to her first one-star at Rebecca Farm in 2012, where they finished seventh. Tosca took over the ride soon after.
Even though he’s small, Paddy has his own way of doing things and doesn’t appreciate being told what to do.
“When he was younger he was a real rogue cross-country,” Ali said with a laugh. “I remember 10 years ago jumping 4’ rounds on him at a jumper show where I felt like a little kid on a Thelwell pony. It was just completely out of control! He was still jumping clear but didn’t want any input from me.”
Tosca and Paddy competed two seasons at training level before deciding to make the move up to preliminary in 2014. Her goal was to go to Rebecca Farm for the one-star, but she broke her arm in a fall from another horse this summer and thought her dream of completing her first FEI event was done for the year.
But a chance meeting with a friend at an event in September resulted in a last-minute entry and a ride to Galway Downs, an event the 14-year-old rider had never attended.
“We’d never competed in California before, so I was sort of nervous,” she said. “I was really happy. We didn’t score as well in dressage as I hoped we would, but cross-country and show jumping he was really good.”
See their cross-country round from Galway…
Tosca, who trains with her dad, knows that Paddy has his own way of doing things, but she’s learned to appreciate what he’s taught her as she applies it to her training level horse, a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse named Grace.
“I’ve learned how to ride the bigger fences,” she said. “It’s nice having a horse I could do stuff on before my mare, who’s going at a similar level. It’s nice having him pack me around.
“He’s sort of hard to ride because you can’t really do much with him because he knows his job so well,” she continued. “He’s really fun cross-country. He’s really smart, so when you start out, you just have to sit up and get him off his forehand a little bit. But you don’t have to package him too much, so you can keep your momentum. He’s pretty easy to make time on cross-country. He really likes to go; he can get a bit strong.”
Even for his size, Paddy doesn’t require much extra conditioning. Tosca uses an old logging road near her house for gallops and tries to keep him in regular work.
“He’s a bit full of himself, but he’s really good,” she said. “He’s really sweet. He doesn’t like it when you give him time off—he stands at the fence line and looks at you while you ride the other horses.”
Ali is more than happy for Paddy to have a job to look forward to—even if she does get a bit anxious watching.
“I get more nervous watching them on Paddy than I do on their other horses,” said Ali. “Not from a safety point of view, but it’s like having two kids out on course at the same time. You want the kid to do well, but you also have expectations of the horse. He’s so smart and so safe that I’m very confident sending them out to run prelim on him.”
Tosca is hoping to qualify and compete at the Adequan/FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships in 2015 if Paddy’s up to it.
But no matter what, the gelding will always have a home and a loving family.
“He’s pretty special. We’d never sell him,” Tosca said. “Hopefully he stays going like he is. I would like to go down to Young Riders. Hopefully we can improve our dressage a bit more before then. It would be a pretty good experience to take him.”