For the first time since 1978, there will be no Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event this week. Instead of a Kentucky Preview issue, the Chronicle’s April 20 & 27 Classic Kentucky Issue features some of the people and horses who’ve made the event unforgettable over the years. We’ll also be highlighting some of our favorite memories all week on coth.com to honor Kentucky.
Cross-country day of the 2012 Rolex Kentucky CCI5*-L got off to an inauspicious start. The first three riders were all veterans but failed to get around, so as five-star rookie Jordán Linstedt Granquist sat in the competitor area with coach Leslie Law and watched the early carnage, she was understandably nervous.
As Law gave her a pep talk, Granquist realized she needed to trust her horse.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m not on those horses; I’m on Jack. He’s going to take care of me around this course, and we have such an incredible partnership.’ ” she recalled. “If he couldn’t do something he would tell me, so I kind of went into the course thinking if I feel something that’s not quite right or different, I’ll pull up.”
“Jack,” who competed under the name Tullibard’s Hawkwind, came into Granquist’s life when she was 17. The Irish Sport Horse (Cruising—Artic Anna, Artic Que) had recently been imported by family friend Michelle Mayo as a show jumper. Granquist had shown up to preliminary but was quickly outgrowing her Thoroughbred, so local Washington-based trainer Todd Trewin suggested Jack could be a good fit.
“From the first time I sat on him I felt like I could jump anything in the world and do anything on him,” said Granquist. “He gave you that feeling that was unlike anything I’d ever had before. My parents were able to make a stretch and purchase him for me. He was a bit out of our price range, and my dad actually sold part of his retirement to make it all possible. I was extremely lucky that they were able to do that and provide a horse like that for me to kind of start my upper-level career.”
But after they bought the 17.3-hand behemoth, the Linstedt family heard a lot more negativity than encouragement over the purchase.
“It was kind of a little bit, in the beginning, a heartbreak story for my parents because they were like, ‘Oh my gosh we just made this huge stretch to try to provide [this opportunity],’ ” Granquist said. “My dad, he’s no longer with us, but he had told Michelle, ‘When your little girl has a dream, you have to try to do everything you can to make it possible.’ For everybody to say, ‘Oh you made a mistake,’ and, ‘He’s never going to do what you think he’s going to do,’ and, ‘He’s not going to stay sound,’ is so hard. But the horse just kept proving everyone wrong along the way.”
They hoped Jack might take Granquist to the intermediate level, but he kept defying expectations. In 2009 they made their advanced debut at The Event At Rebecca Farm (Montana). Then they qualified for a CCI4*-S, so they figured why not? Then they did a CCI4*-L and in short order they were qualified for Kentucky.
“Why not give it a go?” became the pair’s motto.
In order to prepare for their first five-star, Granquist, then 24, headed east for the spring season and began training with Law.
“Leslie didn’t really know me or the horse at all but did a fabulous job not changing anything, just helping build our confidence prior to Kentucky,” said Granquist. “It was huge and important to go east that year for me because just learning the terrain and learning the difference of the cross-country courses on the West Coast versus the East Coast was hugely educational.”
They finished clear with time at their first East Coast event at Poplar Place (Georgia), finishing fifth in the advanced. In their final prep run at The Fork (North Carolina) Granquist withdrew before show jumping because Jack was footsore. In the period between that event and Kentucky they worked with a farrier to correct the issue and focused on low-impact fitness work. (Granquist hacked him over to The Sanctuary in Ocala, Florida, so he could swim, before hacking home and doing a light dressage ride later in the day.)
It seemed fortuitous when two weeks later they drew No. 32, which happened to be the jersey number her dad, Gary Linstedt, wore when he played basketball. Though he’d died in 2010, she carried a piece of him all weekend.
“It felt like my dad was there with me, and he was definitely my biggest fan,” she said. “That was a special part of the weekend, and I definitely wish he could’ve been there. I knew he was along the ride with me.”
Riding The Horse She Had
When it was time to leave the Kentucky startbox on Saturday, Granquist decided to block out all the excess noise that comes with your first five-star.
“It’s funny—all the coaches said, ‘You’re going to come out of the box, and you’re going to ride so much different than you’ve ever ridden before—it’s unlike anything you’ve ever done,’ ” Granquist said. “I also remember thinking, ‘Well that’s kind of silly. I’m going to ride exactly how I’ve ridden my horse.’ So, I did; I stuck to my plan. He came out fairly slow, finished fairly slow. I took a few alternate routes that I thought maybe would be a little bit easier for him and would give us an ability to finish without any cross-country jump penalties even though we knew we’d have time penalties. He and I went around like we’d always gone around any other course in the country.
“But in the back of my head I knew if something wasn’t right I would pull up,” she continued. “At that point in my career, being there was such a huge monumental thing. I didn’t have an expectation going into it of how I was going to do. I was just going to ride the horse I had and do the best we could do.”
At the Head of the Lake, which was late in the course, Jack stalled when he landed in the water, and Granquist considered putting up her hand. But the gelding locked onto the next fence and galloped on, and they finished their first five-star clean, but slow. They ended up with 79.2 time penalties.
“At the end of the course, I remember from the Normandy Bank to the end I could almost see people in the crowd we were going so steady in our own little pace,” she said. “I could remember hearing my brother [Tyler Merkeley]—my nickname is George—and I could hear him yelling three fences from home, ‘Go George!’ It’s kind of surreal because I’m at Kentucky riding around the biggest course in my life, and I’m able to see people in the crowd because that was just how steady Jack went. He definitely stole the hearts of a lot of people watching because he was so unique.
“He jumped fence 1 exactly the same as he jumped the last fence on course, and that was what was so incredible to people watching,” she said. “Being that he went slow, I think there were some extra eyes on us making sure that we were safe and within our means. I remember even hearing the announcer saying, ‘Even though they’re going slow, Tullibard’s Hawkwind is jumping exactly the same as he started the course.’ ”
Following Kentucky, Jack, who’d always had some breathing issues, had tieback surgery to see if that would help with his slow gallop. His first back event wasn’t with Granquist, but instead student Molly Gibbons took the reins in the novice at Aspen Farms (Washington) after her horse developed pneumonia and had to withdraw.
“He would go around novice exactly the same as he went around Kentucky for me,” Granquist said. “There was no difference. He jumped just as high as he’d have to jump. It’s such a unique, special horse. There’s not many like that.”
They made a push to contest Kentucky again in 2013, but in their final prep run at advanced at Galway Downs (California), the gelding stifled a log into the water and required surgery to remove a bone chip. Granquist hoped to bring him back, but he was never 100 percent afterward, so he started a new career as a schoolmaster for her working students and clients. Now 22, Jack is retired in her backyard in Redmond, Washington.
“I think what Jack taught me and the wisdom that he gave me was definitely invaluable,” Granquist reflected. “That first experience was something that I was like, ‘Wow I could conquer this again or do this again.’ Obviously, I feel really lucky that I had him to be able to do it with.”