When it comes to the Thoroughbred and what makes it such a special breed, there is a lot of talk of character. Tesio famously said a horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart and wins with his character. When you talk to Thoroughbred fans, they will all refer to the same thing and whether one calls it character, courage or heart, it is something the best of our breed is blessed with in abundance, which is why the best of them are so sought after.
Interestingly, to find people who are as passionate about the Thoroughbred, if not more so, one does not have to look much further than the Eventing fraternity.
Of all the equestrian sports, Eventing – which comprises the three phases of dressage, cross-country and show-jumping – is the one that perhaps requires the most versatility, courage and heart. Not for nothing is it described as ‘red on the right, white on the left, insanity in the middle. So perhaps it’s not surprising that a lot of Eventers opt for Thoroughbreds.
As such, I was absolutely thrilled to learn that the local Eventing community had instituted two brand new awards at the National Eventing Championships, exclusively dedicated to Thoroughbreds. The initiative was the brainchild of Merri Spratley, a successful eventer and die-hard Thoroughbred fan.
Merri explains, “They have been doing a massive drive overseas to recognise OTTB’s and I thought it would be a great idea to do something similar here. We have lots of breed shows and special awards for Warmbloods and I thought why not do something for our Thoroughbreds? I spoke to Eventing SA and they approved the idea and then I approached Janine Evans. Janine used to compete a horse called Yazoo Ranger who passed away recently and she agreed to sponsor a trophy in his memory. What I originally had in mind was something to award the highest placed Thoroughbred in the South African Adult Individual Eventing Championship (2*) class. Then Wayne Thurgood came on board and he sponsored a trophy for the highest placed Thoroughbred in the South African Adult Mini Individual Eventing Championships (1*) class in memory of his wife’s horse Prince Of Tides, so now we’ve got two!” she says proudly.
The new trophies were awarded for the first time at the 2016 SA Champs at Kurlands on 17/18 September. As it turned out, never mind ‘highest placed Thoroughbred’, both classes were won outright by Thoroughbreds – the mini Champs by Julie Bennett on She’s A Rebel for the second consecutive year and the main class by Colin Hallaby on a name that racing fans might remember, a gorgeous big chestnut called Wow’s Safwan.
Wayne Thurgood – Prince Of Tides
I caught up with Wayne Thurgood to find out more about Prince Of Tides and what had made him want to sponsor a trophy. Wayne explains, “Prince Of Tides’ racing name was Prince Silvino and we got him from Gary Collins. I was working on the farm one day and saw his string of horses coming back from the beach. Gary asked which one I liked and I said the one at the back. We managed to buy Prince Of Tides for R1,000 with the idea to school him up and sell him on, but the more we worked him, the more we realised what an obliging chap he was. My wife Nikki is a professional rider and eventually took over the ride and got to 3* with him. They were shortlisted for the Kentucky World Equestrian Games, but the same day Nikki found out she’d been selected for Kentucky, she found out she was pregnant with our daughter. She gave the ride to Francois Viljoen (a former SA Eventing champion) who also commented on what a fantastic horse he was and how much heart and ability he had. After Nikki had the baby, she got back into riding and took the ride back and rode him up to 1* level again. We kept him in light work right up to the age of 21 when we had to put him down due to a severe bout of colic. He’s buried about 30m from the house on a spot I call Legends Hill.”
“He was a true legend and everybody in the Eventing community knows him and his exploits. He was quite an unconventional horse in that he was quite upright in his joints and his movement wasn’t the best, but when he competed he gave his absolute all. He was my wife’s pride and joy and he was part of the family. What better way to honour him than a trophy? When Merri said they were doing this, I jumped at the chance. Merri wanted plates rather than trophies, so we got a lovely Carrol Boyes silver platter and each recipient will have their name engraved on it.”
“I’m a Thoroughbred person through and through. In our sport you need a horse with agility, speed as well as stamina and that’s where the Thoroughbreds outdo the Warmbloods in my opinion. I started riding when I was 3. I’m 48 now and I don’t think I’ll ever have a horse of that quality and caliber that will mean as much.”
She’s A Rebel
The first winner of the Prince Of Tides trophy was Julie Bennett with her Captain Al mare, She’s A Rebel. Julie explains that she’s only ever ridden Thoroughbreds. “I find they’re more generous and have a lot more engine. I like the fact that they think so quickly and almost hold their breath waiting for the next instruction. Warmbloods tend to be a little slower to react, which I don’t enjoy. I only ride Thoroughbred mares and I got She’s A Rebel 5 years ago. She’d done a couple of 1*’s although her dressage was terrible, but I bought her because I was told she was brave and I wanted a school master. After a year and a half we were competing at 1* level and her dressage just got better and better. She’s a very tense, hot little horse, but the bravest, kindest horse I’ve ever had. This weekend was the most gruelling ever. We warmed up in a hailstorm and we had to take shelter in the forest. I came out with 5 minutes to go and she did her best dressage test ever to finish 1.5 penalties in second, behind an imported Warmblood horse.”
“We normally catch up in the country. Thoroughbreds are running jumping horses – they land and run and on the flat they open up like Warmbloods don’t. We had an absolute downpour in the cross country phase and I could feel she was taking strain, but she didn’t say no to a single thing. I don’t think she’s the scopiest horse, but she makes up for it in heart. Coming into the second last fence I couldn’t see because of the rain in my face. The going was thick with mud, the jump was on a curve and had a ditch in front. I think I missed a stride, but thought to myself ‘stay on a rhythm and trust your horse’ and she popped it like it was nothing. That’s a mare trying hard. And after the country, we moved into the lead on time.”
“I love the fact that there are Thoroughbred awards. At this particular show, for Thoroughbreds to keep up with the Warmbloods means you have to work 10 times harder. My horse had to work really, really hard this weekend, which makes the trophies really meaningful to riders like me that only ride Thoroughbreds. When Rebel retires, I would like to donate a trophy for the Thoroughbred that scores highest in the dressage as that’s the phase they struggle with most against the Warmbloods and where I think they need the most acknowledgement.”
Janine Evans – The Yazoo Ranger Trophy
Janine bought Yazoo Ranger (racing name Yazoo Range) as a 9yo Novice Eventer from KZN and competed him at eventing’s top level for many years. During his long and illustrious career, he made the Gauteng Provincial team for 8 years, won SA Champs in 2004 and finished 2nd or 3rd a number of times. “He was a little horse – only 16 hands – which shows the heart he had. I retired him at interprovincials at Karkloof when he was 20,” says Janine proudly. After 5 and a half years of retirement, she lost him just a few months ago to colic. “I’m an out and out Thoroughbred person. They show-jump, event, do dressage – everything. I don’t know why we’ve not had Thoroughbred trophies before. I think it’s absolutely fantastic and really amazing to know that Yazoo Ranger’s name will carry on.”
The first recipient of the Yazoo Ranger trophy is Colin Hallaby and Wow’s Safwan, who comes with a rather fun story. Safwan (stable name Sonney) is an Australian import who was trained by Mike de Kock, retiring as 4-time winner. Colin sourced Safwan directly off the track on the recommendation of a friend. “I went and had a look and came back with a video which I showed to Janine Evans (who donated the Yazoo Ranger trophy). She took one look and told me to hitch my horse box immediately. He’s been with me for 3.5 years now and to have come off the track and made Champion Eventer in that time is an exceptional performance, but he’s an exceptional horse.”
Safwan is an absolute businessman. He doesn’t like it if you make mistakes and he’s very quick to tell you that, but I’m really honoured and privileged to ride such a wonderful partner. My philosophy is you’ll never find a horse to beat a good Thoroughbred. They’re safe, they’re clever and they’re quite street wise, so they know how to look after themselves a bit. I’m really blessed, Safwan is a phenomenally good looking horse and a good mover, which means we’re usually up there after the dressage, which goes a long way. Last weekend we were in second place after the dressage with a small penalty difference between me and the leader, but I knew I had to run in the country. In those wet conditions I had to make the most of his speed and ability where I could and that put me into the lead after the country. Everyone else, respectfully so, was slower – a lot slower – but I never pushed him beyond what was safe. I let him find his footing in the warm up and he understood it and then I let him choose the pace he was happy with and fortunately it was a quick one. And then to finish up with a clear in the show-jumping was fantastic. Graham Winn, who is a 15 time SA Champion says it’s the biggest margin it’s ever been won by,” he says proudly.
“Yazoo Ranger was an exceptional horse and what is most special about this trophy is that it comes from someone I’ve called my hero for a long time. To be the first to win it was pretty cool.” Colin trains from his Mjolnir base in Elandsdrift and combines riding with a busy consulting practice (I guess that’s why I’m bald before I’m 30,” he quips) and now has his sights set on an international campaign. “It’s probably the right time to let everyone know, but we’re currently busy putting together a campaign to take Safwan abroad the end of next year and try and get to the World Equestrian Games in 2018.”
C.W. Anderson said, “The blood runs hot in the Thoroughbred and the courage runs deep. In the best of them, pride is limitless. This is their heritage and they carry it like a banner. What they have, they use.”
Seems their fans are pretty cool too.