Sunday, May 16, 2010

What makes a champion?

Jen and Imp sharing peppermints
At Poplar Place HT, Training level

At Rocking Horse...I hate this table! I have seen Imp leave out a stride
and stretch her way across it!

One question many horsemen have debated for generations, is, what exactly, makes a champion?
Is it genetics? The breed? Size? Talent? Is it the training? What about the partnership? Is it the size of their heart, both literally and figurativly?
Secretariat's heart was 22 pounds...the normal Thoroughbred's heart weighs in at about 8-9 pounds! Was it his heart that made him so great? His breeding? There is no doubt that he is one of the greatest champions of all time! Yet amazingly, he was not considered an immediate success in the breeding shed. However, his bloodlines can be found in 2004 Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones; and he is considered a broodmare sire, with such notable offspring as grandson AP Indy, sire of 2007 Belmont winner Rags to Riches (the first filly to win the race since 1905), and Storm Cat. I even own a grandson of Secretariat, Bates, by the legendary Bates Motel. Although Bates looks similar to the big chestnut stallion, he does not come close to being in the same league!
In her book Saddled, author Susan Richards describes having heart as meaning "gusto, pizzazz, a willingness to go anywhere or try anything. Not blindly, but with an expansiveness of spirit and intelligence that are visible in a horse's posture and eye. Heart is confidence" She goes on to say that it is the biggest difference between a good horse and an extraordinary one.
I agree! But does having such heart mean that a horse will be a champion? I think so! But what is a champion? Certainly horses like Rachel Alexandra, Affirmed, Theodore O'Connor and Gifted are all champions, having attained the highest level of their chosen sport, and doing it incredibly well! But does being a champion mean you have to be a 14.2 hand pony competing at Rolex or to be undefeated on the race track?
If you were to ask any student at a therapuetic riding school, such as Orlando's Freedom Ride, I am sure they would declare every horse and pony in their barn a champion! I had the chance to visit there today. I didn't see any blue ribbons hanging from stall doors, but these horses were spoken of so highly, so affectionately. No, they may not have blue ribbons, but they have achieved something much more important in the lives of so many!
I know that in my own barn, of my 4 current horses, I have 1 definite champion, 1 in the making, and 1 definitely not! And Bates, the grandson of Secretariat? Well, lets just say that the jury is still out on him!
But Impulsive, our 20 year old retired Thoroughbred mare? She has the heart, just as Susan Richards describes. She also has the talent, the breeding and in my opinion, the breed..she is a Thoroughbred after all. And a mare at that! I was not a fan of mares, not having owned one for 20 years. Then Imp came along and a wise dressage judge told my daughter and I that a bond between a mare and her rider will be stronger than any between a gelding and his rider. And after watching the way Imp looked after my daughter Jen out on the cross country course, I have to agree! She is talented and had the training to boot..all traits that when combined, make a champion. With her former owner, she evented at the advanced levels..pretty impressive in the eventing world. She was not thrilled competing at the lower levels with Jen, she loved the higher heights and faster speeds. But she taught Jen the ropes of eventing, taking care of her like nothing I have ever witnessed before, keeping her out of trouble and if they did get into trouble, I saw this horse execute the most daunting manuevers, that only a true champion could muster. That alone, in my eyes, makes a champion! When they schooled at the prelim and intermediate levels, you could see a look in her eye that she just could not get enough. When a bad knee forced her into early retirement 2 years ago, the surgeon could not believe that just a month earlier, she had been schooling at these levels with no indication of any pain whatsoever. Now that makes a champion! That is heart!
My beloved Tucker, has not the breeding, but he has heart and a partnership, that I think will make him a champion..maybe, definitely not at Rolex, but whatever level we do eventually settle on, I know he will excel at! People are shocked when they see him and find out he is only a premarin baby! Ok, he is no longer a baby, I really gotta stop referring his as such! To his sire's credit, he does have a famous the Percheron world. But for a sport horse? His poor dam doesn't even rate a name or description, only known as a "15.1 hand Quarter Horse." Nice, huh? But having owned him since he was a big bouncing baby of 6 months old, about to turn 7 years in less than 2 weeks, I think we have a pretty good partnership...I have been his only trainer, only letting a handful of other people on his back...3 to be exact...and I can pretty much read him like a book, as he can read my thoughts. And that definitely goes into the stir pot of ingredients for the making of a champion! And, he is showing talent. And a love of the sport...and a love of the sport is definitely an important ingredient! After all, I can't really see a dressage horse such as Gifted, performing well at say, reining, although a good number of Thoroughbred racers have gone on to excel at many other careers...hunters, dressage, jumpers and eventing in particular.
It is an interesting debate, one which will continue to be discussed in the barns, over a cup of hot tea (or coffee) at the show grounds, or at the backstretch, for many generations to come.
How about you? What makes a champion in your book?

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