Ballincoola, the consistent four-star event horse who won Burghley in 2005 with William Fox-Pitt, has died.

The 16-year-old suffered a heart attack while warming up at a British Showjumping competition near Bury St Edmunds yesterday.

“Max” amassed 1637 British Eventing points and completed 15 three-day events, nine of which were at four-star.

As well as winning Burghley in 2005, the Irish-bred by Highland King was 11th there in 2004, sixth in 2006, fifth in 2007 and second in 2008 to his stable-mate Tamarillo. He was also third at Badminton in 2008 and ninth in 2006, and finished fourth at Kentucky in 2004.

Since 2008, he has been competed by Fergus Payne, whose father Michael and grandmother Judy Skinner have owned Ballincoola since 2002.

Michael says: “I just look at what Max has done for my family. It’s been a joy both to witness his great results and watch Fergus complete both his first two and three-star competitions. Unfortunately Hector [second son], who had just taken on the ride, never got to benefit from Max’s experience.

“When Max won the British Eventing horse of the year [for winning the most BE points that season] in 2008 I was so proud — he so deserved the recognition.”

Judy adds: “He was my horse of a lifetime. My only sadness is that despite being reserve three times he never made the British team and therefore perhaps hasn’t had the credit he deserved.”

A family horse

William found Ballincoola in Andrew Hazeltine’s yard in 2002 as a potential purchase for loyal owner Judy Skinner, who thought sharing might be a better option.

She explains: “I mentioned it to Michael [Payne, son-in-law] purely in passing, and he said, ‘What about me?’ Delighted as I was, I said he had to clear it with my daughter first! Regardless of Max’s results, our shared ownership has given me a very special bond with my son-in-law which I feel priviliged to have.”

Max won at his first three-day attempt for Judy and Michael, at Burgie CCI** in 2002. While it was Michael’s first foray into owning an event horse, for Judy it was something of a turning point.

“I can’t remember how many horses I had been involved with over many years, but for whatever reason they all fell by the wayside,” she says. “Max was the first to get to the top — in 2002 just completing the two-star at Burgie would have been a good result. He restored my faith in why I own event horses.”

Balllincoola only ever had one refusal at four-star level, at Burghley in 2004.

“I got it wrong at a fence and he quite rightly chose to save my skin,” William Fox-Pitt said.

The only other time he showed a sign of frailty was at Badminton in 2005, when he was retired on the steeplechase after suffering a heart fibrulation. He made a comeback by winning the inaugural Barbury CIC*** that year.

After Burghley 2008, Ballincoola returned to the Payne family for Michael’s sons to gain experience on.

William said at the time: “It was partly my idea for Fergus to take the ride, although a part of me thinks I might regret it now — but if Fergus was my son or grandson I’d want him to have a horse like Ballincoola.”

Ballincoola won on his first run with Fergus in 2008, and has since finished eighth at Burgie CCI** in 2009 and taken Fergus to his first three-stars.

Ballincoola has been buried on the Payne family farm.