Michael Owen has retired his four-star ride The Highland Prince.

The 17-year-old by Highland King has arthritic changes in a front pastern, which came to light at Tattersalls this month when the horse “did not trot up well”.

“He’s never seen a vet in the 12 years I’ve had him, except for blood tests and vaccinations,” said Michael. “I had a gut feeling age was catching up with him and I was proved right. He owes us nothing and the last thing we want is to overdo it so he can’t have a nice retirement.

“He will tick over and do some BE90opens with my girlfriend Ashleigh [Dean], who’s looked after him at his three-days for the past two or three years and rides him at home. He can be a bit wild at home, but Ashleigh handles him as well as me. He looks fantastic for his age and it’ll be nice to see him do his job, but not with the same intensity.”

The Highland Prince (“Darcy”) has evented with Michael for 12 season and never missed a run through injury. He has jumped clear on 83 of his 88 completions, including round four CCI4*s. His best top-level results are 17th at Burghley 2013 and 18th at Burghley 2012. He also won the CCI3* at Ballindenisk last year and finished third at Tattersalls CCI3*.

Michael bought Darcy from dealer Doug Aldred, who also supplied his first four-star horse, Perks Of The Job, and he ran under the ownership of G Mayer Plant Hire Ltd.

“Liz Mayer said, ‘Go and find me a nice five-year-old because I’d like to support you and watch you at events’, so I found Darcy,” said Michael. “He was quite a plain bay — he moved correctly, but was nothing flash and didn’t have a sexy jump. But he had something and wanted to do the job.

“He wasn’t the most careful when he started his career and rarely showjumped clear until he was eight or nine. A lot of people would have discarded him, but I knew he was a typical Irish horse and would mature and get better, which he did.”

Michael said The Highland Prince had had a liver problem over the past couple of years, which resulted in him dropping down to three-star level, which he “flew round like Pony Club tracks”.

The rider also credited The Highland Prince with keeping him going after his sister Lucinda Owen died in a car crash aged 17 in 2008.

“I just wanted to give up and sold my other four-star horse, King Bob, to Ludwig Svennerstal after she died,” he said. “I only had Darcy and would go to three-star and advanced events, not having ridden anything but him. We had this partnership where I trusted him.

“If it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t be eventing now — he helped me though dark times after my sister died. He was my rock, kept me on the straight and narrow and got me loving eventing again.”

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Michael added: “About four-and-a-half years ago I based myself at Kelsall Hill and now I have a yard of 10 horses. He’s been the shop window for my business and I don’t know where I’d be without him.

“He’s a proper Irish-bred horse, with a real engine on him and the heart of a lion. I’ll never have another one like him and I’m blessed to have had a horse like him.”