Breeding mistakes that made equine stars

  • Karen Dixon’s great campaigner Get Smart was hardly deliberately bred to event, being out of a 13.2hh pony called Samantha. Get Smart also had a lucky escape early in life when a farmer bought him from the local meat sales. As a further twist to his amazing story, Get Smart’s breeder, Ray Parkin, remained a mystery up until a few years ago, when he was traced by Karen Dixon.

    Viceroy II, the Bunn’s eventing stallion who won Blenheim last season with Pippa Funnell (pictured), was conceived when VIP, the first million dollar show jumper, somehow escaped from his stable at Hickstead and jumped a post and rail fence into a field with four mares. Two months later, the only full Thoroughbred, Sweet Sage, didn’t come into season, and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Be Fair, who gave Lucinda Green her first Badminton win and a gold medal at the 1975 European Championships, was by Sheila Willcox’s Burghley winner Fair And Square, who, as an uncut youngster, jumped out of his field and covered a mare called Happy Reunion.

    Popadom, who won Burghley in 1967 with Lorna Clarke, was a skewbald cob born to a coloured mother who once pulled a dray. When he was purchased with his mother as a foal at foot for £40, Popadom’s new owner, Jennifer Harrison, had thwarted Chipperfields Circus’ attempts to buy him. While his mother may have been common, there was quality on his father’s side — his paternal grandsire was the racing sire Hyperion — but how the mare and stallion got together is anybody’s guess.

    Diana Mason’s 15hh Tramella was out of a Welsh pony mare. Hardly eventing material at first sight, size proved no handicap for the game Tramella when she was a member of the gold medal winning team at the Basle Europeans and finished third at Badminton in 1954.

    Davey, the horse who gave Andrew Hoy the first of his two Burghley wins in 1979, was bred on a cattle station in south west Queensland. His second owner, a dairy farmer called Dave, used him to round up his cows before he sold Davey on to a more competitive home.

    Done To Order defied the odds when he completed Burghley with Piggy French. The diminutive 15.2hh dun is out of a Connemara mare and was bought off a bog by owner Libby Ellis as a two-year-old, although even Libby never dreamed that he would make an event horse, let alone such a successful one.

    Another Pippa Funnell ride, the coloured Bits And Pieces who took her back to the big time, was out of a foster pony mare at the Irish National Stud. To give top National Hunt sire Lord Gayle a ‘boost’ after he lost interest in covering, he was allowed to have his way with the 14.2hh coloured Red Pender. “I have a picture of her. She is stocky, fat and very coloured,” says Sarah Jewson, owner of Bits And Pieces.

    The 15.1hh Patris Filius, Olivia Haddow’s ride at last year’s Young Rider Europeans, was bred by gypsys by a coloured cob stallion out of an unlicensed racing mare. The gypsys sold him through Abergavenny Market and he must surely be the only advanced event horse in the country able to pull a cart.

    Angus Smales’ British team pony Cornsay Sam was born to the 28-year-old JA show jumping pony Carrols Bisto Lady. Sam’s sire, Horton Spring, a 15hh palomino who is half Connemara and half Arab, was used on the ageing mare because he happened to be on the yard at the time. He was gelded afterwards and so has no other offspring and he, like Cornsay Sam, was also evented at one time by Angus.

    Joseph Daborn’s advanced horse Monarch Motivator is another one-off. By Monarch’s Pass, who was, in turn, by Just A Monarch, Monarch’s Pass was gelded shortly after his mating with the Grade B show jumper November Dell.

    Benson, the horse who earned Stuart Stevens his Union Flag in the 1970s, was home bred, the result of a mating between an Anglo Arab colt and a Thoroughbred/Irish Draught mare. When Benson, who was part of the gold medal winning British team at the 1970 World Championships, was born, the Stevens family concluded that the two had somehow got together during the move to their new farm.

    Pasha, the horse on whom Richard Walker won Badminton in 1969 aged 18, was by an Arab stallion and out of a Suffolk Punch/Thoroughbred mare. He was purchased by the Walker family for a young Richard for next to nothing because he had a reputation for going potty in the hunting field. Clearly eventing was much more to his liking.

    Kitty Boggis’ star of the future, The Gingerbread Man V, a one-day winner in 2004, was conceived when the two-year-old colt Barronstown jumped into a field with a mare. The mare died when The Gingerbread Man was just a few months old and Kitty believes this traumatic start has left the 11-year-old gelding “a bit quirky. He either goes well or has a blip”.

  • Whether you are looking to breed a competition star, or a friend for life, check out HHO’s directory of stallions and studs to find your mare’s perfect partner
  • This breeding feature was first published in Eventing magazine (February 2005)
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