Horse of a lifetime: Ginny Elliot and Priceless

  • Olympic medallist and Badminton winner Ginny Elliott talks about her winning partnership with the talented Priceless

    The old gelding, who is known as “P” by those who love him, was a bucking jumper who did not like to be told anything. Ask him to canter or tap him behind the saddle to wake him up and he bucked with the thrust of a space shuttle.

    Once he bucked a mere six strides from the bullfinch at Burghley during the European Championships, and delivered another explosion coming into the first fence at the World Championships in Gawler, Australia where he got in a muddle, had to bank it with his back feet, nearly unseating his rider, Ginny Elliot.

    He escapedwith team gold medals on both occasions, but then this horse was Priceless in his name, although not in nature.

    Ginny has, in fact, put a precise sum on the bay, who cost £1,000, declaring: “He is a guinea a minute.”

    Together the pair soared to the heights of the horse trials world in the 1980s after being brought together in the late 1970s when Priceless was five, and Ginny, who was then Ginny Holgate, later to become Ginny Leng, was 24.

    She and her mother Heather had viewed the 16hh rangy gelding with a small eye and decided he was plain. However, they devised a simple test by which they would buy or reject him.

    Ginny would jump him over a deep, narrow ditch and if he stopped or even glanced at it, they would pass him by.

    The Ben Fairie bay, who had been hunting with the Devon and Somerset Staghounds flew across with a dynamic spring.

    Ginny, a former Junior European champion, who had fought lack of funds, anorexia nervosa, not forgetting a crashing fall in which she broke her arm in 23 places, bringing a real threat of amputation, was about to enter her senior career on a purple stride.

    First, she and her trainers tried to eradicate the Priceless buck, succeeding in the dressage phase, although never eliminating it during the cross-country.

    It was powerful, but Ginny learned to live with it and, in 1981, they carried home a European team gold medal from Lumhlen, West Germany.

    During the next four phenomenal years, they won Badminton, Burghley, a World team gold medal, an Olympic team silver, plus the individual bronze in Los Angeles and another team gold at the European championships.

    “He never had a cross-country fault, a show jump down in a championship and his dressage would have been 50 per cent better if I had not been so green.

    “He was brave, genuine as the day is long, and incredibly intelligent. He knew when it was a three-day event because he went quiet when he arrived and would lie down and rest.”

    She decided that the 1986 World Championships in Gawler, would be the last raid for Priceless. “It was a beautiful way for him to retire,” says his rider.

    Today, Ginny, who is married to Mikey Elliot, a farmer and joint-master of the Heythrop,is writing children’s books, teaching and has been competing on a couple of youngsters.

    She is the holder of 16 medals, the only female event rider to have won an individual Olympic medal and the only rider to have chalked up three individual European gold medals.

    Her adored Priceless became a foxhunter and is now on a stud, owned by one of Ginny’s friends, where he shows young stock how to buck. He also demonstrates how to evade capture, but only when he sees his former rider.

    “He was impossible to catch in the field,” recalls Ginny. “You had to go through a lengthy routine of not looking at him, walking round in circles, putting a feed bucket down and watching him have a sniff, only to run away. It would take 40 minutes. Neither my mother nor I could catch him, though he allowed the girls who worked for us to bring him in.”

  • Click here to read about Mark Todd’s horse of a lifetime, Charisma, the “fat, hairy pony” who won Olympic gold.

  • Click here to read about Blyth Tait’s horse of a lifetime, the difficult but brilliant Messiah.
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