Happily for Emma Pitt, she got a lot more than she bargained for, when she went to view a hunter. The short-coupled gelding who “swaggered” towards her has more than fulfilled his promise as a “fun horse” on Emma’s year out from law school.
Emma enjoyed plenty of success, but, as work overtook pleasure, she handed over Supreme Rock’s reins to Pippa Funnell. The pair gained a brilliant win in last year’s European Championships at Luhmhlen and now has Olympic eventing gold in its sights. Describing herself as a “mediocre rider”, Emma Pitt wanted to go eventing after she finished law school.
“My uncle just happened to mention that he had seen a decent six-year-old out hunting. I went off to have a look and it was the walk that did it. Rocky has the most amazing walk – he nearly always gets nines for it in his dressage tests.”
Bred by Lindy Good at the Ridean Equestrian Centre in Skibereen, Co Cork in 1988, Supreme Rock’s early years were spent roaming free in 20 acres of pasture land and rough terrain, where one of his closest companions was the yard’s German Shepherd dog.After watching the youngster pick his way down to the stables every day, it came as no surprise to his breeder that cross-country proved to be his forte.
“He never took the easy way home. If there was a twig or brambles, he would jump rather than go round. He was in and out of the ditches and if there was a route to be tested, he would be first in line,” she recalls.
By Edmund Burke out of Rineen Classic, Supreme Rock proved quite a handful as a two- and three-year-old.
“He could be an awkward so and so and lifted me off my feet on more than one occasion,” says Lindy.
Supreme Rock’s good looks and paces meant that he was successfully shown in-hand and Lindy gained the ultimate accolade last year, when, courtesy of the horse, she travelled to Verona in Italy to collect the World Breeding Championship for event horses.
“I always knew that hewould make an international horse one day, but to be European Champion was more than I ever dreamt of,” she says.
From the outset, Emma Pitt also knew that she had something special. “He was a lovely horse who just got on with the job. I began to think that this eventing game was easy, as I just sat there and kicked and we completed 10 clear rounds on the trot.”
Their efforts had not gone unnoticed and Rodney Powell and Mary King both expressed an interest in the horse. But at this early stage in their career, Emma and Rocky were having lessons with Pippa Funnell, who was not impressed by Supreme Rock’s ability to take strides out.
“Schooling was sometimes frustrating, as Rocky would take one stride through a two-stride double and jump the placing pole and back rail all in one,” Emma recalls.After Emma¨s lorry was stolen and her workload at her London practice began to take its toll, Supreme Rock took up residence with Pippa, but not before he had given Emma her most embarrassing equestrian experience.
“Rocky gets so excited when he is at a show or event that as soon as you drop the ramp of the lorry, he starts squealing with delight. Unfortunately, when we competed at an indoor jumping competition, his bucks and squeals in the collecting ring were considered a danger to fellow competitors and we were sent home!”
If Pippa Funnell ever questioned Supreme Rock’s scope, the sight of him clearing the paddock rails at home, with a hedge and ditch behind, dispelled any doubts.
“As soon as I rode Rocky in a couple of novice and intermediate events, I knew that he had what it takes. He’s a big, scopey jumper who needs a bit more room on take off than most horses. He came to us very laidback, almost to the point of being lazy, but Badminton last year seems to have fuelled his enthusiasm,” she says.
Similar to a horse who has gone out hunting for the first time and spends the next few days looking for hounds, Rocky now has his head over the door, waiting for his turn.
“I didn’t know what to expect at Badminton. The conditions were atrocious, but he eats up big fences and seemed to relish the challenge. Luckily, he has no real preference about going, he acts on anything. He really does rise to the occasion and to finish sixth at our first attempt raised our hopes for the Europeans.
“Luhmhlen was an unbelievable experience. Supreme Rock was good in all three phases and never put a foot wrong. He loves the crowds and the atmosphere and he’s popular with photographers as he’s a real poser.”
At home, Supreme Rock is one of the easiest horses to do. Happily for Pippa’s stable staff, he has no vices and doesn’t “vandalise” his stable.
Rocky loves his daily grooming and likes to be clipped, obligingly lowering his head so that his ears can be trimmed. And, should the unthinkable happen and horses have to live in a “groomless society”, Supreme Rock is well prepared.
“Rocky can put himself back to bed after breakfast, let himself out of the stable, hop into the field and jump back again just in time for tea!”
Although Supreme Rock is generally good to hack out and work, those aboard know full well that they cannot fully relax.
“He can be plodding about one minute and then he will squeal and turn himself inside out bucking the next,” declares Pippa.
Rocky can also be a double handful on the gallops. “We often take the horses to Guy Harwood’sgallops and Rocky is incredibly strong. He’s very powerful and just bounds up the hills,” said Pippa, who always carries a good supply of Supreme Rock’s favourite mints.
Nini French, who has been grooming for Pippa for the last five years, knows Rocky’s every “tickle spot”.
“He loves being scratched and I can’t believe how relaxed he can be in the 10-minute box. He doesn’t tend to be a chatty or “lovey-dovey” horse, but he’s showing a lot more interest now,” she says.
“At first, he would just stand in the back of his box, but, now, his head is usually over the door. He’s quite amenable and doesn’t mind vets, dentists or blacksmiths. “Hacking used to be pretty boring, as he was quite lazy. I called him a donkey once or twice, but Pippa said that if he did well at Badminton, I couldn’t call him that again, so now he’s a Rolls Royce!
“Like most horses, you have to watch him. He never just bucks, he always squeals as well.”
One golden rule is neverto let go of Rocky.
“If you ever let go of his reins and turned away to put his saddle down, he would be gone. He can do nought to 30 in 3sec and would lead us all a merry dance,” says Nini. Supreme Rock spends his holidays at the home of Robert Tomkinson, where he becomes an effective “cleanser” who constantly strives to clear the hedgerows.
“He particularly loves blackberries and literally wiggles into the bushes to pick the fruit,” says Emma, who also keeps Rocky supplied with his favourite vegetable, carrots. Emma is looking forward to this Olympic year with great anticipation.
“Both my grandmother were members of our Olympic skiing team, so to be there with Rocky was a dream come true.”
Pippa Funnell also has great faith in the strapping 12-year-old.
“For effort, you must give him 10 out of 10.”