Ride of my life: John Watson

  • John Watson recalls his ride on Cambridge Blue at the 1978 World Games in Kentucky

    Cambridge Blue, a raw four-year-old failed chaser, was my first horse. He had a huge brain and heart, and he was gloriously consistent across country.

    Despite his generous heart, he wasn’t cuddly. He was a loner, but we understood each other well because I was independent too.

    Ireland couldn’t raise a team for the 1978 World Championships in Kentucky, but the Irish Horse Board funded my trip as an individual.

    Dressage was a bit of a mystery then, but in Kentucky I came out of the arena feeling that for once I had done all the right things at the right time. When I discovered that I was still 36 out of 47 on 75 penalties I went back to the stables and cried.

    The next day the competition was turned on its head by the extreme humidity, and less than half the field completed.

    Blue was one of very few horses not to need oxygen afterwards, but it wasn’t a happy round. We were held in the D-box for an extra 20mins due to a crisis out on the course. As a result his adrenaline died and he felt dangerously cold for the first three fences.

    It was extraordinary that we rose to second place despite a glance off at a fence on a mound and we hit the notorious Serpentine fence. I have a photograph in which Blue is on his side in mid-air with two shoes pointing at the camera.

    I was gobsmacked to win silver. It was an honour to be second to Bruce Davidson and Might Tango.

    Blue’s career ended shortlyafter the European Championships in Luhmhlen the following year, where we won team gold. He began to suffer liver damage from cysts and in 1982 we had to have him put down.

    It was an awful day because he was a very special horse.

    Don’t miss today’s Horse & Hound (20 June 2002) where Keith Shore talks about his ‘ride of a lifetime’ at Hickstead on Dun Equity.

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