Meet Ben Maher’s Tokyo Olympic ride Explosion W

  • Ben Maher’s current star is proving one of the greatest horses in a generation, with Hollywood good looks and a desire to win.

    Competition name: Explosion W
    Stable names: BFG, Carrot, Ginge, Cookie Monster
    Owners: Charlotte Rossetter, Pamela Wright and Ben Maher
    Prize money: over €2.3m (£1.95m)
    Best results: won the Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT) super grand prix in Prague (2019); the LGCT grands prix of New York, London and Rome (2019), Doha, Rome and Madrid (2018); helped Ben win the overall LGCT title two years in a row (2018-2019); third in the Aachen grand prix (2019); individual silver and team bronze at the European Championships; part of the winning British Nations Cup team in Florida in 2018 under Emily Mason.

    As his rider Ben Maher says, Explosion W is “a natural born winner”. The majestic 12-year-old gelding only really blasted on to the five-star showjumping scene as recently as 2018, but what a mighty impression he’s made.

    He’s one of a kind — abnormal even — and the closest you’ll find to a jumping machine. With an enviably high cruising speed and a breathtaking athleticism that enables his body to bend in ways that don’t seem possible to produce that extra clearance, it’s no surprise he can maintain an astonishing clear round ratio over 1.60m tracks.

    The fairytale began in the Netherlands, where small-time breeder Willy Wijnen produced him until the age of seven, when he was spotted by a friend of Ben’s and bought by Poden Farms. His early education came through Ben’s then stable riders, including Emily Mason and Carly Anthony, before Ben took the reins himself in 2018.

    Their five-star launchpad came in Shanghai that spring, where they finished runner-up in the grand prix and the appreciative ringside murmurings began. In Madrid just weeks later came Explosion W’s coming-of-age grand prix victory, where the horse Ben always knew was special proved to be a world-beater.

    Their boots and hooves have barely touched the ground since, with Explosion W earning the accolade of the best horse in the world according to the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses rankings, while stockpiling an enviable display of silverware.

    As an Olympic year dawns, Explosion W is under new ownership, secured by Ben, and the world waits to see what more this amazing partnership can accomplish. The towering chestnut with Hollywood good looks and the swagger of a movie star is clearly the type of horse who only comes along once in a lifetime (if you’re extremely fortunate) and all of us can feel privileged to be witnessing this remarkable journey.

    In the same way people used to turn out just to watch Big Star jump, these days they flock ringside to catch a glimpse of this flying chestnut wonder horse in action.

    Explosion W’s groom, Cormac Kenny, says…

    “He’s always known he’s special with that ‘look at me, I’m big and ginger’ attitude. He’s barely 17hh but appears bigger because he holds his head very high. He’s a dude and he knows it.

    “He’s very inquisitive — he’s a bit like a four-year-old in his brain — and wants to stick his nose in everywhere it shouldn’t be.

    “When he wants to go out for a walk and I haven’t got to his stable in time, he’ll take his headcollar and leadrope from the hook on his door and chuck it on the floor to let me know I’m late.

    “But he’s very easy to do, super-friendly and travels well — although he tends to steal his neighbour’s haynet, then eats his own afterwards. He’s greedy when it comes to food — he loves carrots.

    “He’s really playful when you’re on the ground but, as soon as you sit on him it’s like a button is pressed and he goes into action mode — it’s a very cool feeling.”

    His rider, Ben Maher, says…

    “When we bought Explosion W as a seven-year-old, he’d been with a very good rider [Marielle de Veer] and already had an excellent clear-round record, but I quickly realised how careful he was — he has such a good way of moving his body.

    “He’s the first horse I’ve ridden who grunts when he jumps — just like a tennis player — because he always puts in maximum effort; he’s so powerful off the floor, even over a cross-pole. I think that’s what separates him from other horses.

    “He’s such an intelligent animal, loves attention and has plenty of character. He doesn’t want to walk unless he’s had a treat first — he’s definitely spoilt! We have a bit of a system going or he won’t even let me get on him. But then he’s amazing to work with — he’ll have a play and a buck, but only because he has so much enthusiasm, then he settles and gives you all the confidence to go out and do the job.

    “Because he’s so good, there’s been increasing expectation and pressure recently for us to produce a result, which is very uncommon in our sport. But last year he only had two jumps down when it mattered — in the Aachen grand prix and at the Europeans. So mistakes will come from time to time, but with him they are limited. And he doesn’t touch a fence because he’s careless, it’s because he’s trying too hard. He’s an over-achiever.

    “I’ve had so many amazing times with him already but, winning the super grand prix in Prague was the moment that made it for me.”

    Explosion W’s breeder, Willy Wijnen, says…

    “Explosion was an embryo transfer out of a mare I bred, Untouchable [who competed at top level with Dutchman Leon Thijssen] — she was even more spooky than Explosion. We don’t have any full-brothers or sisters at home, but we do have half-sisters by Heartbreaker, Kannan and Colander.

    “Explosion was four when he first jumped at home with his first rider Tristan Tucker, and I knew we had a very rough diamond. His jump wasn’t normal and he’d jump about 1.80m over the lower fences. It was unbelievable, and with so much energy.

    “It’s wonderful what he has achieved and last year was incredible. I always knew we had a good horse, but Ben made the team complete.”

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