Is this the ultimate retirement home for top showjumpers when their careers end?

  • Back in the day, Bob Russell used to compete at the highest level of his sport and he is now well into retirement. He and his wife Alex – with over 200 cumulative years of professional experience on the show circuit – offer retirement to showjumpers of the four-legged kind.

    Over the years many a horse that has competed at the Winter Equestrian Festival [WEF] and other venues at the top of the sport, will find their way from the show ring to a slower pace of life at the Russell’s Idle Hour Farm in Camden.

    “They’ve been in that artificial environment most of their life and they’ve come either because they are too old to perform or they’ve been handed down or they’re just broken,” said Alex, who as Alex Potter, was a successful grand prix showjumper in the 70s, mainly on the South American circuit. She is at the Winter Equestrian Festival with Bob to watch McLain Ward jump the two horses which Bob part-owns, namely Noche De Ronda and the diminutive speed horse Catoki, who has proved something of a star this season at WEF.

    Bob and Alex Russell - owners of Idle Hour Farm

    Bob and Alex Russell who run what Bob refers to as “an assisted living facility for horses”.

    If and when Catoki retires he could potentially follow the path to Idle Hour, paved by horses such as Margie Goldstein-Engle’s leading jumper Hidden Creek’s Alvaretto.

    “We take care of the horses as if they are still showing,” Bob said. They currently have some 28 horses at the facility, which takes some getting used to for horses who have spent their adult lives in the show ring.

    “We have to take our time with them, especially as some of them have never been turned out with another horse,” said Bob. “And sometimes it takes a week or so to get them acclimated. We will take the new horse and introduce them to the horse they are going to be turned out with. Sometimes they strike – you have to be careful to make sure nobody gets hurt, but eventually, they go and get along and they get a pretty good life.”

    At the farm, there is a cemetery and a sign that says “Thunder is the sound of hoofbeats in heaven”, but a few of the horses have such a good life at Idle Hour that far from passing on, they have returned to the show ring.

    Idle Hour farm has a cemetery for the horses who pass away there

    Idle Hour Farm has a dedicated cemetery for the horses who pass away after retirement.

    “That’s one of those things, we old-timers try to tell the new people coming along,” said Bob. “When the horses need some time off, you’ve got to give it to them. If you don’t, you break them down for good. And a lot of them can be saved. One lady had two jumpers and when she saw how well and sound they were, she took them back to the show ring. And we’ve never heard from her since.”

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