Finding a superstar: ‘He kept looking at me – it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up’

  • Have you ever seen a horse and just known he was the one for you?

    Former American eventer Jim Wofford first spotted one of his top rides some seven months before he came to ride him. He says that while he doesn’t believe in anthropomorphising animals, there was definitely something strange about the encounter.

    “In the spring of 1977, I was coaching at Badminton,” he explains. “I was standing in the courtyard of the stables at the first horse inspection with Lars Sederholm – who was a long-time mentor, coach and friend – when this lovely mealy-nosed brown horse came walking towards me.

    “The horse stopped, turned his head and looked right at me. It felt like minutes, though it was probably only 30 seconds. His groom tugged at the shank to get him to move on, but he just kept looking at me. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. Then she got a bit stronger with him and he moved on.

    “I grabbed Lars and asked who he was. He said the horse was called Carawich, adding, ‘He’s wonderful, but you’ll never buy him.’ Lars knew I was in the market for a horse for the World Championships the following year. So I filed that away as a strange occurrence, but nothing to do with me.”

    Aly Pattinson and Carawich finished fifth at Badminton that year.

    By December, Jim had given up on being on the US team for the World Championships as he was unable to find a horse.

    “There was nothing suitable in the States and nothing on the market in Europe,” he recalls. “Then I called Lars, because I had clients wanting to look for horses and he said he had just the item for them – and ‘by the way, Jimmy, I was just on the phone with Carawich’s owners and Aly Pattinson is pregnant, so they are putting him on the market.’ I told him to ring them back and tell them he was sold, subject to vet.”

    And so Carawich arrived with Jim in the USA, untried.

    “When I got a leg up on him in late December and rode him for the first time, it felt as if I was putting on a glove,” says Jim, adding that the legendary US eventing coach Jack Le Goff said in his book that he liked all the horses he rode, but when he sat on Carawich, it was hard to make himself get down.

    Jim and Carawich went on to make the US team for the World Championships in Kentucky in 1978, finishing with team bronze and individual 10th place. In 1979, they returned to Badminton together and finished fourth.

    A year later, they headed up the US team at the alternative Olympics at Fontainebleau – which were put on as a result of the boycott of the real Games in Moscow – where they claimed the individual silver medal.

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    Carawich was not the only top horse who arrived at Jim’s yard untried — it was a similar story with his 1984 Olympic reserve horse Castlewellan, who came from Judy Bradwell, and Kilkenny, his 1968 and 1972 Olympic team silver medallist.

    “I didn’t know about Kilkenny until my mother told me he had cleared customs and was headed over for me to ride,” he says of the horse who was a team gold medallist at the 1966 World Championships at Burghley with Ireland’s Tommy Brennan before moving to the States.

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