It’s been a rewarding few weeks for Millfield Baloney’s owner Judith Witham, whose gamble on an awkward-looking three-year-old 12 years ago has evidently paid off.
This year, the 15-year-old won two area trials, the Royal Lancs international stairway and grand prix and headed the gold league, before topping it all with a masterful victory in the international stairway final at the British Showjumping national championships.
“He came from the Millfield Stud and we took a chance because of his roach back,” Judith recalled.
“He only did two loose jumps and we thought ‘wow’! Andrew Millin helped me make the decision and produced him for me, so it is a credit to his good eye as well.”
Adrian Speight took on the ride three years ago, when the Balou Du Rouet gelding, who is more than 50% blood, was already jumping at 1.40m level.
After starting out jumping 1.40ms “when we could find them”, the pair have stepped up a notch this season and found some real success at 1.50m level.
“I think we have got to know him a lot more this year,” Adrian said. “This year we’ve gone looking for bigger classes and had a good mix. I jumped him in the South View stairway and it felt enormous in that ring, but he coped well with that. Equally, he jumps on grass somewhere and it doesn’t seem to worry him, he doesn’t mind if the ground is uneven.”
While not built like the ideal show jumper — “if you went looking for a horse and saw him stood in a stable, you’d probably walk past’, Adrian said — “Louie” has two major advantages, his light-footedness and ample scope.
“He has so much jump. I don’t think I have ever jumped a fence and thought ‘my clutch is slipping’,” he explained. “Even if I don’t have the exact stride and he has to try a little bit, he just has a way of stretching his legs out in front. He finds it so easy to jump a big fence.
“You would expect a strong back end for a jumper, he’s not got that, but he is so light on his feet, like a deer.”
Adrian describes “Louie” as a “time-consuming” horse to look after. He is difficult to keep weight on and, as Judith explained, he rarely lies down and as a result has the tendency to fall asleep stood up when at rest in his stable.
“He sometimes falls asleep on his feet, then wakes up with a start as he nearly falls over — it’s a bit disconcerting to watch!” she said.
His roach back, however, doesn’t seem to cause him any problems.
“He holds himself quite well under saddle and when we’ve had the vet physio out, they’ve said he actually has more range of movement than any of the other horses,” Adrian said.
He also has to have his bridle swapped regularly to find the most effective bit.
“We have half a dozen made up for him, different hackamores and different combi bits,” Adrian said. “When he’s jumping well in one he never gets worked in it at home and we will warm him up in one bridle and then put another one on for the ring — he definitely is time consuming!”
His spookiness has also improved as he has got older, although Adrian found out the hard way during lockdown exercise that he is still quite sharp and doesn’t always make the best decisions as a result.
“We were out on the Wolds during lockdown trying to keep him fit. They put slurry on the fields about 3ft or 4ft deep and we were walking down a track alongside the field when he spooked at some water running under a hedgerow — he’s a bugger to get through a puddle — and landed in the slurry.
“He was in there bronching – he had his head between his knees and was bucking and running backwards,” he said.
“Rob Shaw, who works for me [and is competition groom for Louie] was on another horse and turned the other way and trotted off trying to get him to follow. He suddenly stood still, took a huge breath… and then just started bronching again. The sh*t was everywhere, up my saddle flap and all over me, me feet were in it — I just couldn’t wait to get home and hose it off.
“This horse is definitely a bit high-needs!”
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