Sometimes it is the most unlikely looking horses who go on to become the biggest stars. That was certainly the case with grand prix dressage rider Steph Croxford’s horse of a lifetime, the charismatic and hugely popular chestnut gelding Mr President.
Steph and Mr President competed all over Europe at the highest level, including three times at Olympia in 1007, 2009 and 2010. But when she went to look at “Mr P”, who was by a Gelderlander/hackney stallion out of a Dutch warmblood mare, for the first time, dressage could not have been further from her mind.
“I wanted to do hunting, eventing, jumping – I thought why would I want to ponce around in a 20x60m arena,” laughs Steph on episode 50 of The Horse & Hound Podcast, currently supported by Frosti-Tap.
“I had an ex-hurdler who got kicked in the field and ended up having to be semi-retired. He went to a hacking home and I was so upset to see him go. So I looked in the local paper at the time, the Yorkshire Post, and said I was just going to pick something for sale and go and have a look.
“All the advert said was, ‘Four-year-old chestnut gelding’. But he was £2,500 and I could afford that, so I drove up to Ian Smith’s in north Yorkshire to have a look. When I arrived, Ian showed us this little horse in an old-fashioned Victorian stall. I said, ‘What else have you got?’
“He showed us all the ones he had for sale – all driving-bred – but then said, ‘You really do need to see this little chap out’. So out he came, and jumped virtually a five-bar gate from a standstill. I thought he had a funny trot – at the time I didn’t know that was passage!”
A way with the mares
Steph brought the little chestnut gelding home to her livery yard at the time, where he was turned out in a huge herd of mares and geldings.
“He would separate out all the mares – his girls. It was the time of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair, and that was how he got his name: Mr President,” she explains.
But dressage was still the last thing on Steph’s mind – that is, until she booked on to a cross-country clinic with Sonia Berry, who was also a dressage trainer.
“I was galloping around all these fences, and Sonia said, ‘I’m not sure why you’re jumping that horse round here; he should be in a dressage arena’,” recalled Steph. “So I went and did a couple of unaffiliated dressage shows. I think I won, at prelim, and thought I’d nailed it, then realised that when you did dressage properly you needed to know what you were doing,”
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From that point Steph and Mr P’s dressage career took off, and they progressed fast through the ranks up to grand prix. Looking back , it wasn’t all that surprising that Mr P became such a star.
“He always liked posing and showing off,” said Steph. “I just didn’t know that what I called his goose step when we went past the pigs was in fact called passage! It was the blind leading the blind, but I always felt he was a reincarnated grand prix horse because if I put my leg in a certain place, he knew it meant sideways, or flying change. I owe him everything and he owed me nothing.”
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