‘She jumped a five-bar gate when she was six months old’ — meet the Irish-bred mare who won the ‘world’s toughest grand prix’

  • “What a day, what a mare and what a rider – sometimes everything just comes together at the right moment and that’s what dreams are made of,” so said Northern Ireland’s Joanne Sloan Allen after her chestnut mare Suma’s Zorro won showjumping’s richest prize, the $1million CP International presented by Rolex on Sunday (9 September) under Egyptian rider Sameh El Dahan.

    “Fourteen years ago, a little chestnut filly was born who believed nothing was impossible, and luckily three months later, fate made her cross my path – another stubborn chestnut mare who believes nothing is impossible and dreams are made,” said Joanne. “Then seven years from that, a revolution in Egypt made the triad complete – Sam [El Dahan] came into all our lives and our journey to this started.”

    The scene of this great triumph was the Spruce Meadows Masters in Canada. Sameh and Zorro, an Irish-bred mare by Ard VDL Douglas, produced three foot-perfect rounds to clinch victory in what is considered to be the “world’s toughest grand prix” over fences standing at 1.70m.

    “The feeling is indescribable – I need to take a few days to make sure everything sinks in and then I can believe it actually happened,” said Sameh, 33, who studied medicine at university in Cairo but moved to Northern Ireland to concentrate on showjumping.

    CALGARY, AB - SEPTEMBER 9: Sameh El Dahan of Egypt riding Suma's Zorro winds in the individual jumping equestrian on the final day of the Masters tournament at Spruce Meadows on September 9, 2018 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Sameh placed first with a jump-off time of 42.210 seconds and 0 faults. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

    Zorro was bred at the Suma Stud in Co Kilkenny by Marily Power and Susan Lanigan O’Keeffe. Joanne and Sycamore Stables bought her as a foal.

    “She jumped a five-bar gate when she was six-months-old, so they knew she had a jumper!” said Sameh. “Joanne did an amazing job with her – until the mare was seven she mostly rode her, and then I took over the ride. She really trusts us and believes in us.

    “She’s very chilled at home and likes her own space – if things are noisy, she will stand in the far corner of her stable with her ears back until it quietens down. Her only real quirk is that she hates the clippers – you cannot get near her legs with them – and if she recognises the vet, she will put her ears back and do tiny jumps in her stable. Other than that, she’s great to do everything with. Joanne does most of the riding on her – I just do the jumping, so I have to thank her for doing such a great job.”

    Joanne describes the mare as “an example of all that makes the Irish horse great — a mixture of heritage, breeds and blood and a fighting spirit instilled in our horses down the generations”.

    “Zorro, today you have proved that giants truly do come in all sizes,” she added. “You may be small in stature but today you proved to the world you are a champion. To everyone who has ever dreamed, let this inspire you – work hard, dream big and never give up.”

    Continues below…

    This success comes just two months after Suma’s Zorro and Sameh El Dahan received a standing ovation for taking a five-star victory in the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Paris.

    The winning pair now head for the World Equestrian Games (WEG), and then will concentrate on trying to win more legs of the Rolex Grand Slam.

    You can read the full story of their success in Calgary in this week’s H&H, out Thursday 13 September.

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