‘He’ll always be Olympic champion to me’: final farewell to eventing legend

  • A horse who produced a double Olympic eventing gold-winning performance, without being crowned Olympic champion, has been put down aged 27 after a long and happy retirement.

    Bettina Hoy’s former top ride Ringwood Cockatoo left for his “last big journey” on Monday (23 July) after suffering with spasmodic colic.

    He and Bettina were on the German gold medal-winning team at the 2006 World Equestrian Games, having won team European Championship bronze the previous year, and also took individual European bronze in 2007.

    “He had an amazing life,” Bettina told H&H. “It’s so humbling reading all the messages we’ve had, to realise how much he meant to so many people and how much he inspired them.

    “He competed internationally with me until he was 18, when he came second at Kentucky [CCI4*], then he had a very happy retirement.”

    Bettina and Cockatoo enjoyed a string of successes including winning the four-star events at Luhmühlen in 2005 and Pau in 2008. They were also named as individual gold medallists and part of a German gold medal-winning team at the 2004 Athens Olympics, but as the combination were later found to have crossed the showjumping start line twice, they eventually lost both.

    “To me he always was the champion,” Bettina said. “He did everything right throughout so to me he was the Olympic champion.”

    The Irish sport horse was originally bought for Bettina’s then husband Andrew, but they “did not get on” so Bettina was offered the ride.

    “I’d seen Andrew not getting on with him and didn’t know if my way of riding would suit him more,” she said. “We had the odd cross-country stop if I wasn’t quite right or if I was confident but it wasn’t the right distance for him so I had to bear that in mind; he wanted to be ridden a particular way and my way of riding suited that.

    “It was a bit like it was the two of us together and the way of riding that led to some amazing results.”

    Bettina described Cockatoo as “very cheeky”, adding that he quickly worked out how to escape from stables, and was found by police on a “walkabout” while stabled at Gatcombe.

    “He was a very smart horse with an enormous personality,” she said. “He was certainly eager to please, we had an amazing partnership.”

    After Cockatoo retired, Bettina chose Claire Llewellyn to take him on, as although he could still have evented, she did not want him “used”, preferring him to go to someone who would compete him in dressage, which he loved.

    “In many ways, he made a lot of people very happy,” Bettina said. “Not just me, or from a sporting point of view, but on different levels, which is very special.”

    Claire told H&H Cockatoo competed until he was 25, winning his last elementary level class.

    “We’re absolutely devastated to have lost him,” she said. “But he had the colic and nothing was working; there was no option but to let him go.

    “He was still fit and sound, he adored hacking and he’d been out this weekend; he was an amazing horse.”

    Cockatoo had competed at a variety of shows, Claire said, adding: “We tried showing but he didn’t see the point of it at all, he was completely unimpressed!”

    And she agreed with Bettina on his personality.

    “He knew he was a superstar, and made sure everyone else knew too,” she said. “He demanded attention; we were there just to serve him, but he was the most charming horse ever, everyone adored him.”

    Claire credited Cockatoo for helping her daughter Ros cope after Claire’s husband Justin died some three years after his arrival, saying he was “brilliant for helping her deal with things”.

    She also agreed on Cockatoo’s cheekiness, adding: “Bettina warned us he had a buck in him and oh yes, he did, but he was so polite about it. It was as if he said: ‘Hold on while I let this out’, do these huge bucks and then say: ‘Sorry about that, had to let it out’!”

    Ros felt the brunt of these bucks on more than one occasion, including a dressage demo at which Cockatoo was supposed to be the calming influence on a young horse. “He did three massive bucks down the long side, shot off, then started doing tempi changes,” she said. “The youngster was behaving perfectly and the 27-year-old was caprioling about with a rider in a dressage saddle. I said to him: ‘Really?!’

    “I used to try to get cross with him but he was just far too cute for that.”

    For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.

    You may like...