Olympic event horse retires: ‘He’s been in my life for 10 years and taught me so much’

  • Don Geniro, who finished eighth at the 2016 Olympics with Chinese rider Alex Hua Tian, has been retired from eventing aged 16.

    “He’s been my top horse for such a long time now – he’s been part of my life for over 10 years,” said Alex.

    “We’ve been to two Olympic Games, but it’s not just the championships, the results, the highs and lows – and there have been plenty of highs and lows – he’s also been a horse that’s taught me a huge amount, not just about riding and the experience of going to championships, but about management at home.

    “He‘s very much been a horse where if you get the management right, he’ll come out and do well for you. If you don’t quite get the educated guesswork right, that’s where we stumbled from time to time. So he taught me so much about planning and organisation and making sure all those little details are as good as possible and the importance of that.”

    The 16-year-old chestnut by Don Kennedy will now take up a new career as a schoolmaster junior dressage horse with 15-year-old Isabel Caldwell.

    Don is co-owned by Pip Higgins – whose daughter Sarah shares a yard, Pinfold Stables, in Cheshire with Alex – and his breeder Pam Dews.

    Alex said: “We were talking at the end of last year and beginning of this year about Don’s life goals now that he’s 16. He’s done a lot through the years and been a tremendously important horse for me and my career.

    “He found both the journey and the cross-country trip difficult at the eventing World Championships at Pratoni last year  [so Alex pulled up part-way round the course] and the sport is changing quickly – showjumping [which is not Don’s strongest phase] is becoming more and more significant at championship level. We didn’t feel doing a five-star was the responsible thing to do with him, so it felt like now was the right time for him to take a step back from higher level eventing.

    “I think he could have gone on to do lower level eventing or be a dressage schoolmaster but for me and his owners, the right home was the most important thing. We wanted someone connected to us here and we don’t really mind what job he does or how well he does so long as he has the best care he can possibly have as he deserves that.

    “Isabel is a very talented young rider, she has lessons with Sarah here at Pinfold and is based 20 minutes away, so Don will be coming back for lessons on a weekly basis. While Don is very talented, he’s quite a quirky little guy and takes some riding. When Isabel came and rode him for a few weeks here before we started discussing whether she would have him, I was really impressed with how quickly she picked up his peculiarities and foibles, both to ride and on the ground.”

    As well as their eighth place at Rio, Alex and Don finished 25th at the Tokyo Olympics and also won an Event Rider Masters class at Bramham Horse Trials in 2016.

    Don Geniro has often excelled on the flat, holding third after dressage in Tokyo and fourth last year at Pratoni.

    “He was never a horse that was going to find the heat in Tokyo easy and of course it was hard to be in the bronze medal position, get to six minutes and know I had to nurse him home when my competitive side wanted to drive him home, but I knew the only choice was to canter home safely and I was always very proud of how hard he tried there,” said Alex.

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