Farewell to Olympic medal-winner and ‘horse of a lifetime’

  • Eventer Sharon Hunt has paid tribute to her “horse of a lifetime” and Olympic team bronze medallist Tankers Town, who has been put down at the age of 25.

    The brilliant but sometimes quirky chestnut gelding had a phenomenal career, completing 11 CCI4* (now CCI5*) events, as well as more than 50 advanced and three-star (now four-star) classes.

    In his final season eventing in 2010, he won four of his starts, including a career highlight triumph at Luhmühlen CCI4* — the last time to date that a British combination took this title.

    It was later that year at Pau where the three-quarters thoroughbred injured a tendon, leading to his retirement from the sport aged 16.

    “That was his best year and I wish I’d had a bit more time with him — he threw a massive splint at Luhmühlen and in hindsight I probably pushed him too quickly as at Pau the tendon on the other leg went, I’ve always kicked myself a bit for that,” Sharon said.

    “It took three years or so to get the leg settled, but after that you couldn’t see there had been a problem and he went on to have another six years of working normally.

    “He had two four-star starts every year from a 10-year-old and I had no idea what a sound, tough horse I had until I tried to find another one — my vet always claimed he had pony-sized tendons and that was why he was so hardy,” she added.

    “Jasper” was known for his intelligence and care across country and also became a strong performer in the dressage, earning himself British squad call-ups for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, where they were on the bronze medal-winning team, and the 2006 World Equestrian Games, where they finished individual ninth.

    He attended seven consecutive Badmintons, where his best finishes were fifth and sixth.

    The 16.1hh gelding is also remembered for sometimes being difficult in the start box — leading to a disappointing elimination for the pair at Badminton in 2009.

    “I always felt very safe on him, even though he could be a bit of a monkey to get on — he wasn’t cold-backed but he could be funny when you did up the girth and could plant and spin round, which is what the refusing to leave the start box evolved from,” Sharon explained.

    “The catalyst was when the roads and tracks were cut [short format introduced], he got worse after that. At Badminton that year the finish line also crossed the start line and I hadn’t given it anywhere near enough consideration – someone finished as I was about to start and really that set him off.”

    She added that people at the time had commented that the horse looked like he did not want to perform, but that could not be further from the truth.

    “One of the things about him I didn’t fully realise when I was training him was that it was his desire to please and do well that made him quirky. He tried so, so hard,” she said.

    “I also found out after he had retired that his dam — who was a very good point-to-point mare from the Busted line — used to try to lie down sometimes when they went to put a jockey on her. There was obviously a quirk in there — but it was nice we learnt to overcome it and went on to have such good results from him in his final seasons.

    “One of the reasons I found our win at Luhmühlen so poignant was that it was all on us — I was no longer on World Class at that point and after a real disappointment at Badminton we picked ourselves up and won.”

    Sharon also paid tribute to Jasper’s breeder Mary Blundell, as well as Sean and Sally Parkyn who “trusted me, buying a horse who was far too good for me at the time”.

    “I was 21 when I got him and I didn’t have a clue, I couldn’t ride one side of him when I tried him as a four-year-old,” Sharon revealed. “He was so sharp he kept cantering all the time and I couldn’t make him trot. I persuaded my mum and dad to buy him for me and they were pretty trusting to let me have him.”

    Jasper remained in work and was last ridden two days before he died, when Sharon took him to Rachel Upton’s yard for a “trot round and a little go through the water”.

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    Sharon said. “He loved being worked, but he had Cushings [PPID] and suddenly it became more of a struggle.

    “He was still being ridden normally and still jumped — I had backed off riding him a while ago and my niece had taken over. He was magic, so kind and really looked after her.

    “He also taught a lot of people how to do half pass and changes, although I only let the good riders on him,” she added.

    Sharon said that in his last few weeks he had started to “not look himself”.

    “He had changed and was starting to look a bit disinterested,” she said. “I always promised him he wouldn’t be a field horse and he had the life he would have wanted.

    “I will always be grateful for everything he did for me.”

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