A “very precious” former four-star event horse has been put down aged 24 after a long and happy second career.
Spin Doctor, owned by Margaret Smith and with whom Francis Whittington completed Burghley in 2004 and won the 2005 CIC3* Scottish Championship, had spent 10 years with Sophie Colloby, competing at unaffiliated level and, more recently, hacking out and helping educate a young horse – and still winning, albeit at in-hand showing.
“He came to me unexpectedly, and was the best horse I’ve ridden by a million miles,” Sophie told H&H. “As time went on, he did less and less; he hacked out for a few years, and then did some in-hand showing this summer [pictured, below].
“He loved going out and about, and loved showing off.”
Sophie also took part in sponsored rides, including taking him back to Burghley House for the fun ride held there.
“They don’t fence off the cross-country jumps,” Sophie said. “I remember cantering down Winners’ Avenue, seeing a white bridge jump and thinking: ‘that’s actually not too big’, and wondering for a second if anyone would notice. It was massively wide and I chickened out – but he’d definitely have had a go if he could!”
Sophie also remembers her “most frightening experience” with “Polo”, came on an unaffiliated cross-country course when she jumped a hedge and was then supposed to turn sharp left.
“He came over the hedge and there was the jump judge’s car – and I felt him lock on, thinking it was his next fence!” she said. “He loved cross-country; it was absolutely his favourite thing, and it was an amazing feeling to ride such a scopey horse.
“I’ve had some good horses but compared to them, it was like getting out of a nice car, thinking it was good, but then getting into a Ferrari.”
Sophie described Polo as a “lovely” and very relaxed horse, who could be trusted around her young children, and her non-horsey husband, but who brought himself in from the field in bad weather by jumping gates.
“He was a bit cheeky,” she added. “He spent his last years doing a superb job with a horse I bought as a yearling; teaching him manners and field etiquette, but he did such an amazing job for me, teaching me to ride, which I’ve been able to take to other horses.
“Very sadly he had to be put to sleep as his age had caught up with him. He was a truly amazing boy, and very precious to me.”
Francis told H&H Polo was a “character”, who was comfortable at three-star level but had not been lucky at Badminton.
“He tried hard for you,” he said. “He was a lovely horse, who wanted to go out and do things. He galloped as much as he could; he wasn’t a finely-built thoroughbred, but he wanted to do the best he could for you.”
Get expert advice to improve your cross-country riding from one of the fastest and most stylish riders on the eventing
Francis Whittington tells H&H about the ‘cross-country machine’ who’s allergic to carrots
Find out more about the talented British eventer who secured his first CCI3* win at Blenheim last weekend
Francis said Polo produced some “very nice” dressage tests – including going into the lead at Badminton on general election day in 2005 – and brought “a lot of fun and satisfaction to Margaret”, who still owns horses for Francis.
“Sophie stayed in touch with Margaret after his retirement, and it was wonderful to see how happy he was, right to the end,” Francis added.
“Percival [Sir Percival III, another of Francis’s former four-star rides] is also having a wonderful retirement; it makes such a difference, and Margaret was always happy to see him so well cared-for.
“Sophie did a brilliant job with him, credit to her for giving him a home where he could be so happy for so long.”
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.