Alter Ego, the “chunky” 15.3hh event horse who competed at five-star with owner-rider Kate Walls, was put down on Monday (19 April) at the age of 22.
“The past few weeks ‘Dennis’ had really slowed down and was starting to look a little uncomfortable, so I made the very hard decision to say goodbye to him while the weather was lovely and he wasn’t suffering at all,” Kate told H&H.
Kate said her first Bramham Horse Trials with Dennis, in 2010 when they finished 15th, and the pair’s Burghley Horse Trials completion with a clear across country were her greatest memories of the horse.
“The water at Bramham was causing carnage with most of the field either running out or taking the long route,” she said. “I didn’t actually watch anyone as I’d always planned to go the straight route, so was unaware of the problems that it was causing.
“I was last to go so I’d watched movies in my lorry all day to help with my nerves. When I got to the water I jumped straight through and couldn’t believe the cheering and clapping from the crowds as I was totally oblivious to the day’s problems.
“My proudest moment was completing the cross-country clear at Burghley, which is my local event. It was something I’d dreamt of doing as a child but never thought it possible.”
The pair’s Burghley run was particularly noteworthy because it followed a fall, in which the horse broke his sixth lumbar vertebrae, on his first attempt at four-star (now five-star), at Luhmühlen in 2009.
Kate explained: “He misjudged a ditch with water in and jumped into it rather than over it. I was told it was very unlikely that he would be ridden again. Against all the odds, he came back and completed Burghley the following year.”
The rider bought Dennis locally to her home in Stamford.
“Andrea Hoskins, who owned him, had bought him as a four-year-old out of the show ring as a hunter, but she wasn’t too keen on his face-pulling so decided she would sell him soon after buying him,” said Kate.
“I was actually in her yard looking at another horse when she told me about him. He wasn’t my usual type, quite small at 15.3hh, chunky with a leg at each corner and his ears flat back. I almost dismissed him as he really wasn’t an event horse, but thought out of politeness I should have a sit on him.
“He was so fat, I could hardly get my legs around him, but he had so much power and scope and had a fantastic attitude, so I thought I’d buy him and produce him for a while, then sell him on.
“He won his second event so I thought it was a good time to sell him. Luckily for me, he failed the vet based on having bad navicular X-rays, so I thought I’d just run him on and have some fun until he went lame. Little did I know he would become my horse of a lifetime and the navicular never caused him any problems.”
Kate added: “Dennis was the most generously kind horse to ride who forgave every mistake I made and always gave 100% at everything he did. In the stable he would terrify people if they didn’t know him as he would snarl at you with his ears back, but it was all for show and he wouldn’t have hurt anyone.
“He absolutely lived for food, the greediest horse I have ever known, and loved being out in the field. He was naughty to catch and would only let my groom Mel, me and my husband catch him. Anyone else… not a chance! At big events we had to lead him everywhere in a chifney as he was quite a bull and really rose to big occasions.”
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Kate played around with Dennis at the lower levels in his later years “as he just loved eventing and going out in the lorry” and retired him from competing in 2018. He enjoyed hacking a few days a week until he was fully retired last year.
“In the 18 years I owned him he did a bit of everything, from hunting to winning the working hunter at the Cheshire County Show,” she said.
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