Gary the foal who nearly died goes on to win international event

A dressage-bred horse called Gary who nearly died as a foal has qualified for the Pan Am Games, having fallen in love with his new rider and been “kidnapped” for eventing.

Anna Ross and Marcelo Tosi’s eight-year-old gelding, known officially as Starbucks, won the CCI3*L (formerly CCI2*) with Marcelo at Barroca d’Alva, Portugal, on 6 March.

Anna told H&H Gary’s story was “born entirely of goodwill”, and that he was named for fellow rider Gary Williams.

“Gary and I were both riding at Hickstead and he’d been doing fantastically on his stallion Showmaker, but he’d learnt the wrong test,” Anna said. “So I said he could go in my place and I’d go earlier, so he could learn it.

“He won, and he gave me his winner’s rug and said: ‘Thank you, I owe you one’.

“Then my mare went lame in a horsebox accident so I rang him and said: ‘You know you owe me one – can I have some semen?’ I got some, and then said as a joke that if it was a boy I’d call it Gary.

“Then the foal was born and was a boy, and I thought ‘Oh, bloody hell!’”

After he was weaned, Gary became very ill with an infection.

“He was just this little foal, on his own in the stable and I spent a fortune but kept him alive,” Anna said. “Then, of course, he turned into a brat of a foal, and repaid all my love, patience and vets’ bills by making it clear, as a six-year-old, that he didn’t really like dressage.”

Anna said Gary did win some classes, but “wasn’t terribly enthusiastic”.

Then, Marcelo came to her yard to try a jumping saddle, and while Anna was teaching, he decided to jump Gary in the saddle to try it out.

“I’m a rider and I know what someone looks like when they’ve fallen in love with a horse,” she said. “Marcelo said ‘he’s unbelievable’.

“I said ‘What are you talking about, that horse has never jumped in his life’ – and I never got the horse back!”

The ride on Gary was then shared by Sarah Bullimore, who won an intermediate on him last season, and Marcelo.

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“Marcelo had to go back to Brazil and Sarah’s my friend who’s produced so many top event horses, so since then they’ve shared him,” Anna said.

“And of course last week, the only time I couldn’t go to watch him, he went and won! Sarah’s done fantastic things with him, and Marcelo’s come back to ride him too, and now he’s qualified for the Pan Am Games so I’m very much hoping Gary the foal who nearly died will go to Peru.”

Anna said the whole story was an example of goodwill, from the place-swapping at Hickstead to the donated semen, to the horse’s current ownership.

“I’ve done well out of it too,” she said. “I think Marcelo felt guilty about stealing the horse – although it was Gary who picked him, they loved each other – and I’ve got a fantastic grey mare, who he helped me out by buying. So now we own them both together!”

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