Gary the dressage foal who nearly died helped Brazil qualify for the Olympics in eventing

  • A dressage-bred horse affectionately known as Gary who nearly died as a foal has helped Brazil qualify for the Tokyo Olympics at the Pan Am Games, after being “kidnapped” for eventing.

    Anna Ross and Marcelo Tosi’s eight-year-old gelding, known officially as Starbucks, was part of the Brazilian team that won silver at the Army Equitation School in Lima, Peru (1 to 4 August).

    Marcelo and Gary scored 26 in the dressage to leave them in third place individually, before picking up 15pens under the flag rule on the cross-country and having one rail down in the showjumping to finish in seventh place at the horse’s first championship.

    Marcelo said: “[I have] no words to say the happiness I have now… Gary became a Big Boy!”

    The partnership previously won the CCI3*L (formerly CCI2*) 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.

    “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, the only time I couldn’t go to watch him [at Barroca d’Alva], he went and won! Sarah’s done fantastic things with him, and Marcelo too.

    After the Pan Ams, Anna added: “I’m just so thrilled! It’s unbelievable to think that little sick foal has helped Brazil to Olympic team qualification. I was quite nervous, I’ve never been a great spectator…

    “But as soon as Marcelo rode him you could see they had an amazing connection, he believed in him from the first ride he had and they have never looked back!”

    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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