“Art was bought for a lot of money by a lot of people, as a competition horse. But what he’s done for me is so, so much more than that. He carries my world on his shoulders.”
Jonty Evans and his Olympic ride Cooley Rorkes Drift (Art) have been back in competition since April 2019, some 10 months after he suffered serious head injuries in a cross-country fall. But their showjumping round this week (15 December) was, Jonty said, “the first time I’ve felt proud since the accident”.
Jonty told H&H he felt in that round something he had not felt for years.
“I had the feeling I call ‘pull’,” he said. “People think you mustn’t have a pulling horse but I want the horse to take me to and over the fence and away from it, it needs to be consistent. That was the first time since the accident I’d had a feeling like that; of commitment. From him — but I’m the driver.”
Jonty explained that if he rides Art well, the horse jumps well.
“But if I ride like a wally, he goes like a wally,” he said. “There have been times he’s looked after me maybe a bit too well; times we’ve had a stop at a fence, for example, and he’s done that because he’s been looking after me, he knows I’m not quite right.
“That’s probably why I was so emotional on Wednesday; I couldn’t believe I could get that feeling again. I jumped the last fence and could have cried.”
Jonty paid tribute to the horse he has described as his “best mate”, explaining that when he says the 15-year-old carries his world, “that doesn’t say enough”.
“He’s been dragging me back, bit by bit,” he said. “Of course, he wouldn’t do things if I wasn’t saying ‘Do that’, but he’s definitely pulling me back there.”
Art is a world-class eventer, who finished ninth individually with Jonty at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and Jonty said his fellow top rider Andrew Nicholson had a word of warning.
“He said to be careful of riding a top horse you’ve got a partnership with, because he won’t know you’re different — but he has known,” Jonty said, adding that he does not think about what would have happened had his crowdfunding not been successful.
“I can’t tell you how grateful I am to everyone who got involved,” he said. “I feel that’s my life, that’s what’s given me a chance again.
“That’s at whatever level; I’m not interested in that, and not saying I’m going to be going high or low, I just badly wanted to be able to come out of the ring and feel proud, and I could on Wednesday. I just wanted to be able to hold my head up high again.”
Jonty is to keep competing and “see what happens”. He also has the “fabulous” four-year-old Ballymalone Dancer, who is out of an Old Vic mare and by King of Diamonds son Flagmount Diamond, and for whom he has high hopes.
“After the feeling I got on Wednesday, I came straight home and rode my four-year-old, who’s a lovely horse, and I got the same feeling from him, because I’d just got it from Art,” he said. “It’s how I’ve trained my horses since the year dot, it’s so ingrained, and it’s taken so long but now, for whatever reason, it’s back. I took Malone to arena hire the next day and I could ask for that feel, and got it, it’s given me and him so much more confidence.
“I don’t want to be held to this but when I got taken round that course on Wednesday, I thought ‘f****ing hell. This could really go somewhere’.”
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