Olympic eventing gold medallist put down: ‘He was my five-star horse’

  • Kibah Sandstone, an eventing team gold medallist for Australia at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney with Matt Ryan, has been put down at the age of 32.

    “He was in livery with Sarah Harbord, close to where I live in Ross-on-Wye, living out with another old retired horse,” Matt told H&H.

    He was bright and feeling good, but then he started to struggle a bit last winter, losing weight. He was having some neurological problems over the past few months — he got a bit wobbly.

    This got worse over the past couple of days and it all became a bit hard work for him, so we came to a decision to have him put down last night [10 May].”

    “Sandy” and his half-brother Kibah Tic Toc — Matt’s double gold medallist at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, who died in 2014 aged 37 were both bred by Bud Hyem out of a mare called Kibah Sandrift, a descendant of the Derby and St Leger winner Hyperion. Sandy was by Bamborough Sunny Souvenir.

    His best results included seventh (1998) and eighth (1999) at Burghley and seventh at Badminton in 2000. He was eighth individually and a team gold medallist at the Sydney Olympics.

    Matt Ryan riding Kibah Sandstone at Badminton 2000

    Sydney was the highlight of his career — the event had a special feeling for us Australians and he rose to the occasion,” said Matt.

    He was a tricky horse to ride — he was never going to be a frontrunner in the dressage, because he was a bit too tense.

    “In the cross-country he was strong, but you also had to be tactful in the way you rode him because he didn’t have a great front leg technique — he dangled them a bit. You had to be careful not to be too quick to the fences, which was exactly what he wanted to do.

    My nickname for him was my five-star horse — he was a full Australian thoroughbred and a relentless galloper. If we’d ever had to do another three or four minutes on a course, he’s the one who could have done it.

    “He was a careful showjumper, but you had to be careful not to get him too close to the fences so he had time to get his legs out the way. In Sydney, in my effort to do this I didn’t press him enough to one fence and he chipped in and wiped out the fence — I thought I’d blown it at the Olympic Games, but we ended up with just that one and one other down.”

    Kibah Sandstone’s second career

    Matt retired Sandy when the horse was 18.

    “I wanted to keep competing him for my country, but the federation said they wouldn’t select him again because he was 18,” explained Matt. “There was also a political situation, a divide between the UK-based and Australian-based riders.

    “As he was a tricky horse — I probably fell off him more than any other — I decided I didn’t want to go through the stress of riding him if he wasn’t going to be selected again.”

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    Sandy was retired for 10 years, but came out back into work at the age of 28 to be ridden by a working pupil of Matt’s, Fern Birdsey. He competed hors concours in a BE80(T) at Howick in 2012, and was then downgraded, being placed seventh and fourth in BE90s that year and seventh in a BE80(T) in 2013, all with Fern.

    Matt explained: “To start with she just rode him at home and when she suggested competing him I said, ‘Not on your life’. I was very nervous watching and said if he was struggling at all to pull him up, but it was brilliant and I’m very proud he did that.”

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