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A cross-country machine who’d take off on the road out hacking: five-star horse put down

McFly, who completed Burghley and was on the British squad at the young rider Europeans with Nicola Robertson (née Malcolm), has been put down aged 22.

Nicola only had one season of experience eventing at pre-novice (BE100) level when she teamed up with McFly, and her aim was to compete in the one-star (now two-star) at Blair. But the pair ended up finishing 16th in the young rider European Championships in 2007, were in the top 16 twice in the under-25 CCI3* (now CCI4*-L) at Bramham and completed Burghley in 2010. They also finished the cross-country at Badminton 2011 with 20 jumping penalties, though withdrew before showjumping.

The Malcolms bought McFly – an Irish sport horse by Spring Diamond out of a Nelgonde mare – from dealer Stephen Gittens through Ian Stark, who knew Nicola was looking for a horse to start her eventing career.

“Ian spotted Mikey, who was then a five-year-old who had mainly hunted in Ireland and had spent a short time with Chris Bartle, and brought him home for me to try,” Nicola told H&H. “My first trial of Mikey is a memorable one as Ian left no stone unturned. I knew I loved him from the minute I sat on him.

“He was very green but he never thought no and always had a forward-thinking attitude. My first hack when I brought him home was an interesting one – on the way home he decided to pick up speed, galloping along the road. When I eventually got home I told Mum I was never riding him again. Needless to say, that thought didn’t last long but after every holiday he had, the same happened.”

Asked whether she knew Mikey would go so far, Nicola said: “I knew he had it in him, I didn’t think I did!”

She added: “My favourite memories are every cross-country ride I ever had on him. My worst memory is every dressage test we took part in – this was not a discipline either of us enjoyed. We only did it to go cross-country.

“I believe if I had met my trainer Lisa White earlier we could have mastered the dressage. She helped me hugely when I started working with her. I still enjoy lessons from her now on my showjumper.”

Looking back at Mikey’s career, Nicola said: “The Blair young rider Europeans was a definite highlight of our time together. He made it feel like Pony Club and being part of this team made me meet some of the best people in eventing.

“Burghley and Badminton were the most amazing experiences, something I never dreamt I would get to be a part of. I might never had gone four-star [now five-star] without the push from Oliva Wilmot. I was always worried my dressage wasn’t good enough, but she told me if I was qualified and my horse had the ability for the cross-country to go ahead and do it. Never have I been so thankful for her advice.”

Mikey was always very headshy.

“My groom Lynne Cree worked her magic and was the only person who was ever allowed near his huge ears,” said Nicola. “She spent hours winning him over. He was the easiest horse in any other way; to ride – apart from that first hack after each break – and to have in the stable.”

After her completion at Burghley 2009, Nicola returned in 2010, but had a bad fall half-way round the course.

“I was having the ride of my life at that Burghley but one missed stride and it all changed. After that, I lost my confidence with cross-country and decided to go showjumping. As the cross-country was Mikey’s favourite phase, I didn’t want just to showjump him for the rest of his career so I turned to Lauren Shannon [now Blades] to ride him for a short while and then Wills Oakden.

“They both rode him really well and agreed with me that he was a cross-country machine. Wills got him back to four-star [now five-star] level, competing at Pau 2013. Unfortunately he sustained a suspensory injury at the end of the cross-country.”

While recovering after Pau, Mikey contracted the neurological form of herpes.

“That was heartbreaking,” said Nicola. “He made it back into work, but when Wills took him to his first event the next year he said he didn’t feel like the same horse and so we decided to retire him.

“We retired him at our home in Kilbarchan where he has enjoyed time in the field with his friends.”

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Mikey became unwell two weeks before he was put down, when an injury in the field triggered off his herpes symptoms and caused him to deteriorate quickly.

“He was too special a horse to us all to let him suffer so we made the heartbreaking decision to put him to sleep,” said Nicola. “His memory lives on in the stables with all his achievement plaques on his door, as well as all the photos all over my house.”

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