Five-star winner put down aged 21: ‘He was a dude – a gentle giant who could be cheeky’

  • Five-star winner Mr Cruise Control was put down on Wednesday 17 August at the age of 21.

    The grey starred at the higher levels under Andrew Nicholson, and went on to become a schoolmaster for then-teenager Thomas Hawke.

    “He retired with us and we took care of him – the last couple of years he’s been well, but over time the cumulation of impact on his body caught up with him, plus he’d always had melanomas which had got to a certain point, so it was a judgement that it was time to call it a day,” said Thomas.

    Owned by Robin and Nicky Salmon, Mr Cruise Control – known as Tez – started his eventing career with Andrew in 2006 and in his second season won a young horse CIC* (now CCI2*-S) at Gatcombe and was fourth in the six-year-old World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers.

    The following year he had four top-12 placings at two-star (now three-star), including 11th in the seven-year-old World Championships.

    His move up to three-star (now four-star) in 2009 culminated in fifth at Blenheim Horse Trials CCI3* (now CCI4*-L) and the following year he won Hartpury CIC3* (now CCI4*-S) as well as impressing on his four-star (now five-star) debut as a nine-year-old, finishing fourth at Luhmühlen Horse Trials and ninth at Pau Horse Trials.

    Mr Cruise Control continued competing very successfully with Andrew through the next three seasons – he won Luhmühlen in 2013, was second, seventh and fifth at Pau, won Hartpury for a second time in 2011 and took top spot in the World Cup qualifier at Chatsworth Horse Trials in 2013. In all, he completed eight five-stars, with six top-10 finishes.

    Thomas Hawke said he was “very lucky to be in the right place at the right time” to take the ride on Mr Cruise Control when Andrew reduced his yard after his serious fall in 2015 – his mother Sophie knew Andrew, he had done some work experience with Andrew and “a friend of a friend knew Nicky Salmon”.

    “He was a dude – I did my first three-star, my first advanced and my first four-star on him and he showed me the ropes,” Thomas told H&H. “He wasn’t push-button in the dressage and showjumping – he was a very big horse and took quite a lot of leg to ride. I was quite young and it took me a bit of time to get the hang of it. It wasn’t like riding a pony where you could whizz them round, you had to ride properly.

    “But when you got on to the cross-country, he just knew his job – you’d set off and he’d give you confidence that he was going to give you a good ride. If I got something a bit wrong, Tez was always there to step in. Since then, I’ve had other horses and they’re not all like that, but from that experience on Tez, I’m always trying to recreate that feeling and put a bit of that confidence that Tez had into them.”

    Tez and his young rider had placings up to advanced and two-star (now three-star) level together and completed Houghton CIC3* (now CCI4*-S).

    Thomas Hawke and Mr Cruise Control at Aston-le-Walls in 2018

    Thomas Hawke and Mr Cruise Control at Aston-le-Walls in 2018. Credit: Trevor Meeks

    Thomas described Mr Cruise Control as a “gentle giant” who could also be cheeky.

    “If Mum or I were holding him to wash him for a competition, he’d charge about not wanting to get wet and he could run backwards quite effectively. But if I gave him to my little cousin, who was under 10 at the time, he’d stand like a statue because he knew he had to be gentle with her. Similarly if I went for a hack, he could be a bit of a beast, but if you put someone on who was not so confident, he’d register that and behave. He was a lovely old horse.”

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