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‘I owe him so much’: final farewell to former Badminton winner

Former Badminton winner Word Perfect II has been put down at the age of 30 following a long and happy retirement at the Bartles’ Yorkshire Riding Centre (YRC).

British Eventing Team high performance coach Chris Bartle was away at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon when he heard the news, but paid a heartfelt tribute to his stable star online.

“Your departure to another place is hard to come to terms with. You gave me so much over 24 years that you lived with us at YRC,” he said.

“You put me on the world stage and I owe you so much. I’ve had the great luck in my life to have had two horse friends and partners, who gave their all for me – You of course and Wily Trout, who you didn’t know but who was brave, honest, loyal and a superstar like you. You might meet him up there.

“I’ll miss you and will always hold fond memories of you. I owe you so much. One day we’ll meet again in another place.”

The 17hh gelding — who was by the TB stallion Lexicon out of a part-draught mare called Bettie Ash —arrived at the Bartles’ yard as a tricky five-year-old. Initially “a bit odd” and in need of extra time, he was produced by Chris’s wife Alison, who handed over the ride following his first season at novice.

Chris recalled how the “shy” horse used to “hide at the back of his stable” but quickly demonstrated “obvious ability,” with the pair progressing from novice to advanced in just one season.

“You could jump anything, even from a near standstill like the gate out of the field, when I leant forward to open it. But you lacked belief in yourself at that time. Alison gave you that belief during that first year that you were with us. She gave you fun and your confidence grew,” Chris said.

“There was not a fence or a course that I didn’t believe that you could master. As I rode, trained and competed you during the mid 90s, I knew that you were a superstar and would go to the top.”

Chris Bartle riding Word Perfect II

Their career highlight was their 1998 Badminton victory, while they were also on the gold medal-winning team at the 1997 European Championships, as well as being selected as as non-travelling reserves for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

After recovering from a tendon injury at the end of 1998, the striking liver chestnut made a comeback but was retired fully from eventing in 2002 when issues with his wind became more challenging. He went on to place second twice in Hickstead’s eventers’ challenge in the following years.

“He was a pretty draughty horse for an eventer in those days when you had to do the steeplechase and you’d never look at him and think he was a quick horse, but he came in a rhythm and you never had to set him up, plus he was so careful, he was a superstar at Hickstead,” Alison said.

As well as being a big horse who lacked a bit of blood, there were other ways in which Word Perfect’s career was a surprise — with Alison admitting they “never expected him to do more than two-star”.

“He was really ditchy, it took us two hours to get him over a tiny ditch once,” she recalled. “Even later on he could still have a look — he did it at the Europeans at Burghley and Chris came off.

“Other than that, he was pretty consistent — his dressage was super and he barely ever had a pole,” she said.

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After his full retirement, “Junior” (who was also known as Spoon) was kept ticking along, even giving the occasional lesson to some very lucky riders.

“He was mostly hacked about and the odd person we knew very well might have a lesson on him. They always felt honoured — he had a mouth like velvet and was the most gorgeous horse to sit on,” said Alison.

“He didn’t really enjoy being in the field; he would want to come in after two hours, and we could never get him on a horsewalker as he had a phobia of doorways— at Badminton he used to have his own stable that was inline with the outside door — so we had to keep him going really!”

Along with Jeanette Brakewell’s Over To You, who also celebrated his 30th birthday this year and Too Smart, who is now 32, “Junior” was one of the few horses from his era surviving to a grand old age.

“Losing him wasn’t totally unexpected — for the last 18 months he’d been very arthritic in his neck and we’d managed to maintain it with steroids but the last two times he hadn’t responded and he was losing co-ordination,” Alison explained. “It was affecting his hind legs and he was looking wobbly and I just didn’t want him to fall over and hurt himself so a decision had to be made.

“His stable is still empty at the moment,” she added. “He was a huge character and there are some very big boots to fill.”

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