Tiny event horse who represented Britain put down: ‘He was a big little person, who stole so many hearts’

  • Two For Joy, the 14.3hh event horse who represented Britain at the 2005 European Championships with Polly Jackson-Griffin, was put down on Friday (29 May), aged 30.

    The tiny skewbald was a “big little person, who stole so many hearts,” said Polly, who now lives in Ireland with husband Niall Griffin.

    The pair finished fourth at both the Athens Olympic test event in 2003 and Blenheim CCI3* (now CCI4*-L) in 2004, as well as completing Badminton 2005.

    Two For Joy, by Shaab, was bred by Henrik Wiegersma and started his eventing career with success at pre-novice and novice level with Ian Wills, who also produced him for pony showing classes. After a spell with Italian eventer Susanna Bordone, he was bought by Polly after Julian Trevor-Roper and Mandy Stibbe recommended she try him.

    “Quite a few people were adamant he wouldn’t make an event horse and when I went to try him, I couldn’t believe how small he was,” Polly told H&H. “But I sat on him and we just clicked. He had great rideability but was quite cocky – no matter what you put in front of him, he would jump it.

    “He always rode like a big horse – he used to take strides out very easily and could take off anywhere. Even at 26, he wouldn’t be caught one day for worming and jumped straight over a gate off a 180º turn onto our gallops.”

    As a young horse, “Percy” was quite cheeky and had the biggest buck.

    “Because he was so small and short, the power was immense and could send you flying,” remembered Polly. “He was nervous of crowds, but he liked the big occasion. I once took him to Melton Mowbray to do the novice as an easy run before Blair CCI2* [now CCI3*-L] and he tried to do a U-turn because he just couldn’t be bothered, so I got 20 penalties.

    “He was lazy at home too – he was that professional horse, who would turn it on at events. At home he’d feel like he didn’t want to jump today or even at arena hire he wouldn’t care much, but he knew it was special at events.”

    Polly’s favourite memories of Percy are from Badminton 2005, when he did a superb dressage test.

    “Someone asked if there was anything we could have improved on afterwards, but for the first and probably last time in my life, it was perfect,” said Polly. “Carl Hester said it was the best test but that the judges wouldn’t mark him up because he was a pony and coloured.”

    Percy attracted a lot of attention at Badminton after Lucinda Green wrote a piece about him for The Daily Telegraph.

    “We couldn’t even graze him in front of the house because people would literally circle round him and we needed a police escort to get to and from the arena because the attention was starting to freak him out,” she said.

    Across country, Polly was given a controversial 20 penalties at a drop fence early on course.

    Polly explained: “A kid came from under the wire and ran out just before I got to the step and Percy saw her at the last minute and just for a second, hesitated and moved left. He was so nimble and he didn’t step back.”

    Aside from this, the pair had an incredible round.

    “It felt huge on my other horse, Limestone Rise – when I also had to contend with a flapping camera, which I was wearing for TV, but which came loose. I thought it’d be too big for Percy, but he made it feel easy, like a Pony Club course,” said Polly. “It was one of those dream rides where you don’t miss a beat.”

    Polly and Percy were members of the British squad for the European Championships at Blenheim that autumn, but the horse suffered a fly bite on his back and was not quite at his best, though he did complete the event.

    “Limestone Rise was doing well at four-star and we were British squad reserves, but I couldn’t break onto the team, so Percy was the one who brought me to the forefront,” said Polly. “He was different and you couldn’t miss him so he won everybody’s hearts – he was the horse I received sponsorship and recognition with. Everybody said he wasn’t good enough and wouldn’t be an event horse, but every step of the way, he always did it.

    “He taught me not to interfere – I let him do the job and he could do it – and I still do that with my horses now. They will do everything and anything if they are confident.”

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    After he retired, Percy did a little lower level competing with other riders, before returning to live out his life in a big field with Polly’s other old horses.

    “He’d lost a lot of weight in the past four weeks and wasn’t himself,” said Polly. “I could see he was deteriorating quickly and wasn’t his normal self, so I made the decision to have him put down, though it was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. It was a beautiful sunny day and he was put to sleep in his field shelter. He is buried at home.

    “He was with me 22 years and gave me the best times of my life, so he’s left a hole in my heart.”

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