They have been separated for eight years, by more than 2,000 miles, but showjumper Kath James has had an emotional reunion with her winning puissance partner Big Ben.
The Welsh rider was forced to sell the 17.2hh gelding, with whom she had a “special bond”, as part of a divorce in 2012 but had attempted to stay in touch with his subsequent owners.
She recently received an unexpected message from Ben’s owner in Sweden, who asked if she would like the now 19-year-old back to retire.
“I’d woken up early while my husband and children were still asleep and I saw the message, which had been sent the night before, and I was walking round the house crying,” Kath told H&H.
“When my husband got up and saw me, I was so emotional I couldn’t get the words out – when I finally told him he said ‘thank God, I thought something awful had happened!’
“The children (nine-year-old twins Issy and Daisy) were about two when he went, so they don’t remember him but they were emotional as well when they heard as they knew how much he meant to me. They are very avid showjumping kids and they asked if they could ride him in a puissance. I said he would probably be a bit old for that now!”
Kath owned Ben for six years from the age of six and the brave gelding found early success in puissances, winning on his debut at the Grange aged seven, where he cleared 2.10m. He went on to jump the international puissance at the British Open at the Birmingham NEC in front of a sell-out crowd.
He also took his rider to her first competitions abroad, jumping at Barbizon and finishing second in a silver tour final in Fontainebleau.
Kath told H&H seeing Ben go had been a “pretty devastating experience” from a period she had tried to put behind her.
“I lost all my horses in one go and I didn’t have much of say over where they went,” she said. “He ended up with a few different riders but they all found him too strong, which he could be if he was tense. I didn’t find him like that — he was very bold but he could be nervous and I had a bond with him. I wouldn’t have ridden him down to a puissance wall if I hadn’t been in control.”
The horse ended up in Devon and Kath discovered he had been sold from there to Sweden.
“I found a picture of him on Facebook a while later and he was out in the snow in Sweden with no rug on,” Kath said. “We look after our horses with kid gloves and I was so worried about him. I said I was going to try and buy him back but by the time I had sat and thought about it, I had received a message from a girl in Sweden who used to work for me years ago.
‘Hopefully the foals will be exactly like their dad; I loved riding him’
‘Every time you get on him you know there is no jump too big and no course too difficult’
“She said ‘I think my sister has just bought Ben’ and she sent me some pictures and it was him. I was so delighted, I knew then that he had a fantastic home and would be OK where he was. I couldn’t believe that someone I knew in Sweden had bought him.”
Ben arrived at Kath’s yard on Friday (25 September), to his old box. He is in good health and has still been hacking, so Kath hopes her daughters will now get the chance to enjoy him.
“I had a horse in his old stable that I was trying out and we didn’t get on, so that same box just happened to be empty at the right time, it’s strange how it works out,” she said.
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