Championship glory and dancing at the Royal Albert Hall: farewell to equine star ‘with a sense of humour’

  • Sir Lee Pearson has paid tribute to his multiple Paralympic gold medal-winning ride with a “sense of humour”, Gentleman.

    The 20-year-old gelding, with whom Lee claimed triple gold medals at three consecutive championships, died on Sunday.

    Lee told H&H it is a “sad week” and he is grateful for all the wonderful experiences he had with Gentleman.

    “He was quite a character,” he said. “He was probably more sensitive than the mares I’ve competed. But as much as he was very sensitive to ride and train, he never let me down in the arena – he was one of those horses who would leave his opinions behind when we went in.”

    The pair won triple gold at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, the 2009 Europeans and the 2010 World Equestrian Games. They were also a key part of the gold medal-winning British side at London 2012, where they added gold in the Grade Ib team test, individual silver and freestyle bronze to their medal haul.

    “I went to Germany to look for a horse to run parallel to Blue Circle Boy,” he added. “He [Gentleman] had such a supple, loose trot and a huge canter — he gave me the most fantastic feeling. After spending more than I expected to, I brought him home.

    “He was big, very sensitive and could also be very opinionated. But because I have to get into the horse’s head rather than using strength, he responded well to my style of riding.

    “He had an awful sense of humour. At a competition he would give the feeling that he could be naughty at any moment, when in fact he loved competing on the big stage and he never, ever let me down.”

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    Lee said one of his favourite memories was riding Gentleman as part of the Spanish Riding School display, alongside Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin, hosted by TV presenter Nicki Chapman. He did the display without stirrups, “much to the astonishment of the audience”, and it was wonderful to show a new audience what para dressage is about.

    Another favourite memory was taking him to the Royal Albert Hall to film an advert along with Lee’s Rio Paralympic ride, Zion.

    The horses had special coverings to prevent their hooves from damaging the floor and Lee rode piaffe and passage in a tiny specially formed arena.

    “They were the first horses to enter the Royal Albert Hall since the horses who helped to build it,” he said.

    “Most would say it’s the medal-winning performances that stand out, but for myself it is the unique experiences that we had together.

    The son of Gullit spent his twilight years living a very happy retirement with Lorna Harvey in Northamptonshire, where his quarters included a field that backed on to a kitchen window, through which he would pop his head to ask for carrots.

    “He wanted for nothing,” added Sir Lee. “For me to find him a retirement as loving and as caring as that was brilliant after the service he gave to myself and to the nation.”

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