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‘We can’t thank him enough’: Owners’ final farewell to top stallion

The long-term owner of legendary showjumping stallion Arko III has paid tribute to the much-loved “Brad Pitt of showjumping”, whom it was a “privilege to own”

Nick Skelton’s Athens Olympic ride died yesterday (20 January) aged 27, at the home of his owners the Hales family.

Lisa Hales told H&H today they had always said they would do right by him, and let him go when the time came.

“He owed us absolutely nothing and we owed him everything,” she said.

Lisa remembered the way her family came to own Arko; Nick had flown to Germany to try him, and liked him straight away, then on his return to the Sunshine Tour, bumped into Lisa and showed her the video.

“I thought ‘wow’,” Lisa said. “It all went from there. Nick flew back to England, met my dad and the vet, they all flew back to Germany and bought him.

“You always dream and hope to have a horse who will go to all the big places; he was everything we hoped, and probably 1,000% more.”

Lisa remembered the experience of the 2004 Athens Olympics, when Nick and Arko jumped clear until the final round, coming so close to a medal, as “unreal”.

“But probably his best ever achievement, for me, was that he jumped the grand prix at Spruce Meadows, the richest one in the world, three times and never had a fence down,” she said.

“The first time, he had a time-fault, the second time he came second, and the third time he won it. You dream of going to those places, and to do what he did was more than we could ever have asked for.”

Arko went to stud after his retirement from the ring in 2008. For some years he stood in Belgium, as neither British breeding nor breeding technology was what it is today.

“Then, four or five years ago, I said ‘That’s enough now’,” Lisa said. “I didn’t want him travelling any more, and the technology had improved, so we stood him in the UK.”

Arko then shared his time between the Hales’ Shaw Farm Stud and Stallion AI Services, until he retired from stud with a fitting party in autumn 2019.

“He was ridden every day, right up until he was 25,” said Lisa. “He’d hack out and go round the canter track, went out in the field; he did a bit of everything.

“It didn’t matter where he went or what he was doing, everyone loved him. He was one of those characters, and he was so lovely to look at.”

Lisa described Arko as a cheeky character, who knew exactly what he could get away with, and never quite put a toe over the line.“

He was the naughtiest to turn out; he’d be jumping and half standing up, and if he’d been any other stallion, Amy who works for me would say ‘I’m not doing it’ but because it was him, she knew how far he’d go; he knew how far he could push his luck and wouldn’t go any further,” Lisa said, adding that Arko knew just how good-looking he was.

“He knew he was the Brad Pitt of showjumping; when he came back from stud, he’d walk on to the yard as if to say to the younger boys ‘All right now lads, quieten down, I’m back so you’d better put yourselves back in your box because I’m the main man.’”

The Hales family is heartbroken to lose Arko but takes some comfort from his offspring, including SFS Aristio, the ride of Ireland’s Anthony Condon.

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“Some stallions are very good in the ring, but not good breeding stallions; they have to prove themselves again, that they can produce offspring that jump at the top level and he did that,” she said, citing John Whitaker’s top ride Argento in particular as one of Arko’s top-class sons.

“Lots of people have said they’d have liked to put their mares to him and it’s too late now but it’s not; we’ve still got some semen from him. It’s not for the money but it would be nice for people to use him; it will keep him going for a few more years and we take comfort in that.

“As a family, we’d say it was a privilege to own him. He did everything we ever wanted and more, and we can’t thank him enough.”

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