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‘He’d go through fire for you’: Final farewell to grand prix horse

Tributes have been paid to the “incredibly spooky” but “life-changing” grand prix horse, World Cruise, who showjumper Shane Breen credits for helping his career.

The gelding by Cruising, out of Curragh Queen, died on 4 May in the field aged 25.

“Cruise” was owned by the Duffy family, and Shane took on the ride of the then-eight-year-old in early 2003.

“I remember when Vinnie Duffy dropped Cruise off, he said to me ‘he’s a bit spooky’ and to take my time with him but he said ‘I guarantee he’ll be a top grand prix horse,’” Shane told H&H.

Shane said at first he wasn’t sure if the partnership was going to work out, as the gelding had a stop at their first show together – but they continued competing during the summer and were jumping grand prix by the end of the year.

The combination enjoyed multiple Nations Cup appearances but it was the 2006 Aga Khan Cup at the Dublin Horse Show that stands out as a “major highlight” for Shane after the pair’s double clear.

“The Aga Khan – it’s home. Everybody who has anything to do with horses is at the Dublin Horse Show,” said Shane. “From a rider’s point of view mentally there’s a real build-up, then to go in to the silence of the crowd in that arena is deafenining. When you go clear it’s just amazing; it’s the best feeling in the world – the whole equestrian community in Ireland is behind you 100%.”

“As I went past the stand [after Cruise’s second clear round] I punched the air; he spooked, spun round and nearly had me on the floor – it could have been embarrassing!”

The combination were part of the Irish team at the 2006 World Championships in Aachen, where the team finished sixth. In 2010 Shane and Cruise won the Bunn Leisure Trophy at Hickstead, and picked up a top-10 placing in the King George V gold cup.

Shane said the gelding remained “incredibly spooky” all his life.

“I suppose it’s what made him as a good as he was in some ways; he was always careful, alert and watching everything,” he said.

“At the World Championships I trotted in the ring and I couldn’t get him near a particular wing and thought ‘how am I going to jump this?’ But the thing was, once he turned to jump, he locked on and he jumped. He was a real character, he was as tough as nails and he’d go through fire for you. He would prick his ears and say ‘come on I’ll look after you’.

“His best performances were on the biggest stages; Aachen, Dublin, Hickstead – he knew the big shows and he was incredible.”

Cruise later was ridden by Vinnie’s sons Alex and Michael Duffy, retiring from competition sound in 2015. In 2017 the gelding went to a friend of the Duffy family, Tiernan Gill, where he spent the rest of his days acting as a nanny for younger horses.

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“He had taken us around the world and done so much with Shane, Alex and Michael. He was a lovely horse,” said Vinnie.

Shane added he still often thinks of what he learnt from Cruise.

“He was a life-changing horse. Every other day I think of him when I’m schooling a horse, he’ll pop into my mind. He had his funny little ways, so when I have horses with similarities I think ‘what did I do with Cruise?’ so for my career he’s been a great help.”

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