Stephanie Bateman catches up with riders of successful coloured horses – past and present – to find out if their achievements are more than skin deep
There’s something striking in the white flashes of a coloured horse, and some certainly prove to be more than just pretty markings. In fact, if coloured horses can teach us anything, it’s never to judge a book by its colour, as Pippa Funnell found out early in her career.
“I was working for Ruth McMullen when I first saw skewbald gelding Bits And Pieces,” explains Pippa.
“He was a 15.3hh by successful Irish National Hunt stallion Lord Gale out of a coloured foster mare, and although he had quality, my first impression was that he’d make a nice Pony Club pony.”
While at Ruth’s, “Henry” was competed lightly before being bought by Pippa’s long-standing owners Sarah and Richard Jewson.
“I’d just moved down to William’s when Sarah rang me and asked me to take on Henry,” tells Pippa. “Sarah had sent me ‘freak’ horses before that had turned out to be brilliant and Henry had such a fantastic jump that I couldn’t say no.”
It just so happens that the plucky coloured was hugely instrumental in Pippa’s career.
“He was my first top-class horse and we had some really good results,” she says. “He found the dressage difficult, but he was the first horse to show me what a big four-star track should feel like, and he was the first horse to get me my Union Jack badge.”
His biggest accolades included winning Blenheim in 1995, finishing fourth at Burghley in 1996, and ninth at Badminton in 1997.
“I had a fall on him at Burghley in 1997, and then at Badminton the following year. He had just done his best ever dressage and was going brilliantly cross-country before breaking down, and that was the end of his career.”
Henry lived out the rest of his days in luxury with his owners Sarah and Richard. “He was so bold for a little horse and so neat and careful – the way he jumped through the water at Badminton was incredible,” remembers Pippa. “He wouldn’t save himself at all by popping in neatly and economically, he’d bound in having so much fun, but that was probably his undoing because he was so enthusiastic.”
Despite being the only coloured horse Pippa competed, she admits to being eager for another one.
“I love coloured horses, but they need to have enough blood to go up the grades in the sport,” Pippa says. “A lot of them are very good jumpers, but they just need to be able to gallop.”
Grand prix coloured horses
The Whitaker dynasty are also fans of coloured horses, with John, Robert and Louise all having successfully campaigned coloured horses to grand prix.
Coloured stallion Utah Van Erpekom was successful at top level with John, having won numerous grands prix including the five-star grands prix in Mexico and Gijon in 2008.
“We bought Utah as a three-year-old out of the field and broke him in,” says John of the stallion by Landetto. “We were attracted to him partially through his breeding and because he was a nice type and the price was right, but also because I have always liked coloured horses.”
John produced him and sold him to Cilla Humphries, who then sent him back to be ridden by John a few years later. “I have always wanted a good coloured horse and he won some big classes for me,” John says. “I don’t think there were any negatives to him being coloured except not everyone likes them, but he always attracted attention as he was very striking.”
Other Whitaker coloureds include Nureev Du Houssoy, whom Louise rode and was a big winner before being sold to the USA, as well as Nepos Van Limbo who jumped on the Nations Cup team in Gijon with Robert in 2004 before sadly passing away the following year from colic. Both were by coloured stallion Limbo.
Following in the footsteps of his sire Utah Van Erpekom is Val Scott’s 16-year-old eventing stallion Ustinov Van Elsenham, ridden by Claire Deuten.
Before lockdown, the pair had made it to three-star and hope to be out competing at the level in the near future.
“He’s a dream horse to deal with you and you wouldn’t know he’s a stallion at all,” says Claire. “He is the safest horse on the yard to hack in traffic and I’d let anyone handle him, he’s so well behaved.”
While with Claire, “Tonto” has qualified for and jumped round the intermediate championships at Gatcombe as well as completing competitions at three-star.
“I also jump a lot of Foxhunters with him and know that if I put him on the lorry, he’ll earn me some prize money. He’s so consistent and a really good jumper with a lovely brain,” adds Claire. “He’s really improved my showjumping and has taught me so much about managing horses. He overjumps so I have to watch him on hard ground, but as far as conformation goes, he’s just perfect.”
The stallion has certainly converted Claire into a coloured fan. “When my friend told me she knew of a coloured stallion that needed a rider, my instant reaction was, ‘Oh God, no way,’ but he’s been the most amazing horse and I adore him,” she explains. “He has a fan club wherever we go and I’ve had a lot of enquiries about him for when he retires to stud. He puts as smile on our faces every day.”
Some coloured horses are very clearly marked, whereas others you have to do a double take to check. One such horse is Steph Croxford’s former grand prix ride Mr Hyde (Clyde), who successfully competed at international grand prix level for five years. The hackney/Dutch warmblood is technically coloured thanks to his tall white stockings and flashes of white under his belly and up his sides.
“He’s got similar markings to Clydesdales,” says Steph. “In fact, the reason we named him Clyde is because a local farmer said he looked like a mini Clydesdale.”
In terms of Clyde’s development as a dressage horse, Steph saw his colour as a bit of a stigma and did her best to hide it. “Because he was so distinctive, he was always remembered – for better or worse – which meant I never had anywhere to hide,” she says.
“I remember being at a competition in Europe and two grooms walked past and said, ‘Oh look, there’s that dressage cow.’ I wasn’t sure whether to take it as a compliment or not!”
Clyde’s colour wasn’t his only stand-out characteristic. Being part hackney, he also had an “untypical” action. “The judges either loved him or hated him,” says Steph.
“He had a brilliant piaffe and passage but didn’t have the desired floaty trot, and some judges had made their minds up before we’d even entered the arena. I learnt to passage around the outside instead of just trot to show off his best bits and get judges on the right foot straight away. He tried so hard and the fact that he stayed at the top for five years is testament to his character and ability.”
Another coloured horse to grace the dressage arena at grand prix is Karen Holmes’ Westhills Jasper B, a skewbald warmblood by James Bont. Karen brought Jasper to Westhills stud as a two-year-old colt after he was born in the Netherlands in 2002.
“He was extremely easy to back and ride, and after a short spell on his basic groundwork, he was sent to showjumper David Quigley who successfully competed him in British Showjumping competitions,” says Karen.
“Jasper’s real talent however was in the dressage arena, with his extravagant movement and trainable temperament, so we decided to bring him home to Westhills and begin his dressage career.”
Jasper has competed at grand prix level with wins at inter II and placings at high profile shows, premier leagues and qualification for regional finals and area festivals.
“We had him cut aged seven because he wasn’t the easiest stallion, but we still have stored semen and he is producing some top-class offspring,” says Karen. “He’s 18 now but still going strong with his current rider Lindsay Poxon, who hopes to get him out again soon.”
‘Horses that not only look stunning but can do the job’
The owner of coloured sport horse stud Longacres, Mandy Sanderson, became passionate about breeding British-bred coloured performance horses after years training and competing Hanoverians.
“I realised there was a lack of quality coloured sport horses in the UK, so we set about finding a stallion and mares,” says Mandy, whose stud is based in the Pennines.
Finding Emir, a two-year old by Ed King Hill, put them well on their way. During that time, Mandy also introduced some exciting new broodmares to the team. In 2008, Emir was sold to Australia, and that was when they found Samara Fly.
By Sambertino, Samara Fly stood as the stud’s stallion for 10 years, siring 150 top quality foals, while also competing in dressage until his untimely passing from a routine veterinary procedure. Despite this tragic loss, Mandy is now focusing on her five-year-old stallion First Impression, a stunning AES-graded coloured stallion by UCS Flawless (Floriscount) out of Ugenee, alongside an up-coming two-year-old colt by Samara Fly: Standing Ovation.
“We breed for pedigree and movement, but most importantly temperament,” says Mandy. “We want horses that not only look stunning but can do the job and be ridden by anyone.”
Ref Horse & Hound; 25 June 2020