Dream shopping trips: when purchasers of horses have struck gold twice on the same day *H&H Plus*

  • It’s hard enough to find one good horse – but occasionally you hit the jackpot and find two stars at the same time. Victoria Goff tracks down some people who have been lucky enough to do just that...

    Buying a horse can be a frustrating process. Wading through adverts, deciphering sales speak, elusive sellers, disappointing viewings… Even when you do find the right horse, you have to fend off other buyers, haggle over a price, and hope it passes the vet. If finding one gem is difficult enough, imagine how rare it is to buy two brilliant horses on the same day. Rare – but not impossible.

    Irish showjumper Commandant John Ledingham made history in 1994 when becoming the first rider to win the Hickstead speed Derby and Derby in the same year, a feat he repeated 12 months later with the same pair of horses. John found his winning horses, Kilbaha (pictured above) and Castlepollard, on the same day, having persuaded the purchase board – who bought all the horses for the Irish Equitation School – to buy them for him to ride.

    “We were always on the lookout for the next superstar,” recalls John, who had seen both horses as six-year-olds jumping at a big show in Navan. “It was a busy indoor show with a small warm-up arena, which wasn’t the best place to try horses, so we asked Paul Darragh if we could come down to his place about 20 minutes away.”

    “I didn’t want to get off,” he says. “He had such incredible natural movement through his body, and so much scope and power. He was probably the nicest horse I’ve ever sat on.”

    The second, his future speed Derby champion Castlepollard, also impressed.

    “He was a lot sharper, but we thought he’d make a good speed horse,” John says. “By then I had a lot of experience of finding horses – as a rider you know instantly when you sit on a horse whether it’s any good.”

    2A86BPT Silk Cut Derby, Hickstead 1995, Capt. John Ledingham (IRE) riding Castlepolard. Image shot 1995. Exact date unknown.


    Kilbaha lived up to his promise – besides his Hickstead Derby double he clocked up many grand prix and Nations Cup victories, including two wins in the Aga Khan Trophy, while Castlepollard had a prolific career, including winning the speed Derby three times.

    “Whenever anyone told you about a nice horse for sale, you always had to go and see it as you never knew when a superstar would come along,” John adds. “To find two of them on the same day was very lucky.”

    Some purchases come more naturally in twos. Having been inspired by watching scurry driving classes at county shows, showjumper Chris Orchard and her husband Paul decided to track down a suitable pair of ponies with a bit of help from experienced scurry driver “Wild” Bill Hundley.

    “We saw a pair of ponies advertised in the 30 September 1999 issue of H&H – I still have the advert,” says Chris. “I rang the owner, Debbie Clarke, who explained she had bought five section A ponies from the Twyford Stud and broken them all to drive.

    “We went along with no expectations other than we might find one pony, with the prospect of finding another to pair up with it later, but when we arrived Debbie said she had already chosen the best two ponies. We drove them out into the paddock, Bill told me to canter some figures-of-eight, then said: ‘If you don’t buy these ponies as a pair, I will!’ From that day onwards I was a scurry driver, and I had just bought the original ‘Touch and Go’.”

    Chris’s ambition was to qualify for Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), which she first achieved in 2004 and has repeated every year since. A whole new competitive career, all borne from the pages of this magazine.

    Another owner who achieved their HOYS ambition thanks to a fortuitous shopping trip was Sarah Franklin, who runs a small livery yard and breeding operation in Monmouthshire. She used to jump up to grade A level and event up to intermediate, but these days she prefers to find or breed stars for other riders to compete.

    “It was a trip to Cavan horse and pony sales to see what was about,” Sarah recalls. “I ended up buying two 148cm ponies within 19 minutes. They both turned out to be class – Glenowen Calexico got to HOYS in the pony newcomers with Tara Brytt, while the other, Sparkling Indulgence, grew to be a small horse and got to HOYS on the same day in the silver league, with Gemma Hallett. Not only did they achieve my ambition to get to HOYS, it turned into a double act.”

    Dressage and sport horse producer Antonia Brown also had a dream result when she bought two “very reasonable” young horses at the Brightwells Elite auction.

    “We had Duke Of Love for a few months before he was sold to one of Piggy March’s owners, and he went on to win the Burghley Young Event Horse Championship with Piggy in 2013. The other horse, Son Of Glory, stayed with us until he was five and was a prolific winner in young dressage horse championships. He achieved my highest ever British Dressage score of 86%,” says Antonia.

    Auctions may seem like the obvious choice for those hoping to secure a couple of superstars in one swoop, but it’s not always that easy. Irish bloodstock agent Ross Doyle buys around 200 to 250 horses a year, but one auction visit stands out for being the day he found two future stars at once, Zebedee and Auld Burns. Remarkably, one
    lot came into the auction ring straight after the other, with both horses going to owners of Richard Hannon Snr.

    Zebedee become a high-class two-year-old sprinter, rated 107, who won six of his seven starts and amassed more than £160,000 in prize money. Auld Burns had three career wins, including the valuable £250,000 Tattersalls Millions three-year-old trophy, and was rated at 102.

    “Top horses are hard to find throughout the sales, so to buy one straight after the other – and for them both to be grey – that’s pretty rare,” says Ross.

    Statistically, auctions may be more likely sources of multiple buys, but sometimes fate plays a hand during private sales, with second horses being thrown in as deals, or temptation proving too much for the buyer. Buying two horses can also have unexpected results, as eventer Emily Clark discovered.

    “I was looking for a project horse to produce and sell on quickly,” explains Emily, who found a potential purchase at a yard just five minutes from her home. “While there, I was shown another horse which I definitely didn’t need, but once I sat on him I fell in love, so we came to a deal to buy both.”

    She brought both horses home but it soon transpired that the project horse wasn’t going to be suitable.

    “I was spending more time sitting on the floor than in the saddle,” she says. “He went back but I kept the other horse, Shannondale Gem, and even though I promised my parents I’d sell him before the next season I still have him 11 years on.”

    He competed up to open intermediate level before injury cut his eventing career short, and then switched to being a brilliant hunter.

    “I’ve hunted him with the Fitzwilliam, Meynell and South Staffs, Cottesmore and Fernie, while my partner Josh Worthington Hayes has whipped-in on him with most of those hunts, too.”

    And the tricky project horse? He was sold to another eventer and ended up competing at four-star.

    In terms of buying two horses in a job lot, it’s hard to beat the story of Hickstead founder Douglas Bunn. In 1961, Douglas heard about a young horse of Jack Bamber’s who had been doing well at shows. Douglas tried to buy him unseen, but Jack insisted that he view him first, so a trip to Northern Ireland was arranged.

    When Douglas arrived, he was disappointed to find the horse was barely 15.3hh and not suited to a man of his height. However, he jumped him over a few big fences and decided to buy him. While there, he spotted a big black horse in the stable, an unbroken three-year- old. Douglas saw him loose-jumped, and felt he was a nice type who would make a decent hunter. He put in an offer to buy both, thinking it would be nice for his new horse to have a travelling companion for the journey back.

    The smaller horse was called The Maverick, and after a while Douglas sold him to Alison Dawes who formed an extraordinary partnership with him, winning both the Hickstead Derby and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup twice. But Douglas kept hold of the unbroken three-year-old, who turned out to be a talented showjumper.

    He won the Foxhunter final in 1962, as a four-year-old, and over the next few years went on to win many international grands prix and become regulars on British Nations Cup teams. By then, with Hickstead, his businesses and his legal career taking up too much of Douglas’s time, he decided to give the ride to David Broome, and together they went on to be the only British pair in history to win the World Championship.

    When an impulse double buy leads you to owning Beethoven, one of the best British horses of all time – now that’s what you call a successful shopping trip.

    A matching pair of bays

    Guilty Pleasure

    Event rider Franky Reid-Warrilow has a pair of matching dark bays on her yard that she hopes will go four-star next season, and they were bought at the same time.

    Having seen a video of a mare for sale, Franky went to view her at Tessa Talbot’s yard in West Sussex.

    “I fell in love with Guilty Pleasure straight away,” Franky says. “Tessa offered to show me some other horses while I was there, but I said I didn’t have any more owners or money! Then Tessa mentioned Funny Boy, a seven-year-old jumping 1.30m level. I couldn’t try him then because he had a poultice on his foot, but Tessa said I should ride him when I came back for the vetting. I thought I might as well try him, and just hope I didn’t like him.”

    The opposite turned out to be true: “I jumped over a cross-pole and did a squeal, and I thought: ‘Oh, I’m in trouble here!’”

    Funny Boy

    Tessa agreed to co-own Funny Boy for the first year, to give Franky time to start his eventing career and secure an owner for him, so Franky ended up taking home both horses. The following spring both Guilty Pleasure and Funny Boy came out at BE100 level, and by the end of the next season they had each completed the long format three-star at Osberton.

    “The odds of finding two such nice horses on the same day are crazily slim,” says Franky. “It’s a huge credit to Tessa who found them both as youngsters, she has such a good eye for a horse.”

    Also published in H&H 4 March 2021

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