‘The dynasty goes on’: tiny eventing mare Little Tiger’s incredible – and growing – family *H&H Plus*

  • Find out the fascinating story of the dynasty of horses started by Little Tiger, the 14.3hh mare who successfully competed at Badminton and Burghley

    Do you remember Little Tiger, the tiny grey mare who won so many hearts when she flew round Badminton Horse Trials and Burghley Horse Trials with Phoebe Buckley? The mare was put down in 2013 when she was 18 – after a retirement that included finishing third in the Melton Hunt Club ride – but her dynasty lives on down through two generations of Little Tiger offspring. Her two sons are competing in the CCI4*-L at Bicton Horse Trials, supported by Chedington, this week.

    The Little Tiger story starts with Val Gingell, who bred the feisty grey.

    “Years ago, I had a really brilliant mare called Minuet who was by Hopton Lane, who stood locally as a thoroughbred teaser,” says Val. ”I loved her and I bought another mare by Hopton Lane because of her. She a small chestnut mare who was very careful jumping and a lovely mover, but not quite brave enough, so I bred from her.”

    The result was Little Tiger (“Frosty”), by Java Tiger.

    “She was always high behind and low in front – she made about 14.3hh in the withers and about 15.2hh in the bottom,” says Val.

    Val sold Little Tiger to her longstanding friend Dr Polly Taylor, a vet.

    Polly takes up the story: “I bought her for me to have fun on, with no thoughts of anything more than some low level eventing. She did everything with me and whenever I was away, my horse would go to Val’s. On this occasion, Frosty went to Val when Phoebe was working with Val and she sort of took over.

    “We kept on asking the question, thinking she seemed to be doing this all right, so let’s go to the next level, until there came a day when I was driving to Badminton and thinking, ‘Are we crazy? Is this happening?’

    “She ate up the cross-country – there’s a picture of her over fence four, the houses in the Little Badminton area, and I remember Phoebe saying afterwards, ‘This is the point I knew that she was a five-star horse’. Sometimes you couldn’t see her coming to jump because she was so small.

    “Dressage was never her forte – she was built low in front, but she tried very hard. She wasn’t the most careful showjumping either, but cross-country she was just stunning and so many people remember her.”

    Little Tiger offspring: embryo transfer success

    In 2007, Polly and a veterinary friend, Karen Froud, did an embryo transfer with Frosty, with the help of Twink Allen, who died last week. In 2008, Frosty finished 16th at Burghley and her prize as best mare was embryo transfer at Twemlows, which produced Tiger Mail (Tigger, by Jaguar Mail) and Mr Fahrenheit (Freddie, by Catherston Liberator), who are both now 11.

    Little Tiger’s embryo transfer so Mr Fahrenheit at Bicton in 2010.

    Little Tiger’s embryo transfer son Mr Fahrenheit at Bicton in 2021 with Simon Grieve. Credit: Peter Nixon

    Polly still owns Freddie, who is ridden by Simon Grieve, and she sold Tiger Mail – who is ridden by Phoebe Buckley – to Val as a two-year-old.

    Phoebe says Tigger and Frosty have similarities: “They both always sneeze when they are excited or stressed! But the main similarity between them is the gallop – you just feel like you could gallop all day, forever, for the rest of your life. That back end, the absolute massive engine – which doesn’t always help in the dressage because it’s slightly overriding the front end, but I’d rather have it for cross-country.”

    Simon says he has a similar experience with Freddie: “He’s amazing, especially towards the end of a proper three-day track, you can rest assured that if you need a bit of speed, he’s got it and he can keep on. At Bramham [where he finished 13th in 2019], the vets were really impressed with him – they said his heart rate was basically back to normal by the time we pulled up.

    “I used to groom for Phoebe at all the five-stars she did with Frosty and when you take any of them out grazing, they graze for about five minutes, quite happily, and then they just march you back to their stable.”

    Phoebe adds: “Unless they’re working, they have the attention span of a gnat – like, ‘This was nice, now let’s move on.’”

    Frosty’s first embryo transfer offspring was a grey filly called Don’t Stop Me Now, known as “Dosh”. Phoebe broke her in and Simon evented her up to BE100 level.

    “She was a live wire – a really, really good cross-country horse, braver than brave. But she very tricky,” he says.

    Still owned by Polly and Karen, Dosh is now a broodmare and has had four foals. The first, belonging to Polly, is by the Connemara Fenrose Bonny Blue. Val then loaned her and bred a filly foal by the advanced eventer Tenareze – “we’ve got her for life because she’s a world-class crib biter”. Polly then put her to the Connemara eventing stallion Glencarrig Dolphin and has sold the resulting offspring. Her latest foal is by the dressage stallion Timolin.

    “He evented up to nearly advanced, so he’s got a good temperament and he’s obviously fairly sound. I thought, bright bay with a grey should be fine – and it’s ginger and white one with one blue eye so we’ve got him for life too!” laughs Val.

    Both Tigger and Freddie were kept entire until they were two and Polly also continues the line using frozen semen from Freddie with a Connemara-thoroughbred mare, Pie, whose origins are also tied up with the Little Tiger story.

    Polly explains: “She was bred at the same time as Dosh, because we had two recipient mares ready, and there was only one embryo. The other mare needed a job so we covered her with the local Connemara stallion – Castle Comet – and Pie became my ‘do everything pony’.

    “Pie’s a nice pony so we decided we’d have a go with Freddie’s semen and I’ve now got the four-year-old, who is backed and he’s jolly good fun. We have just covered Pie again with Freddie’s semen and she was scanned in foal about a week ago, so fingers crossed that goes well. So the dynasty goes on.”

    Little Tiger offspring at Bicton

    Meanwhile Tigger and Freddie scored just 0.4 of a penalty different in their dressage tests at Bicton in the CCI4*-L this week.

    Phoebe says of her test with Tigger, which received a mark of 39.2: “I’m really pleased with him – he’s just a horse that tries too hard the entire time. In places he was a little bit tense, but the quality of the work was much better than previously.

    “And it’s not a bad thing having a horse that tries too hard. He’s a horse that needs to be in an atmosphere and get used to it and obviously the past two years because he’s barely seen a grass field. He’s definitely one that would benefit from more outings, but he’s done his best and I’m chuffed.”

    Little Tiger’s embryo transfer son Tiger Mail at Bicton in 2021

    Little Tiger’s embryo transfer son Tiger Mail at Bicton in 2021 with Phoebe Buckley. Credit: Peter Nixon

    Simon scored 39.6 with Freddie and says he also tried his absolute best: “He has taken on Frosty’s being quite downhill, and, and he’s a little bit apologetic for being in the arena – he doesn’t really properly show off. But he did everything he was asked where he was asked. And he’s a cross-country machine – he needs a really proper track to get him back up the leaderboard.”

    Both riders are looking forward to tackling Bicton’s challenging track tomorrow – and continuing the legacy of Little Tiger, who was best known as a fantastic cross-country horse.

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