How to keep an older horse sound: Mr President’s secrets to success [H&H VIP]

  • Reaching the very top takes time, so it’s not unusual to see horses in their mid-teens riding high in the international rankings. While maturity and experience can give these older mounts a winning edge, the inevitable “miles on the clock” after years on the competition circuit can take their toll. Yet some horses — like Mr President — just seem to keep on going. Find out how

    Nickname: Rimmer
    Age: 20
    Height: 16.1hh
    Sire: unknown
    Competitive career: after starting novice affiliated dressage aged four, Rimmer contested his first grand prix five years later.

    He competed internationally for GB, scoring more than 70% in his first World Cup qualifier in 2006. Officially retired last year, he still competes at grand prix.

    “Rimmer was bred for driving, by a Gelderlander-hackney stallion and out of a Dutch warmblood mare,” explains his owner and rider Steph Croxford.

    “He’s built to last with the strong bone structure of a driving horse.

    I didn’t buy him for dressage and he really shouldn’t find it so easy. But, like a circus horse, he could do the all the tricks. We weren’t overstressing anything with the grand prix movements.

    “I have only ever schooled him three times a week, for 40min, even when he was at the top of his game. We’ve always hacked, as I think it’s so good for tendons and ligaments. Perhaps this work over mixed terrain has added to his longevity.

    “Until he was 15, Rimmer never had a day’s lameness. Even when he developed suspensory desmitis in 2008, it didn’t make him lame. [GBR team vet] John McEwen always said you must never take an old grand prix horse out of work, because if one wheel falls off, they all do. So rehab involved walking and trotting on the roads, in wind, rain, sun or snow until, a year later, he was back competing.

    “He then slipped while competing in Saumur and suffered collateral ligament damage, which took 12 weeks to heal. I think the travelling caused the problems in later life — the stop-start journeys across Europe in a herringbone-pattern lorry. He was never lame before we started competing internationally.

    “Rimmer can go into a dormant state in competition, as if he knows he must rest, like a proper athlete. It’s not until we do grand prix movements that the sparkle comes back, a bit like pressing the ignition switch. I used to give him a few holidays a year, but he got so restless that we ended up hacking for a couple of weeks instead.

    “He’s a freak of nature.”

    The vet’s view: “Mr President was one of those characters that had a huge joy of life,” says John McEwen. “He loved doing everything and had a great capacity to cope in any situation.

    “He might not have had the classic dressage physique, but he was incredibly strong in every way. With another rider he might have been ordinary, but Steph brought him to life. Horses can last a long time in the right hands — in my opinion the way Steph looked after him and managed his training and fitness regime made all the difference.”

    When is the right time to retire your horse? [H&H VIP]