Losing a horse - the greatest pain?

Saying goodbye to an animal you love is never easy. In fact, it’s widely acknowledged to be one of the most stressful and emotionally-wrenching things you have to do. Often this parting comes as the result of a much loved pet having to be put to sleep due to illness or injury, but for the equestrians amongst us there is another scenario, that where the horse you love so much and have devoted so much time and attention to, was never yours to begin with, or has had to be sold for financial reasons. You’re powerless to intervene or affect the outcome as the horse’s owners (understandably) make their own plan for the horse, which doesn’t involve you. Is it harder to know the horse you love is out in the world and not with you, or where your much adored partner of many years has to be put to sleep?

Restriction of access is something that is experienced by most equestrians – even those lucky enough to have their own horse at home can’t spend all day with them – but it can be doubly difficult when you already spend so little time with the horse that means so much to you. This is something we’ve been thinking a lot about at The Finer Horse HQ recently, as our founder Hannah has been dealing with exactly this kind of situation. Most unexpectedly, she met her equine soulmate one sunny August morning, a black IDxTB 17.3hh black beauty called Olivia. Within moments of meeting, the pair clicked in a way that Hannah certainly hadn’t experienced before in over 20 years of riding other people’s horses. For Hannah the real crunch came when she had to move away from London. In every other respect a positive change, leaving Olivia, and the hope of seeing her again, has been a real struggle, but in the style of everyone who’s lost a much loved animal she’s getting back in the saddle with a horse share, while hoping against hope that one day she’ll be reunited with her equine soulmate.

Sadly Hannah’s experience is by no means unique in the horse world. Particularly at the top level, strong bonds are made between professional riders and their top horses, who are invariably owned by someone else. We have however noticed a definite move among many riders in recent years to try and keep as many horses under their own name or ownership syndicate to avoid the fate of two riders whose stories are familiar to many, and serve as cautionary tales in a sport where, uniquely, your ability to participate at any meaningful level is so often dependant on someone else lending you the equipment.

Before Valegro rose to stardom as a global dressage phenomenon there was another recordbreaker tearing up the scoresheets – Totilas. The first real ‘wonderhorse’ of the dressage world, Totilas broke every record and won every prize going under the man who had produced him from a youngster, Edward Gal. As is so often the case, Edward and Totilas were victims of their own success, and when the great Paul Schockemöhle put in a record-breaking offer (believed to be around €10million) for Totilas as a ride for his stepson in 2010, Totilas’ then owner couldn’t say no.

What then followed was a tale not unlike that of our next rider William Whitaker and his top horse Arielle, who was, like Totilas, sold at the top of her game, in Arielle's case two weeks before the World Cup round in Sweden in 2008. The spell was broken, and although both Arielle and Totilas made a few appearances in competition under their new riders, the success undoubtedly hoped for by their new owners was not matched and both horses quickly sank without trace in the rankings.

Totilas is now in demand for his stallion services at Schockemöhle’s stud in Germany, but at the time of writing we at The Finer Horse couldn’t find out what Arielle is doing today. Given the fates of these two horses, is it any wonder that in the increasingly competitive world of equestrian sport that so many riders are trying to hold on to their top rides?

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