The story of how a one-eyed horse won what is arguably the most famous showjumping competition in the world could have come straight out of a Hollywood tear-jerker. Maybe Steven Spielberg has already put in a call to Trevor Breen, because Trevor’s awe-inspiring performance on Adventure de Kannan in the 2014 Hickstead Derby had to be seen to be believed.
The Derby is unique, which is why top riders talk about needing a ‘Derby horse’ – one who has the ability, adaptability and sheer stamina to cope with notorious challenges such as the Derby Bank and Devil’s Dyke. So it’s highly appropriate that it should go to such a special partnership and, perhaps, a wake-up call for us all that the most important part of a horse is the bit between his ears.
Temperament – in this case, courage, trainability and what a legendary Irish dealer once described to me as ‘a big heart’ – is everything. I’m ashamed to admit that many years ago, when this patient, knowledgeable man tried to sell me a gelding that he swore would look after me and get me to at least Grade B in showjumping, I turned him down because the horse trotted like a little bay duck and had cow hocks. I loved him, but all the books and every expert I asked said he wouldn’t stay sound.
Fast forward five years and I found another home for the good-looking warmblood I’d bought instead: he had the ability, but he couldn’t be bothered and tried not only my patience but that of the most empathetic trainer I could find until we were both exhausted. The little bay duck, on the other hand, jumped his way to Grade A for a rider who always had a smile on his face.
That taught me three things. One was that it was important to recognise conformation faults so you recognise when you might be taking a risk. Another was that there is no such thing as a perfect horse. The third was that sometimes, you find a horse who might not tick all the accepted boxes, but just says: ‘Take me home.’
Adventure de Kannan had an eye removed last year because of infection. There have been lots of quotes from his rider, but the most telling is that the horse tries to do everything he’s asked, even if he can’t manage it.
There are horses and ponies like that in all walks of life, from patient first ponies to competition stars. If you’ve got one, cherish him.