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All of us with horses in our lives will have a favourite, either historic or current. It could be the first pony we ever rode, a particular character on our yard or at our riding school, a friend’s horse or simply one that we have admired from a distance. Picking out five famous steeds is no easy task, but the following all have a place in popular ‘horse history’ and their courage, loyalty, talent and beauty will resonate with all horse lovers.
Eclipse 1764-1769 – The ‘Father’ of all modern racehorses
Foaled during and named after the solar eclipse of 1 April 1764, Eclipse was an undefeated 18th-century British Thoroughbred racehorse who won 18 races, including 11 King’s Plates. He regularly outstripped his contemporaries by a huge margin, ‘Eclipse first, the rest nowhere’ went the saying.
He was bright chestnut, and although never lauded for his looks, was tremendously strong, sound and fast. He was just over 16 hands and a post mortem confirmed his heart was inordinately large.
After retiring from racing he became a leading sire of his era, siring 344 winners. Today he appears in the pedigree of 95% of all living Thoroughbreds. No other horse has enjoyed such superiority on, and off, the racetrack.
Eclipse died due to an attack of colic on 27 February 1789, at the age of 24. His skeleton is now housed at the Royal Veterinary College, Hertfordshire and the Jockey Club delight in showing off their Eclipse treasures in a lavish catalogue of their collection.
Warrior 1908-1941 – The most famous horse of WW1
Foaled on the Isle of Wight in 1908, Warrior went to war on the Western Front with Winston Churchill’s great friend General Jack Seely in 1914. There he survived all imaginable disasters, was active in many famous battles including those at the Somme and Ypres, was an inspiration to the troops he fought alongside. Despite all odds he came back four years later but tragically eight million others horses and mules did not.
Returning with Jack Seely to his native Isle of Wight in 1918 he lived on until the grand old age of 33, even winning a point to point four years to the day that he had led the charge at Morepil Wood.
In 2014 Warrior was posthumously awarded the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the PDSA Dickin Medal. It marked not only his courage but also that shown by all the animals who served on the front line in the First World War.
Stroller 1950-1986 – the only pony ever to compete at the Olympics in show jumping
A bay gelding sired by a Thoroughbred out of a Connemara pony mare, Stroller, at just over 14.1hh, was of pony height, but in conformation and temperament he was a miniature, quality horse. He had immense courage and self-confidence.
Stroller was imported as a “job-lot” from Ireland and bought as a junior show jumping pony for a Hampshire farmer’s daughter, Marion Coakes, an outstanding natural rider whose talents proved to be the key to unlock Stroller’s incredible abilities and they forged a fabulous partnership.
“When I came out of juniors at 16, Dad wanted to sell Stroller. It seemed the natural thing to graduate to horses, ” Marion recalls. “Ann Moore tried him, and I pleaded with Dad not to sell him, but to let me start open jumping with him.”
Stroller’s greatest triumph, and near tragedy, was in the 1968 Mexico Olympics where, aged 18, he won the individual silver medal. There were altitude problems, but it was decided to give him painkillers and steam inhalations rather than risk an extraction just before the contest.
The amazing pony was so consistent that he also won the Wills Hickstead gold medal for points gained in major classes, consecutively, from 1967-69. He was leading show jumper of the year at the Horse of the Year Show in 1970, and won Hickstead’s British Championship in 1971, 11 years after he appeared at the first Hickstead show in the Grasshopper Stakes, finishing sixth. In total the combination won 61 international competitions.
Stroller died at the great old age of 36 after 15 years of happy retirement, he is buried at Barton-on-Sea Golf Club.
Valegro 2002- Winner of three Olympic Gold medals at dressage
Born in 2002, Valegro is the dressage wonderhorse who, with his rider Charlotte Dujardin, has wowed the world, winning title after title and setting new records in all three types of grand prix.
A dark bay KPWN gelding standing at 16.2hh, his successes include individual and team gold in the 2012 Olympics; the grand prix and grand prix special gold medals at the 2013 and 2015 European Championships; and individual gold at the World Equestrian Games in 2014. At Olympia 2014, he beat his own world record to achieve the highest-ever recorded grand prix freestyle dressage score: 93.4%. Valegro also achieved a Gold medal in the individual dressage at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with a score of 93.857%
Valegro belongs to Carl Hester, Roly Luard and Anne Barrott. He has lived at Carl Hester’s yard in Gloucestershire since he was a two-year-old. Valegro is by Negro, out of Malifleur (by Gershwin). Carl’s protégée Charlotte Dujardin was given the ride on Valegro as a young horse to bring him on for Carl to ride, but their partnership proved too strong to dissolve. Despite being asked to name their price after the 2012 Olympics, Carl and Roly decided that they wanted to ensure the horse’s future was secure and Valegro is expected to remain at Carl’s for the rest of his days.
Famously, Carl believes that horses should be allowed to be horses, so Valegro receives regular turnout, and is hacked out by 77-year-old Tricia Gardner, a member of the dressage team during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Valegro’s stable name is Blueberry and his groom is Alan Davies. According to Carl, Valegro’s biggest love is grass. He regularly enjoys a work out on the water treadmill at Hartpury’s Equine Therapy Centre as part of his routine care.
Red Rum 1965-1995 Three-time Grand National winner
Red Rum was bred at Rossenarra stud in Kells, County Kilkenny, Ireland, by Martyn McEnery. His sire was Quorum (1954-1971), and his dam Mared (1958-1976).
A bay gelding, he achieved an unmatched historic treble when he won the Grand National in 1973, 1974 and 1977, and also came second in the two intervening years (1975 & 1976). The Grand National is a notoriously difficult race that has been described as “the ultimate test of a horse’s courage” He was also renowned for his jumping ability, having not fallen in 100 races.
Red Rum’s 1973 comeback victory from 30 lengths behind is often considered one of the greatest Grand Nationals in history.
Red Rum was prepared for a sixth attempt at the Grand National the season following his 1977 win, but suffered a hairline fracture the day before the 1978 race and was subsequently retired. He had now become a national celebrity so spent the proceeding years opening supermarkets, annually leading the Grand National parade and even appearing live on BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Red Rum died on 18 October 1995, aged 30. His death made the front pages of national newspapers. He was buried at the winning post of the Aintree Racecourse, which is still a destination for his fans. The epitaph reads “Respect this place / this hallowed ground / a legend here / his rest has found / his feet would fly / our spirits soar / he earned our love for evermore”
Eleven years after his death, a survey found he remained the best-known racehorse in the UK.
Obviously, there are many other great horses and ponies in the public domain who have touched our lives and hearts and the above are just a snapshot. Do you have any favourites we have missed off the list?
At the Horse Boutique we cater for all types of equines and their riders, so whether you need a saddle supplied and fitted for your 12 hand first pony or 16.2 dressage or event horse we can help, likewise if you need a new horse rug to keep your horse warm over the winter or need someone to wash and repair his rug. Visit us for riding equipment to keep you and him safe and don’t hesitate to call if there are any other items you need.