We’re incredibly sad to report that the Soul Syndicate’s Arctic Soul, longtime top-level mount of Great Britain’s Gemma Tattersall, died this afternoon at Weston Park Horse Trials, following an exceptional performance that saw him win the Advanced class –- a prep run for an intended spin at Badminton, for which he was 12th on the waitlist. His death is reportedly the result of a heart attack, but official word has not yet been released. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
The rangy 19-year-old Thoroughbred (Luso x Dream Cocktail, by Roi Danzig) enjoyed an extraordinary career at the upper levels of the sport and became something of a de facto ambassador for ex-racehorses all over the world. In his first career, he raced four times over hurdles in Ireland under the auspices of Colm Murphy, but it wasn’t a job that lit a fire in his belly –- in those four starts, he never placed higher than 11th, and ultimately retired as a five-year-old in 2008.
It was in his second career that he would shine, first under Nicky Roncoroni, who produced him to what is now the CCI2*-L level for former owner Phillip Kerr, and then under Gemma, who was given the ride before the 2012 season.
That the duo were perfectly matched seemed obvious from the get-go: in that first season together, they climbed from Novice (U.S. Preliminary) to CCI4*-L, finishing in the top five in nine of their 14 runs and never finishing lower than 13th. The following year, they set even loftier goals and faced stiff competition throughout the season, but their top ten finishes in the CCI4*-S at Chatsworth and the CCI4*-L at Blenheim further cemented their status as one of Britain’s most formidable pairs.
And by the end of 2014? They’d proven — with a strong fifth at Burghley — that ‘Spike’ was every inch a classic event horse in the mould of the golden era greats. And he was fast, to boot –- so fast, in fact, that a windswept Gemma would often come through the finish line laughing, her arms almost certainly a centimetre or two longer than when she set off.
“He just steps over the Vicarage Vee. His scope is freaky; he was born in the wrong era of eventing,” marvelled Gemma when introducing The Chronicle of the Horse to Spike in 2018. “He’s certainly unique, and he’s not an easy ride, but he’s incredible and gives you the most incredible buzz on cross-country. He’s a handful, but he’s never going to say no, and he’s a neat, careful jumper who just wants to get to the other side.”
Gemma often joked that a new, six-star level would need to be brought in before Spike would meet a fence he might find difficult –- and his results across the zenith of his career proved that point. He recorded five top-ten finishes at Badminton and Burghley, with his best result — a third place to Michael Jung and Andreas Ostholt –- coming at Badminton in 2019.
But he was no one trick pony, either: he also excelled at the short format of the sport, winning the exceptionally tough Gatcombe leg of the Event Rider Masters series in 2017 and becoming the British Open Champion in the process. He was also a two-time representative of Great Britain at championship level, taking ninth place when presented as an individual at Blair in 2015, the tough conditions and terrain of which allowed him to show his characteristic grittiness, and he helped the British team to gold at the 2018 World Equestrian Games at Tryon, too.
But even the greatest of event horses is more than just his results sheet. Often known affectionately as ‘Sharkface’ around the yard, Spike had a character every bit as big as his impressive stride: he loved face massages, but stroking him anywhere else meant risking losing a chunk of flesh to his lightning-fast teeth. At other times, though, he was rather like the Cowardly Lion -– his great protector at events was Gemma’s mother, Marcelle, who he’d happily and meekly follow around, and in the ring, Gemma often had to signal to the crowd to hold their applause so her 16.3hh gelding wouldn’t have his confidence shaken before a test.
At home, he could often be spotted being ridden to the field in his head collar by Gemma’s staff members, and he was known just as much among the team for his impeccable manners out hacking as for his heroic efforts over solid fences at the world’s most iconic venues.
“Arctic Soul, my absolute hero, my bestie, my darling boy. Today we lost you but you will be with me forever and I will think of you every single day,” Gemma wrote in a heartfelt statement on her social media. “What we achieved together was just unbelievable really, from failing as a racehorse to so many amazing achievements too numerous to mention. What sticks in my head, though, is his 3rd at Badminton in 2016 and his pathfinding cross country round at Tryon at the World Equestrian Games that gave the team so much confidence and we all went on to win team gold. Today he won his last ever event finishing on a lovely dressage, he flew around the xc with his ears firmly pricked finding the next fence on his own!”
Arctic Soul my absolute hero, my bestie, my darling boy. Today we lost you but you will be with me forever and I will…
“Words don’t even come close to what I feel right now, literally horrendous, I will miss him terribly everyday. Our partnership was something that I might never have again, just something so special, we just understood each other and I always knew what he wanted and he always knew how to look after me back. Just want to say a massive thank you to his amazing owners and to all his people who have been involved in his career who have supported us so much through the years. It’s been such an incredible team. He really has given us so many amazing wonderful memories that we will all treasure forever. Thank you my precious boy. I said goodbye and I thanked him and told him how much he was loved by everyone, and obviously how much I loved him.”
Gemma, whose first five-star win at Bicton with the Chilli Morning son Chilli Knight was undoubtedly the result of a foundation laid by her partnership with Spike, made a small request in her post, too, which we would like to extend to EN’s readership: “What I would love is for people to tell me about their favourite memory or show me their favourite picture of him.” You can head to Gemma’s Facebook page to share your memories of this special horse.
All of us at Team EN extend our most heartfelt condolences to Gemma, Marcelle, head girl Charlotte Overton, the Soul Syndicate, and all of this special horse’s connections.