This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the female powerhouses of eventing – but as fully paid-up members of the mare-lovers’ club, we couldn’t resist a nod to some of the remarkable horses we’re desperate to catch out on course in the season to come.
Of course, narrowing down the extraordinary selection of incredible mares on the global circuit is an almost impossible task – so we’ve kept the final number low (eight, for the 8th of March) and forced ourselves not to repeat any nationalities. And you know what? It was still nearly impossible. Check out the apples of our eye and then head over to the comments to let us know which mares set your heart a-flutter!
Rioghan Rua, ridden by Cathal Daniels (IRE)
Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Jack of Diamonds x Highland Destiny, by Flagmount King). Owned by Frank and Margaret Kinsella.
She’s every stereotype about a chestnut mare, writ large – and Cathal Daniels’ tiny European bronze medallist has won us over completely with every pinned ear and well-aimed hoof. Standing just under 15.2hh, Rioghan Rua – that’s ‘Red Queen’ in Gaelic – has proven herself a force to be reckoned with from the moment she paired up with her young Irish jockey. The now-14-year-old by Jack of Diamonds is owned by her breeders, Margaret and Frank Kinsella, but when they sent her to Cathal as a six-year-old, it was with the intention of selling her on.
Fortunately, her size made her tough to sell – and shortly after Cathal took the reins, he qualified the young mare for the Junior European Championships, where they helped the Irish team to gold. The next year, they repeated the feat, this time adding an individual silver to their team victory before finishing the year with a top twenty finish at the Young Horse World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers. In 2015, Cathal and Red – still just eight at this point – represented Ireland at the Young Rider Europeans, where they took team bronze, and the Nations Cup finale at Boekelo, which saw the Irish team take the win. In 2016, nine-year-old Red and 19-year-old Cathal were long-listed for the Olympics, and in 2017, they made their Badminton debut.
Look, we could reel off this little mare’s laundry list of achievements all day long – and yes, being in the scrum of people around Cathal when he realised they’d taken individual bronze at 2019’s European Championships was one of those moments we’ll remember fondly forever – but like so many of the great horses who take up a stable in our hearts, Red is more than just her record. She’s a tiny, petulant, ferociously talented symbol of what our sport is, at its core: it’s grit and gumption and more than a little bit of ‘don’t believe me? Just watch me’. She doesn’t always make her rider’s life easy, but you know that everything she does is wholly on her own terms – and you can guarantee we’ll front and centre of the crowd waiting for her diminutive orange ears to appear on the other side of a table bigger than she is.
The moment we’ll always remember: That Europeans performance was pretty special, but we loved watching her gobble up Bramham’s formidable course in 2019 too, where she and Cathal won the prestigious CCI4*-L for under-25s. Most of those fences were bigger than she is, but Red never looked anything less than ferocious as she tackled Ian Stark’s notorious track.
Where you might see her: Probably Tokyo, if all goes to plan. That bronze medal – and their string of successes – make Cathal and Red a strong shout for the team under the new format, which requires three rock-solid combinations to fight it out on course.
Vanir Kamira, ridden by Piggy March (GBR)
Sixteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Camiro de Haar Z x Fair Caledonian, by Dixi xx). Owned by Trevor Dickens.
If there’s any silver lining to the ongoing pandemic, it must have been spotted by Piggy March – after all, the double cancellation of Badminton has meant that she and her unlikely superstar Vanir Kamira have been reigning champions since 2019.
In all honesty, though, we reckon Piggy would rather risk relinquishing the crown in exchange for the thrill of taking ‘Tillybean’ around this most formidable of tracks again. And who can blame her? Like many of the sport’s legends, Tilly isn’t a classical beauty, nor does she have a style or movement that stops you in your tracks. What she does have? An endless well of try, and the temerity to just keep on digging when the going gets tough.
“It’s these little horses that make it for us,” said Piggy of the mare after that extraordinary Badminton victory. “She’s a pain in the ass 362 days a year, and she’s really tricky to manage. She’s not the nicest of things to ride, you know, and she’s difficult, but she’s amazing – I say it all so fondly, because we all love her to bits. She’s a true five-star horse that comes to form at Badminton and Burghley. The rest of the time, she feels pretty ordinary, and you have to work pretty hard for what you can get. She doesn’t find any of it easy, and if I’d built that course at home and practiced it on the same side of the arena, I could do it fifty times and never have a clear round. There’s something about her, and those great little mares that just do enough when they need to. If they’re on your side, they’re just incredible.”
The moment we’ll always remember: The moments between her showjumping round and victory being decided at Badminton. She didn’t go into the final phase as the leader, and her clear round only guaranteed her second place – but Piggy celebrated it as though she’d been handed the win, because her horse had given her all and then found a little more to give. The win itself, which was clinched when leader Oliver Townend added a stride in the double and inched over the optimum time, was really just the cherry on top of a pretty perfect cake.
Where you might see her: Tilly isn’t a team horse – instead, she’s a classic five-star campaigner. With Badminton shelved for another year, we’ll almost certainly see her head to Burghley, where she’s previously finished in the top five twice. This year, she’ll almost certainly be on a mission to best her 2017 second place.
Milana 23, ridden by Esteban Benitez-Valle (ESP)
Seventeen-year-old British Warmblood (Medoc x Morka, by Flemmingh). Owned by José Cañedo Angoso and the rider.
We’ll forgive you if your immediate reaction to this one is “…who?” The top ride of Spain’s Esteban Benitez Valle, Milana appeals to us for many of the same reasons Rioghan Rua does – she’s a tiny gal with a huge personality. We first laid eyes on her at the 2019 European Championships at Luhmühlen, where – before she was tipped up by the colourful and sadistic bird in the final water – she made such a game effort over the course that everyone watching her found themselves wearing goofy great grins. We like to imagine that if you could hear her thoughts out on course, they’d sound like that TikTok sound of a guy serenely saying “weeeee” over every fence.
If Milana was a person, she’d be the kind of woman who loves the sesh: you’d ring her up in tears and she’d show up twenty minutes later with an ice-cold six-pack, a bag full of bodycon dresses, and a five-step plan for partying the pain away. She’d be a Samantha, rollicking through life having a truly jolly time. It’s Milana’s world, and we’re all just bodies on her dance floor.
The moment we’ll always remember: After winning us over at the Europeans, Milana enjoyed the best kind of off-season fun, winning the indoor cross-country derby at Neumünster and showing off her dance moves throughout the prize-giving.
Where you might see her: A five-star debut is on the horizon for Milana and her pilot, though they will likely have the reinstated European Championships on their radar, too. Luhmühlen’s early summer date, proximity to Esteban’s German base, and familiarity – it was the site of their Europeans trip in 2019 – make it look pretty perfect for the step-up and a try at the Spanish team later on in the year.
Jollybo, ridden by Hawley Bennett-Awad (CAN)
Seventeen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse (Jumbo x Polly Coldunnell, by Danzig Connection). Owned by the Jollybo Syndicate and the rider.
A graduate of Ocala-based Brit Justine Dutton’s pony-producing empire, Jollybo can be credited with bringing Hawley – a fierce woman worth celebrating in her own right – back to the top level of the sport in 2016. To do so, Hawley had to take a leap of faith, venturing into the world of syndication for the first time to secure the quick-footed, quick-witted mare. And so far? It’s been worth every penny for her circle of connections.
Jollybo pairs a serious commitment to work with a sprinkle of spiciness, and that’s not a particularly far leap from Hawley herself who, despite tricky family circumstances, grafted her way up the levels as a teenager and made it to the big leagues through sheer determination. That shared mentality of getting the job done has obviously helped forge the partnership between horse and rider – a fact that’s evidenced by their swift trajectory up the levels. They finished third in the CCI4*-L at Rebecca Farm just a couple of months after Hawley took over the ride.
The moment we’ll always remember: Getting the chance to once again cheer Hawley on at five-star was pretty special – and that trip to Kentucky in 2017, which marked Jollybo’s debut at the level, felt like serendipity and magic all the way through. After less than a year of partnership, the dynamic duo finished 12th – and with an identical twinkle of gumption and grit mirrored in each of their eyes.
Where you might see her: There hasn’t been any public confirmation yet, but we suspect a fourth trip to the Bluegrass State is on the agenda for Jollybo and Hawley, who’ll be contesting the Advanced combined test at Copper Meadows this weekend – a tried-and-tested stepping stone en route to Kentucky. If you’re keen to throw your support behind them as you watch the LRK3DE live-stream, whip up a batch of Jollybo-bon Smashes – the (un)official cocktail of this powerhouse mare.
Ascona M, ridden by Tim Price (NZL)
Thirteen-year-old Holsteiner mare (Cassaro x Naomi, by Carpaccio). Owned by Suzanne Houchin, Lucy Sangster, and Sir Peter Vela.
If we had our way here, half of the Prices’ horses would be on this list – particularly because there’s no shortage of big personalities on their Wiltshire yard (nor, come to think of it, is there any shortage of five-star winners). But just scooping it is Ascona M, or Ava, a mare who Tim has described as “extremely talented – and also just extreme.” We feel that, Ava.
Ava was originally one of Jonelle’s rides, but when she took a break to have son Otis in 2017, the mare was added to Tim’s roster – temporarily at first, and then permanently (after, we presume, a ferocious arm-wrestle for her). Since then, we’ve seen her win a CCI4*-L at Haras du Pin, a CCI4*-S at Tattersalls (may it rest in peace) and, of course, Luhmühlen’s CCI5*. She followed it up with a sixth-place finish at Pau later that year, but we didn’t get to see her at an international at all in 2020. Consider us hungry for more.
Whether it’s her Superman-style jump or her heart-on-her-sleeve sass that’s reeled us in, all we can say is that the striking grey mare has got us hooked. We love watching her dance her way to a 25 and soar to a double-clear just as much as enjoy watching her unload every last one of her opinions onto poor Tim during arena familiarisation sessions.
The moment we’ll always remember: She’s not necessarily the most conventional jumper, and so watching Ava and Tim showjump for the win at Luhmühlen CCI5* in 2019 felt suitably nerve-wracking and deliciously exciting, all at once. It’s nearly impossible to root against the affable rider at any event, but when you pair him with a bright-eyed, fearsomely clever mare, you’ve got the recipe for a win that everyone quietly hopes for. Luckily for us, they delivered.
Where you might see her: It’s almost impossible to guess which of Tim’s horses will make the trip to Tokyo – though we can nearly guarantee one of them will get the call-up, and Ascona M will almost certainly be in contention, unless the Kiwi team head honchos decide to opt for a horse that they know can travel long distances. Tim’s got a few of those in his stables – he’s contested Kentucky enough times to have a pretty good idea of what’s what – but Ava hasn’t yet made a long-haul journey. We could see her head back to Luhmühlen to defend her title, though it’s a high-risk strategy to run at five-star that close to the Games, or she could head down to Pau at the end of the season if Tokyo doesn’t happen for her. She finished in the top ten there in 2019.
Cascamara, ridden by Ingrid Klimke (GER)
Seven-year-old Westphalian mare (Cascadello II x Taramanga, by Templer GL). Owned by Claudia Lauber and the rider.
If you think we only fall head-over-heels for established top-level horses, think again. Picking a mare from the German line-up is as hard as picking one from the Prices’s stables (fischerRocana! Asha P! I’m so sorry!), but in truth, we haven’t stopped thinking about elegant Cascamara since we first laid eyes on her at last year’s Young Horse World Championships.
There’s something extra-special about seeing a top-quality horse at the age of six. It’s an in-between age, really – they’re just old enough to ‘get it’ but they’re still mostly defined by their gangly attempts at the tough stuff and their flamboyant efforts over fences. Some of them look a bit overawed by everything they encounter, and others look like they know the world is theirs to conquer. Cascamara is the latter (though not at all immune to those flamboyant efforts, as evidenced by her approach to water jumps at Le Lion!).
The moment we’ll always remember: Le Lion always makes for compulsive viewing, but it was particularly interesting to observe the competitors in a pandemic year, which necessitated a half-season of prep runs rather than the usual full season. This made it feel rather more like looking for the diamonds in the rough; which horses, despite comparatively less of an education, could step into the atmosphere of this extraordinary event and grow throughout the week? Cascamara was no shrinking violet in any phase, taking in her surroundings with a sweet, smart curiosity despite nearly not going at all – Ingrid had thought the mare much too green to take on the event, but capitulated to German team trainer Hans Meltzer’s suggestion to take her for the experience. As the week went on, we watched her get bolder, braver, and more calculated: a tantalising glimpse of the top-level competitor she’ll one day become.
Where you might see her: The obvious end-of-season goal is a return trip to Le Lion d’Angers to try to scoop the Seven-Year-Old World Championship. This is a feat that’s only been managed three times before – Nicolas Touzaint’s Galan de Sauvagere did it in 2000 and 2001; his Joker d’Helby pulled it off in 2003 and 2004; and Tom Carlile’s Tenareze (now in Harry Meade’s string) did it in 2013 and 2014. If she pulls it off, Cascamara will be the first mare to pull it off – and it’ll be the first time it’s been accomplished by a non-French combination. No pressure. There’ll be a step up to three-star on the cards, too, wherein she’ll try to continue her streak of finishing in the top ten in every international run she’s had.
En Vogue, ridden by Tamie Smith (USA)
Sixteen-year-old Hanoverian mare (Earl x Laurena, by Lauries Crusador). Owned by Ruth Bley.
Tamie and this flashy mare only became a partnership in early 2019 – which, considering the decimation of the following season due to the pandemic, isn’t really all that long ago – but they’ve already accomplished plenty together. In six international runs they’ve finished in the top ten five times, and jumped clear inside the time on four of those occasions.
Owned by (very successful) amateur competitor Ruth Bley, En Vogue is the kind of mare that takes tact, quiet courage, and an intrinsic willingness to compromise to get the best out of. She’s sharp, spooky, and inordinately talented, and every time we watch her, we’re reminded of how much we can all learn from these complex, multilayered mares. They might drive us a bit bonkers occasionally, but truly, how lucky are we to grow as riders from their ministrations? As Tamie has previously said, “she’s a mare – so you’ve got to finagle your way in.” But once you’re in there, you know you’ve levelled up as a horseman. And what’s that worth to you, anyway? (The correct answer? Everything, of course.)
The moment we’ll always remember: Finishing second in the CCI4*-L at Galway Downs was a pretty good effort, but it was in the first phase that En Vogue really wooed us. High winds were the theme of the day – pretty standard in a Californian autumn, we’re told – and the conditions were ripe for spooks, snorts, and a total loss of focus in the ring. But despite the best efforts of a cascading tent flap, En Vogue and Tamie tapped into one another and showed the most tantalising glimpses of what they’ll deliver on the main stage. We were officially signed up to the fan club.
Where you might see her: All the murmurings centre around when we might see a CCI5* debut for En Vogue who, with just eleven internationals to her name, is seriously low-mileage for her age – and 2021 looks like it’s going to come up trumps, with Tamie confirming at Bruce’s Field that she plans to take the mare to Kentucky this spring, along with stablemate Mai Baum. It’ll certainly be a formidable attack on the competition from the West Coast’s biggest star.