Harbin Takes It to the Next Level at Kentucky CCI5* with Joe Meyer

Joe Meyer and Harbin. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Somewhere buried in my Facebook photos reside some exceptionally poor Sony CoolPix photos from my various trips to what we then called Rolex Kentucky. When I think back to those years and teenaged me, one moment stands out to me for no particular or obvious reason. I was standing at the start box, and New Zealand Olympian Joe Meyer was circling with the great little Thoroughbred gelding, Snip.

There weren’t many other people around, and even Joe didn’t bring an escort down to the start box with him. He quietly walked in a circle as he awaited his countdown, the traditional New Zealand silver fern brushed meticulously onto the gelding’s fleabitten gray coat.

Joe wouldn’t have noticed me on that day, too focused on the task at hand, but for one reason or another, I’ll always remember that moment as one of those “I’ve been hit with the eventing bug” memories.

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So you can imagine my curiosity about another little gray Thoroughbred that Joe purchased a few years back from fellow eventer Rebecca Brown.

While he’s always shown the talent for the top levels and more than a few similarities to his predecessor (“He’s little, he’s nippy, he’s fast, he’s hot,” Joe described), it was last weekend at the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event that Harbin would truly burst from “potential” to “confirmed” 5* horse.

Joe Meyer and Harbin finish a clear show jumping at Kentucky. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Joe describes his own and Ruthie Meyer’s, along with Theresa Foote’s Harbin (Verglas – Rainbow City, by Rainbow Quest), who raced in Ireland before coming to the U.S., as “a cross country machine”, but noted that his biggest question coming into Kentucky was whether the horse would handle the nearly-12-minute distance. It’s a question forefront in any rider’s mind as they bring a horse to the level for the first time; you don’t know until you know. Even in the mixed zone following Harbin’s dressage test, Joe was realistic.

“He gallops quite high up, a lot of knee action,” he described the 14-year-old gelding. “So it will be a question of whether that will take it out of him at all.”

He needn’t have worried. In fairness, he had tested Harbin with Long format terrain before: he traveled to the UK in 2023 to compete in the notoriously tough and terrain-heavy Blenheim Palace CCI4*-L (Harbin finished cross country clear with four time penalties there), but of course a 5* is a different animal.

Harbin delivered, though, collecting 9.2 time penalties to otherwise finish his first 5* cross country clear. He’d go on to cement his status as a 5* horse with one of just six jump penalty-free show jumping rounds on Sunday. Joe’s elation on crossing the finish was palpable.

I caught up with him shortly after, still grinning from ear to ear.

Joe Meyer and Harbin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“He came out feeling amazing today,” he said. “And he was jumping out of his skin, unbelievable. What a little rockstar, and for a little Thoroughbred he’s just awesome.”

Joe recalled the first moments of meeting Harbin, how the gelding did toss him some reminders of Snip. “There’s a couple of little differences, but yeah, that’s why when I had to chance to have him from Rebecca Brown I thought, ‘This could be my horse,’ because I know all about what that kind of horse is. And he’s exactly that: he’s nippy, he’s fast, and you know, he’ll spin you off and things, you always have to have a neck strap on him, but that’s what makes him special. And he tries, I don’t think he knows how to give up, and that’s really huge.”

For the Olympic and World Championship rider, the result also means more personally. Joe’s had several other horses come up the levels following Snip, but he hasn’t quite captured as competitive of 5* results as he did this weekend’s 14th place finish. I wanted to know how this felt to him.

Joe Meyer and Harbin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“It feels awesome, and like, you know, I’ll probably have to try a bit harder now because he’s got a few more years in him! And I feel like we’ve got a few coming up underneath as well.” Here he notes the longevity of the careers of riders such as Phillip Dutton and Matthew Grayling. “I think it’s all doable. But I do love the sport so much, and it really is inspirational to have a really nice horse and get a good result like this.”

“It’s sort of easy to fade into obscurity a little bit,” Joe continued after a moment. “I mean, you know we work away and we sell horses and we do a lot of other stuff, but it is quite nice to be doing what you want – what you came here to do.”

Harbin jumped super today around his first 5 star. A bobble after the ditch in the coffin so I opted for the long route…

Posted by Joe Meyer on Saturday, April 27, 2024

EN’s coverage of the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event is presented by Kentucky Performance Products, your one-stop shop for science-backed nutritional support for all types of horses. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products. You can catch up on all of our stories from Kentucky here.

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