In what has been an enormous week for top-level retirements, with Cooley Master Class, Vandiver, and Qing du Briot among those stepping back from the limelight, the end of eighteen-year-old SAP Hale Bob OLD‘s extraordinary career feels particularly poignant in its magnitude. The Oldenburg gelding (Helikon XX x Goldige, by Noble Champion), who was bred by Dr Rolf Lueck, had been on a trajectory towards another German team appearance this year at the World Equestrian Games, but was pulled up midway around the course at Pratoni’s test event CCIO4*-S earlier this month with a tendon injury.
Though it’s desperately sad not to see ‘Bobby’ bow out with another medal to his name, his achievements have been so far beyond the scale of many of his compatriots that we could wax lyrical about them endlessly – and our own image archives are so well-stocked with images of the big man doing his thing that we wanted to take a closer look back at his exceptional successes with Ingrid in the irons.
Bobby came to Ingrid’s stable as a five-year-old, having previously contested some showjumping classes — but it was his sire line, rather than any natural ‘wow’ factor, that really drew the rider’s attention. His sire, the Thoroughbred Helikon, was also the sire of Ingrid’s — and latterly, William Fox-Pitt’s — previous mount Seacookie, and at just shy of 72% blood, Bobby was bred to the hilt for the sport. To ensure an innate sure-footedness across the country, Ingrid first focused on hunting the young horse, then turned her attentions to the German young horse classes, or Bundeschampionat, which he contested with both Ingrid and her former partner, Andreas Busacker. Though he wasn’t a particularly easy horse in the beginning, and Ingrid considered selling him on, she quickly realised that the key to getting the best out of him was to connect with him on an interpersonal level — and soon, their famous friendship blossomed.
“Bobby is not a spectacular mover and he had a very poor Thoroughbred trot when I got him at the age of five. Bobby is a horse that showed his qualities later in his life. He has so much stamina, he is such a fighter, so fast and so bold, and so good in cross country,” said Ingrid to The Horse. “Now his dressage has really developed. Every year he is getting a little bit better and his jumping is neat. I think he has all the talent he needs.”
Though we often look back at Bobby’s career as being part of many of Ingrid’s own extraordinary milestones, he actually also played a part in another major German rider’s competitive education, too: early on in his international career, he partnered 2021 Boekelo winner and 2020 Le Lion d’Angers winner Sophie Leube around her first FEI event, helping to lay a foundation for the rider that has become, in the decade since, a promising trajectory to a potential first senior championship appearance this year.
Just three years after that, Bobby and Ingrid would hit their first milestone, winning the CCI5* at Pau in 2014 — Ingrid’s first victory at the level. They would follow that up with several ‘nearly’ moments at five-star — they were second at Badminton in 2015, and ninth in 2017 after a freak stop in the showjumping scuppered their chances of victory — but that early Pau win was far from their zenith as a partnership.
There are few horses as prolific as Bobby, who boasts 70 FEI starts on his record and among those, 19 wins and 52 top-ten finishes. Most notable, perhaps, has been their consistent success as members of the German team: they’ve twice been European Champions, winning individual gold in 2017 at Strzegom and 2019 at Luhmühlen, and helping the German team to gold in 2019 and 2015 at Blair Castle. They finished fifth individually at Blair, and again at last year’s European Championships at Avenches, where they took home a team silver medal.
In 2018, they sat in second place following the dressage at the World Equestrian Games, and moved up into first after a tough day of cross-country — but it wasn’t to be, and the final showjumping fell agonisingly late after they’d jumped it, pushing them into individual bronze position. They’ve got an Olympics under their belt, too, and though that was a trickier week for them, they still contributed to Germany’s team silver medal, finishing 16th individually. Their shot at a second attempt, at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, was put on the back burner after Ingrid herself picked up an injury earlier in the year and was sidelined for the Games.
Though the title of German National Champions evaded them, Ingrid and Bobby consistently ended up on the podium of the CCI4*-S class at Luhmühlen, and they enjoyed great success at arguably the world’s greatest horse show, winning the CHIO Aachen CCI4*-S in both 2017 and 2019, and finishing second there in 2015.
Bobby’s FEI record reads like a pony-mad girl’s dream come true, but for Ingrid, and for those of us who had the sheer joy and privilege of following his career, he was more than a purveyor of world-class results — he was, as Ingrid always beamed during post-ride debriefs, his rider’s very best friend, and always, consistently, just the most fun horse to pilot. We can believe it, too: one look at his pricked ears and sky-high knees proved that he was as hungry for the flags as Ingrid and, had he not been derailed by this unfortunate injury, we’d no doubt have seen him fighting for another individual medal at this September’s World Equestrian Games.
While we won’t have the honour of doing so, we suspect that such a great horse will get his final moment in the spotlight with a formal retirement ceremony — once, of course, he’s had the time to recover fully under the careful auspices of Ingrid’s home team and veterinarian Dr Ingrid Hornig. Until then, he’s in the very best of care, and will enjoy a long and happy retirement in the field once his injury has sufficiently stabilised. In honour of everything he’s brought to eventing, we’ve pulled some of our favourite archive images to share with you — and to Bobby, we thank you for your great contribution to the sport. Thanks for the memories, old boy.