Loss of a Legend

Max Corcoran shared a touching tribute to the great Giltedge, who died last week at age 29, on her blog and has kindly allowed us to re-print it on EN. If you haven't already, be sure to like Sporthorse Consulting — Max Corcoran Horse Care on Facebook to stay up to date with her latest blog posts.

David O'Connor and Giltedge on their way to winning the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2001. Photo used with permission from Shannon Brinkman. David O'Connor and Giltedge on their way to winning the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2001. Photo used with permission from Shannon Brinkman.

Here I am in Holland helping my other half with his jumping horse playing girlfriend/groom. It’s a new adventure for sure — it felt a bit odd not being at Burghley; in the middle of it all, the intensity, the nerves, the chilly air, the excitement, the bacon baps and the Pimms.

My phone rang around midnight, and I woke up in my still jetlagged state to see a missed call from the old boss, Karen — ah, she forgot I was in Holland, will call her tomorrow. But when I had a missed call today from my good friend and Stonehall manager, Sue Clarke, I knew something was up … something was not quite right. I listened to the message — another one of the Fab Four had died.

Giltedge was a fascinating horse. What most people saw was a plain brown horse with astonishing eyes. He won Rolex, he won actually almost every event he went in … he has won more medals for the U.S. than any other horse … so he is a hero to our country and eventing fans around the world.

He is a hero too to all that were lucky enough to work around him and know him. Not just for his accolades, but also for everything else that he was — I’ll explain, plain brown horse was anything but.

I started working for the O’Connor Event Team in the fall of 2001 — Karen and David were winning everything. I came into the barn and there was Tex across from Taylor (Custom Made) down the aisle from Prince Panache (seriously, is this the eventing hall of fame?) and without the nameplate on the stall door, you would have walked right by him. I was intimidated by all the greats there and was so worried about touching them, let alone leading them.

David was his best friend — their oddities challenged each other.

Sue Clarke was his wife of sorts — she made sure he had whatever he needed to keep him healthy and well throughout his career and retirement. If that meant waking up every four hours to administer eye medication in the middle of winter or cold-hosing a cut on a leg three times a day — Tex had what Tex needed, always. He was grateful, and she made sure he had dignity until his last breath.

Tex was not the fastest, the scopiest or the fanciest mover, but the guy had heart.

Sam Burton was his groom at the time — and she quickly told me what he likes and, more importantly, what he doesn’t like. “He runs hot, so he always wears one layer less than everyone else. He gets rubs on his legs and everywhere else, so polos and fuzzy whatever we have. He doesn’t cross tie, so don’t try it; just clip the cross ties in front of him and loop the lead rope around it.” Right — check — remember all this now. “Oh — and don’t touch his ears”.

He was tough to look after and I would watch Sam work around him — tricky eater, special saddles, no cross ties, special way to put his bridle on — none of it took more time, just a constant heads up — a very valuable lesson that I am lucky to have learned. It kept the horse and the staff happy.

Everyone worked around him with these rules and sometimes you would swear he had a bit of a sassy look on his face; “this is how I like it …” very regal and perhaps a bit judgy.

I got to ride Tex a bit — he taught me to sit very still — he had buttons that David had put there that were very specific — sit just the wrong way and you would get flying changes not half pass — and you had to be very soft and elastic with your hands or the head went straight up in the air.

He taught me a ton as far as looking after horses … how taking your time was critical, how there are many ways to accomplish something, how to listen to the horse; it actually helped me to work around a young Mandiba as he was tough and very quirky too! Tex wouldn’t cross tie — just would slowly back up until the cross tie broke and then stood there as to say, “You silly silly person, I don’t cross tie …” so clipping the cross ties together was a compromise, and he would stand that way for hours. Mandiba had the same quirk — and the same solution.

So, I thank Tex for all he did for the U.S. and for David, and for teaching so many of us valuable lessons about horsemanship; that not all horses are the same, and reminding us to be patient.