Prolific British Medallist Miners Frolic Dies Age 24

Tina Cook and Miners Frolic at Badminton. Photo by Jenni Autry.

We’re sad to report that the great Thoroughbred Miners Frolic, who partnered Great Britain’s Tina Cook at two Olympics, has died at the age of 24. Miners Frolic, known as Henry at home, was retired early in 2014 after suffering a heart fibrillation on a hack, and subsequently enjoyed eight years of rest and relaxation at the home of Sarah Pelham, who co-owned him alongside Nicholas and Valda Embiricos. He particularly enjoyed spending time with his companion, Sarah’s grandson’s pony Jolly.

Tina’s journey with the great gelding (Miners Lamp x Mighty Frolic, by Oats) was punctuated with extraordinary highs and dramatic comebacks: they contested both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics, winning individual and team bronze in 2008 and team silver in 2012, when they finished sixth individually. They also represented Great Britain at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, taking team gold and individual 29th place, and at the Europeans in 2009 and 2013, taking double gold medals at the former to become the European Champions. The pair also finished sixth on Henry’s CCI5* debut at Luhmühlen in 2009 and nabbed a top twenty at Badminton in 2013, his final season — though it was that most iconic of British events that was very nearly the site of a much sadder end for the horse. In 2011, he was withdrawn before his dressage test due to an insect bite on his withers, which swelled sufficiently that he couldn’t wear a saddle — and in the weeks that followed, it would take a complicated turn for the worse, leading to admission to Arundel Equine Hospital in late June for a nasty bout of enterocolitis and endotoxemia, effectively a life-threatening bacterial infection and inflammation of the colon that’s generally linked to an adverse reaction to antibiotics. Henry survived as a result of round-the-clock care by the veterinary staff, but for several achingly long days, his recovery seemed unlikely.

All’s well that ends well, though, and one of Henry’s most covetable characteristics was his gritty tenacity, whether facing down a life-threatening illness or a tough cross-country course. In 2012, he returned to competition and to the Olympic stage, representing the home nation at the London Olympics in front of his enthusiastic fan base. His 2013 season was also a great success, with that top-twenty Badminton result, another successful European Championships appearance, and a top-five finish at CHIO Aachen, too – and although he’d been aiming for selection at the 2014 World Equestrian Games, his sudden retirement at the start of that year meant that he went out on a high, with the 2013 European Championships as his last FEI outing.

“Miners Frolic was as close to the ideal type of event horse that you would wish for,” said then-chef d’equipe Yogi Breisner upon the announcement of Henry’s retirement. “Very few horses make it to Olympic Games yet he made it to two, winning medals for Britain at both. His Olympic achievements combined with his European Individual gold puts him among the hall of fame of top event horses ever. He has been fantastic for the British team in contributing to several big successes in his career. He was a wonderful individual and a lovely horse to be around.”
Indeed, his record speaks for itself: in 18 of his 37 FEI starts, he finished in the top ten, and was the Reserve Seven-Year-Old World Champion at Le Lion d’Angers in 2005 — notably, the heyday when Thoroughbreds were still eligible to compete. He was a stalwart of the circuit and the British team at a time when success for the squad felt much less certain than it does now, but it’s hard to imagine an era in which the classic, consistent Henry wouldn’t flourish. Though he quickly flunked out of his intended career as a racehorse, he certainly landed in the right family early on: Tina’s late father, Josh Gifford, was an exceptional racehorse trainer, and her brother, Nick, is very successful in his own right, and there’s a real sense of collaboration in their Findon, West Sussex family base. Though Henry’s breeder Maurice Pinto had sent the 17hh five-year-old to Nick, he was quickly repurposed and passed along to Tina to see if there might be something special there — and astutely so. When Nicholas and Valda Embiricos came in as part-owners, there was a real sense of a cyclical fairytale playing out — they’d also owned Aldaniti, the extraordinary 1981 Grand National winner who partnered Bob Champion, newly recovered from cancer, to victory. Aldaniti was trained by Josh Gifford, and though Josh’s passing in early 2012 shook the bedrock of Tina’s life, the interwoven links between her horse of a lifetime and the people connected to him kept his indefatigable spirit alive as she and Henry tackled the Olympics that year.
Our thoughts are with Tina, Henry’s owners Sarah, Nick, and Valda, long-time groom Rachel Tolley, and all of this special horse’s connections.