Tim Holekamp: What Do You Do with a Retired Event Horse?

Windfall began his career with Ingrid Klimke. They won every CIC held in Germany in 1999, and also won the German Professional Riders’ Championship. At age nine he was purchased by Tim Holekamp and over the next eight years, under Darren Chiacchia, became the most accomplished stallion in the sport, world-wide. He won the 2003 individual Pan-Am gold medal, the 2004 Rolex CCI**** (new format), and then earned the 2004 Olympic team bronze medal at Athens. Windfall retired in 2009 with the second most award points of any horse in the history of Eventing in the U.S. He remains arguably the top stallion alive in the world, of any breed, in this sport. His approximately 200 foals all over the world carry on his reputation.  A week ago, we published a photo and brief update on Windfall’s new dressage career. Owner Tim Holekamp kindly sent us this article detailing the full story.  Thanks to Tim for writing, and thank you for reading.

Windfall and Cheryl. Photo by Tim Holekamp.

 From Tim Holekamp:

Surely there are a lot of aged former Three-Day-Event stars still out there? One doesn’t hear much about many of them for the most part. Maybe some are school horses, maybe some are just enjoying pasture life. One has to assume that not all of them are sound, as upper level Eventing does tend to take its toll on joints and soft tissue.

Windfall enjoyed ten years of upper level eventing and retired fully sound on no medications at our farm in 2009 at age 17. He really did not have any reason to become a pasture ornament, and so he didn’t. My wife Cheryl kept him going on the flat, and since she is a USDF gold-medalist, now also a candidate for an “S” dressage judge’s license, and is absolutely crazy about Windfall, it came as no surprise that she began teaching him those little “tricks” that even four-star event horses don’t learn, the very difficult FEI dressage movements.

Not that Windfall wasn’t already a bit of a dressage phenomenon, holding the all-time record for the highest CCI**** dressage score at Rolex for a number of years (78+%). However, there is a considerable distance between four-star dressage tests and Grand Prix, a chasm that only a handful of successful upper level event horses have ever crossed, perhaps NONE who had won a CCI**** in their careers.

When Robert Dover was coaching him back in his Team days, he commented that he thought it would be possible for Windfall to learn and perform the Grand Prix movements. The idea was planted, and Cheryl kind of worked at it for fun, little by little, being careful to mind Windfall’s soundness and comfort. No medicines needed.

In fact, his groom for many years, Cristin Stoop, came to our Missouri farm to ride him as a demo horse at the ICP workshops (USEA’s Instructor Certification Program) we hosted for upper level instructor candidates, as did Callie Judy. Every time he finished his cross country jumping lessons in those workshops he ambled back to the barn with a big grin on his face – no really, he did!

And as time went on, and no soundness problems of any kind arose, it became more and more clear that he was eager to learn even the trickiest of the tricks. His pirouettes came without any trouble, and then the passage and piaffe, with more and more lift and rhythm, until they reached at least the “satisfactory” level.

The hard part turned out to be the single tempis. He could do them, but preferred to just canter out away from them after four or so. Old habits die hard, and good event horses, if nothing else, are forward-thinking at all times. Cheryl just kept chipping away at this, until those 15 flying changes in a row came this summer, almost like a break-through.

And so, with a combined age of 82, Cheryl and Windfall decided to take the shot, at a public venue, at Grand Prix, just once and only once. The timing worked out to do this at the Hoosier Horse Park on September 14 and 15. Cheryl had done this Grand Prix thing before, with our homebred Trakehner mare Hera.  But she had not been in a dressage ring in a saddle in five years, and Windfall in four. So there was a lot of what we will just call “angst” going into it. The goal was to prove competence, which Cheryl hoped would translate out to a 60%. An arbitrary line indeed, but reasonable, and NOT a red line.

Off they went in the trailer one morning, big smiles all around. She took great care to not leave out the tiniest detail of good trailering, and plenty of time was allowed to get adjusted to the strange place the day before the first of two rides. The Hoosier Horse Park was the venue of the 1987 Pam-Am Games, where Peter Gray won the individual bronze medal in Eventing on another ATA stallion, the great Amiego.

On the first day, they entered at A with Alacrity, performed the test accurately, but without the same quality of the harder movements as they did at home and Cheryl says she made some riding mistakes. The score came back 58. 51%. Sigh. That night she found it hard to sleep, a problem she virtually never has. Why? Because she worried about letting Windfall down. There was no doubt whatever that if she could string together a complete test with movement qualities that he was producing at home consistently, a score well into the 60s was there for her to grab, like the golden ring on the merry-go-round. But it was up to her, not him, in her mind. Five years out of competition weighs hard on one’s confidence.

Sunday came bright and clear with a mid-70s temperature and a light breeze. Perfect. The tack was just right, the horse groomed, braided, and spiffed to near-perfection. The warm-up went well, and once again, in they cantered. This time things were better, for sure. But later when she reviewed the video, riding errors were found that made Cheryl into an angry bird, at herself. And yet it seemed like it just might make that magic number anyway. We waited, and waited, and back came the score: 59.22%!

Argghhhh. But one player just could not have cared less – Windfall. He was so happy to be “out there” again, and trying his best, and winning applause, and showing off his stuff. It was a fabulous success. Just ask him, he is 21 years old and still grinning like a boy, as he heads to his pasture.

Photo by Tim Holekamp.

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