William Micklem: Friendship and Bravery and a USA Superhero

EN is excited to bring you a new series from William Micklem: Breadth As Well As Depth. The series addresses the need for breadth in eventing education and also includes his thoughts on event horse breeding, plus gives added value from the inimitable Harry Potter. Today we bring you Part 7: Friendship and Bravery and a USA Superhero. Be sure to read Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6.

A Bold Minstrel painting by Richard Stone Reeves.

Hermione got it totally right in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as she talked about the qualities of a person that were really important. “I’m not as good as you,” said Harry … “Me!” said Hermione. “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things — friendship and bravery …” Without doubt these are two key qualities, shown in abundance by those who have gone into battle for their country, not just by those in a sporting arena but also in war.

Many in Europe have recently been honoring the almost 500,000 who died in the mud at the battle of Passendaele a hundred years ago in the First World War. It was a terrible and largely senseless waste of life and the effects are still being felt today. Huge potential and possibilities were lost in this battle, and in addition who knows how these men may have impacted each of our lives if they had lived. So as we strive hard to do well in our sport it is good to have some perspective.

A sense of perspective

To have a breadth of perspective is a powerful tool for any competitor as they work to handle the successes, failures and varied challenges of their life. Part of this perspective is also appreciating how many people, usually totally unknown, play a part in our progress and achievements.

I was reminded of this by one aspect of the huge response to my recent article about the best event horses of all time. I had left out some heroic horses that had a huge breadth of ability and fully deserved to be in any list of exceptional event horses. There were three in particular: Kim Severson’s Winsome Adante and Rachel Bayliss’s wonderful pair Mystic Minstrel and Gurgle The Greek.

What neither Kim Severson nor Rachel Bayliss knew was that indirectly their successes owed much to my Father, Dick Micklem, or more precisely his collection of Weatherby Thoroughbred stud books, which before the days of electronic communication were a vital aid for breeders. When I was 9 years old a local Cornish baker, Jimmy Snell, came to our home for many evenings over a period of about a month, searching within these books with my Father.

The result of these meetings was the arrival in 1962 of two Hunter Improvement Society (HIS) Thoroughbred stallions at Redruth station. In those days it was still normal to travel horses by train. I had never seem such muscling on horses. Both were magnificent chestnuts, one called Fair Gledhill and the other one I cannot remember or discover. But how well I remember the site of these two striking stallions being ridden through the middle of the town by my brother John, just 13, and my 16-year-old sister Marianne, to our home four miles away.

The reason for this story is that Jimmy Snell went on to stand a number of successful Thoroughbred stallions, including Saunter, the sire of Winsome Adante, and Derrick, the sire of Mystic Minstrel. And it all began with a set of Weatherby’s stud books in our very small sitting room!

The wonderful Winsome Adante

Winsome Adante is the second highest points winner of all time in the USEA and held the title himself for nearly a decade. Brilliantly produced and ridden by Kim Severson, he was an extraordinarily consistent winner at the highest level for six years and a cornerstone for the USA team during this time.

Having won Blenheim CCI3* in 2001, Winsome Adante took the first of his three Rolex CCI4* wins the following year. Then it was team gold and sixth individual at the World Equestrian Games in Spain, and team bronze and individual silver in the Athens Olympics in 2004, followed by another WEG appearance in Aachen, where the team finished fourth, and a classy third at Badminton in 2007.

Winsome Adante was bred in England, by Saunter out of a mare that was barely 15.2. He was 84.5% Thoroughbred, 6% Irish Draught and 9.5% Anglo Arabian. The Arabian genes come from the grandsire of his dam, Carbrooke Surprise, who also sired a little 15.3 that I once worked with and adored called Carbrooke Charles. He first show jumped internationally with Caroline Bradley, before changing to eventing at Junior level. Then when he was 19 he partnered his 19-year-old rider, Sonya Duke, around Badminton in long format days, jumping a wonderful clear show jumping round to finish.

Kim Severson is a wonderful example of someone who leaves no stone unturned in her preparation. She is also a great student, who is skilled at ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ and fitting what she needs into one cohesive whole. As a result she has no obvious weakness in any of the phases. As Jimmy Wofford says, “Kim has incredible feel, and the extremely unusual ability to never repeat a recognized error.”

Rachel the remarkable

Rachel Bayliss was cut from the same mould as Kim. She was originally spotted as a potential international dressage rider and as a result of a scholarship was given help by some of Europe’s best dressage trainers. But her heart was always in eventing and cross country riding and she always proved difficult to beat having inevitably established a solid lead in the dressage.

Rachel is probably most famous for sliding under the trakehner fence at Badminton on Gurgle The Greek in 1973 without fault. They changed the rules after this! It took Rachel two years to get his confidence back with ditches but she persevered and he became a great champion.

Gurgle was a full Thoroughbred who at the beginning used to buck Rachel off with great regularity. He also had an extraordinary gallop and Rachel still has the postcard, from champion steeplechase trainer Fred Winter, asking her when she was going to put Gurgle in training with him as he thought he could make a 2 mile chaser!

Mystic Minstrel was 75% Thoroughbred by Derrick, whose sire Persian Gulf was the very successful sire and half brother of Precipitation, who was the sire of both European super sire Furioso and Irish show jumping legendary sire Prefairy. Derrick’s dam was by My Babu, by Djebel, by Tourbillon — all extraordinary influences on successful sport horse breeding.

As part of the British team Rachel and Mystic Minstrel won gold in the 1982 World Championships in Luhmühlen, and then the following year individual gold at the European Championships. That same year they represented Britain in pure dressage at Prix St George and Intermediare level.

Rachel says that Mystic Minstrel got a few strange looks when her very fit horse worked with the rather rotund dressage horses! Rachel still coaches and is still what she describes as being very purist. “I find it offensive to see horses strapped down in gadgets or doing rolkur.”

The best eventing dressage test I have seen

People talk of dressage standards in eventing rising each year. In general it is true but there are many exceptions, including Mystic Minstrel, who regularly scored over 80%. The best dressage test I have seen in eventing was in 1977 in Aschselschwang, Germany, when a stallion called Habicht, ridden by Martin Plewa, produced an 86% test. Not surprisingly he won the whole event, which was at three-star level. The interest here for USA breeders is that Habicht was the sire of Ingrid Klimke’s prolific winner, the stallion Windfall.

Tim Holekamp made the inspired decision to bring Windfall to the USA, where he was competed so successfully by Darren Chiacchia that he is currently third in the all time USEA points list. He has been a very special addition to the USA breeding world with his outstanding performance and genes.

However, it is important to understand that although registered and approved as a Trakehner stallion, Windfall is in fact 62% Thoroughbred, 12.5% Arab and just 25% Trakehner. So as I pointed out with the German event horses, it is important for breeders to realize that the genetic recipe for each brand of sport horse can vary enormously. Another example would be William Fox-Pitt’s Badminton and Burghley winner Tamarillo, who is often described as Arab, but was actually 58% Thoroughbred.

The superhero known as ‘Fatty’

I have an addition to my list of ‘best of all time’ event horses, and also an apology. The horse I forgot was a champion conformation hunter, eventer and show jumper. He was twice part of the event team that won team gold in Eventing at the Pan American Games and then went on to the Tokyo Olympics, where he was part of the silver medal winning team.

Following that, he became a USET show jumper, competing on many Nations Cup teams, winning team silver in the Pan Games, and finishing 9th individually at the World Championships. He was the totally beautiful horse whose stable name was Fatty, because he did himself well. He was of course the grey legend Bold Minstrel, and he was big (16.3), beautiful, brave, and blessed with huge talent.

Bill Haggard rode Bold Minstrel initially, taking him to two Pan American Games, finishing ninth and fourth individually and winning many conformation hunter championships on the A circuit. While Haggard never had any formal training, he competed at the highest levels of sport. From steeplechasing to show hunters to eventing, Haggard proved himself over and over again as one of the top riders of his time.

They were selected as non-travelling alternates for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, but when Mike Plumb’s horse had to be euthanized on the flight to Japan and left the top rider without a mount for the Olympics, a phone call was placed to Mr. Haggard asking for the use of Bold Minstrel.

Although Mr. Haggard had hoped that the team wanted him in addition to his great horse, he generously loaned the team Fatty and flew on the plane with him to Tokyo. Mike Plumb only got to ride Bold Minstrel for two weeks before competing in the Olympics, but their excellent dressage ride, clear round in jumping, and good round on cross-country combined for a 15th place finish individually and a team silver medal.

After the ’64 Olympics, Bill Steinkraus pleaded with Mr. Haggard to let him turn Fatty into a Nations Cup horse. After three years, Mr. Haggard gave in and Steinkraus picked up the ride on Bold Minstrel. Starting in 1967 when he was 15 and continuing until Bold Minstrel was 18 they had huge international success as members of the US show jumping team.

Bold Minstrel even won three classes at Lucerne in 1970 when he was 18-years-old. At the 1967 Pan Am Games, Steinkraus and Bold Minstrel finished ninth individually and were part of the silver medal US team. They were also ninth individually at the World Championships in La Baule in 1970.

The breeding of a superhero

Bold Minstrel was 75% Thoroughbred and bred for the job. By the Thoroughbred stallion Bold and Bad, whose sire Blue Larkspur is in the four generation pedigree of 37 champion jumping horses, he was out of a half-bred hunter mare by the Thoroughbred Royal Minstrel. Royal Minstrel’s sire was Tetratema, the undefeated champion sprinter, whose sire was the extraordinary spotted stallion The Tetrarch, also unbeaten on the racecourse.

The Tetrarch

The Tetrarch was one off the first Thoroughbred horses I was aware of as a child because of the white spots all over him. By a strange coincidence when I first came to Ireland I worked for a time just a mile from where he was born and is buried at Ballylinch Stud in Co. Kilkenny, and as every year goes by I am increasingly aware of his importance in both racing and sport horse breeding.

The Tetrarch and Tetratema’s stallion boxes at Ballylinch Stud in Co. Kilkenny are architectural gems with mosaics of their names on the floor and glazing in the roof so they could see the moon and stars at night, or perhaps see Harry Potter flying by! The Tetrarch was plagued by infertility and only sired 130 foals in his life, but still enough to put him in the list of top four sires three times. He has left a lasting legacy with horses on the racecourse and in eventing.

The Tetrarch was voted the best British-trained 2-year-old of the 20th century according to the National Horseracing Museum in the UK, and in the USA the Thoroughbred Heritage website calls The Tetrarch “probably the greatest two-year-old of all time” and “possibly the greatest runner ever.” In addition his daughter, Mumtaz Mahal, went on to become one of the most important broodmares of the 20th century. 

Friendship and bravery

Bill Steinkraus, who had cherished Bold Minstrel ever since her first saw him as a 5 year old, said, “Bold Minstrel had everything I look for in a jumper — courage, intelligence, a phenomenal jumping mechanism, and scope to spare.” But what does scope to spare mean? My ‘best of all time’ horses all had the scope to jump over 6-foot-6 (2 meters), but Bold Minstrel did better.

By all accounts his most thrilling victory with Bill Steinkraus was the International Puissance indoors at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden in 1967, when he jumped a record equaling height of 7-foot-3 (2.21 meters). Bill Haggard had a bookshelf built in his home to the exact dimensions of the 7-foot-3 wall and placed the trophy on top of it, just to remind himself of Bold Minstrel’s huge ability and bravery.

Harry Potter said, “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other” and jumping a 7-foot-3 Puissance wall must be one of those things, and another must be just completing an international three-day event. So we are back to friendship and bravery again. Great challenges require friendship and bravery, especially in the horse world, and it has to be a two-way street.

As John Ledingham once said to me as a first response when I asked him about his long time Derby and Grand Prix show jumping partner, Kilbaha:“God I loved that horse.”

Next time: BREADTH AS WELL AS DEPTH and Lessons from Harry Potter

Part 8 – The Unheralded USA Superhero and Grit & Simplicity