I am thrilled that Jade is the third horse to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Following her barn sister and showing buddy, Tawnys Dunit who was the first horse to be honoured. As I was literally there from the beginning, I watched her being born, I can tell her whole story.
I can’t write about Jade without first talking about her mother, Sophie (Rowley Mink). Sophie’s mother was one of the first quarter horses I ever saw and I remember that she was to me exactly what I imagined a QH should be. In 1985, her daughter came up for sale locally and I went, mostly out of curiosity, with no intention of buying another horse. By then I had bought a QH that I’d had since a weanling, even though I was finding her a bit too much horse for me. When I first saw Sophie, she wasn’t a very attractive prospect. She was extremely fat, as wide as she was high and had completely rubbed her mane and tail out with sweet itch. Anyway, cutting a long story short I ended up having her on breeding loan.
She had a very uncomplimentary name I remember and being a fan of the TV series MASH, I named her Sophie after Colonel Potter’s horse! The next year her first foal was still born and I was faced with the prospect of sending her back. However, I was already in love with her kind temperament and attitude and I had the feeling she was just what I needed, so I put my own horse on the market and bought her. The best £1000 I have ever spent.
Sophie had an incredible mind, she was so laid back and easy that it made being around her a total pleasure. At that time in my life she was exactly what I needed because a succession of problem horses had made me nervous of riding and brought me close to giving up. Even so, in the beginning, I used to walk her like a dog and climb on and off her depending on what we met, trying to rebuild my confidence. She had been an unbroken five y.o., when I first got her but despite being very green, there was something about her steady unflappable attitude that made the difference and the rest is history. Without her I doubt I’d be riding now.
As a bonus Sophie was also very well bred with many of the most sort after foundation blood-lines, appearing close up in her pedigree, something which now with my increased knowledge and interest in breeding has been a great asset. Sophie is a granddaughter of the great mare producer Gay Bar King and she goes back to King five times and Old Sorrel seven times
Sophie quickly made me realise that horses could be an absolute joy after all. My first ambition was to be able to hack out and enjoy the experience. Quickly I wanted to do more and she was the first horse I ever felt confident to take to a show by myself, because she was never any different wherever she was. In those days of course I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, but then few of us did, and with limited training, I could just point her and pretty much leave her alone and she would do her best to oblige me. I was able to get experience without ever worrying about how my horse would behave, which was the key to the start of my love of being at horse shows. I had a few seasons showing her in pleasure and trail, both learning the best we could as we went along. I consider her to have been a very good trail horse and had my knowledge and experience been greater, she might have been as good as Jade.
I remember in those early days, trying not to think about how much I loved this horse and what she had done to fulfil so many dreams. As it was, my worst fears happened and her career was cut short. At the age of about eight Sophie injured her knee, after a trainer got on her at a clinic, (something which I haven’t allowed since) and for a couple of seasons, I struggled to keep her sound, but she was never really right again. In the days when we only had one single judged AQHA show a year, she finished her career with 13 performance points.
I decided to try and breed a ‘replacement’ for her. I wasn’t sure about what stallion to use when I meet Francesca Sternberg at a show I was visiting in the ‘States’. I knew she had bought a cutting stallion, and when I first saw Professors Gold, I remember that I liked him very much. He was very correct, a nice mover and seemed to have that laid back temperament that I have come to love. My only reservation was that he was small, 14.1hh, I believe. I like small horses but Sophie was only 14 hands and I was concerned that the foal might be as small or smaller. However everything else about him was right to me so I went ahead.
The following spring Jade was born, she was only the second foal I had ever bred, so I don’t think I really realised how easy she was, I suppose I assumed all foals were this way! I often joke now that she was born broke; she was certainly easy. My turn out paddock was on the other side of the village, and from day one I led her there and back twice a day with no help, leading the foal, her mother following on. When she was very young she also struck up a real friendship with my dog Rudi, my first German Shephard, who really adored Jade. Rudi would often go missing and I’d find dog and foal stretched out together in the sun! Jade took weaning in her stride, even her first show as a yearling was nothing to her, she was just the easiest horse you could wish for, just as her mother had always been.
When Jade was three I sent her to David Deptford, to be started. I had handled her a lot on the ground, saddled and sat on her, but I had no facilities at home and couldn’t ride as regularly as I’d like. I also didn’t consider I had enough experience. David did a great job, starting her quietly and riding her for about a month, before I took her home. I showed her lightly in that year. At the breed show she was second behind one of Sterling Quarter Horses’ junior pleasure horses. Considering she had had so little training I was very proud of her. Best of all she showed that she was every bit as sane and easy going as her mother. However, even with this success she was still very green. At the time I had owned Tawnys Dunit (a mare with whom I won six European Championships) for about a year, so I knew what it was like to have a broke horse, and this was what I wanted for Jade. I had always admired the consistency and way of going of Doug Allen’s horses and back in those days he was training pleasure and all round horses. When she was four I made the difficult decision to sent Jade to Germany where Doug was living at the time, but it was worth it and he made a great job of training her. He had her for six months and her early training was the basis of everything we achieved.
As a five year old I started showing her seriously, taking both her and my great horse, Tawnys Dunit to shows where Jade was my junior horse. They were both so exceptionally minded that I used to travel all over, including Europe, on my own with no help. I remember one show in Belgium I did 24 classes over three days, often with two horses in the same class and handing the ‘spare ‘to any ‘stranger’ who looked free. I couldn’t do it nowadays…..couldn’t remember that many patterns!! I took her to the European Champs at Aachen, and she won the German Maturity. That year she also won the first of 29 International Highpoint awards.
This little horse (she actually made 14.3hh) was an absolute joy to me. I retired Tawnys Dunit from showing and then she died suddenly, and she was a very hard act to follow.
To have a home bred youngster that was as nice a horse as Jade coming up behind her, was really incredible.
As a show horse Jade excelled, earning 394 AQHA points in six events and 20 Amateur all-rounds. She won over $12,000.00 in the incentive fund and qualified for the World 35 times. Her all-rounds weren’t won by entering every possible class. I never chased them and I never showed her in any English events and she wouldn’t halter which is why she has no open all-rounds ( you need to show in halter to qualify). We just showed Pleasure, Trail and Western Riding, sometimes Horsemanship and Showmanship, but she was competitive in all. However, she excelled in Trail gaining her Open and Amateur Superiors and, in all, 192 AQHA Trail points. One season, I remember she won 21 out of 23 AQHA trail classes.
I really think she was an exceptional trail horse and I rated her even better than Tawnys Dunit, who won the senior European Trail Championship two years in a row. I didn’t show her at the European Championships as much as I would have liked because it moved to Kreuth, which made it financially and logistically just too difficult to get to However, in 2003 I took her to Italy as I thought it would be her last chance at a European title. She made it to five finals and won the silver medal for Amateur Trail and bronze for Senior Trail. This was over Tim Kimura courses, at a time when we in the UK were still doing simple trot overs and T- shaped side passes and there wasn’t a venue that had more than half a dozen poles! I was extremely proud of her, mostly because she had been such a great trail horse and I felt she deserved it on her show record.
. She was the UK’s first home bred horse to win a performance Superior award, going on to win four Superiors in total, which hasn’t been equalled. She was forth in the list of all time UK owned point earners, but all the horses above her had come from the states with big show records. She was the highpoint home bred-horse.
Jade excelled as a show horse, but she was so much more than that. She was always the same, consistently sensible horse, who took incredible care of me, wherever she was. I once did a demo at a steam fair in East Anglia, stepping in for Ann Carter who didn’t think her young horse would cope. I remember that the local zoo had staked out various animals around the arena. There were kids everywhere, hot air balloons and a ploughing match going on. The radio mike broke so I had to ride holding a hand held mike and I did trail and lead changes and ended up doing it all without a bridle! As this scenario presented itself, I thought it might test even Jade, but I wasn’t worried, her attitude was always the same, and she never put a foot wrong. Who’d have thought a horse could be special enough that someone who was once too scared to ride could take the bridle off, in all that chaos, without a second thought. This was why she was so special to me, not because of her show record.
It is the minds of horses like Jade that set them apart, people always thought I must practice every day, when in fact for the whole time I was riding and showing Jade, I didn’t even have an arena. I used to ride thirty minutes to my friend’s arena. In the days when I had both, I would ride one and lead the other, tie one to the fence while I worked one and then swap saddles, ride the other and go back home.
I recognised what an asset I had in Sophie and bred from her largely because of that mind; Jade had it too, in spades. Jade was also the most intelligent horse I have ever had dealings with. She was not affectionate however, and neither was her mother. She didn’t like fuss, and the older she got the more she acted like a Prima Donna!! She would pull all sorts of faces and didn’t suffer fools! The vet couldn’t get near her with a syringe, but he would hand it to me and I wouldn’t even need to put a halter on her. We had a complete understanding and mutual respect. I have never enjoyed a communication with another horse like we had together. I come closest with Greg, but then he is my other Sophie baby!
Jade ended her career at Arena UK when she slipped on the waxed surface during a Western Riding class. I never got her back to full health after that.
My efforts to continue Sophie’s dynasty though Jade, haven’t been plain sailing. Her first foal was Jordy, (Justa Lil Jaded), I showed him a few times and I loved this horse. He was quiet, sensible and ‘feely’ all the attributes that made Jade such a joy to ride. However, after a number of falls as a four year old, one very scary one which resulted in both him and me somersaulting, my vet found an old fracture in his neck, which had new bone pressing on his spinal cord. The vets had no suggestion other than to try prolonged rest, to see where we were once it settled, so he had nearly two years off. With Lees help I got him back in work, a rather green seven year old, with a tendency to trip, which made riding him a bit nerve racking, but he went lame again and the experts thought it all pointed towards his neck injury. At my family’s request I stopped riding him. It was such a shame as I think he would have been as nice as Jade. When it was obvious he was never going to be sound, I tried to breed again and I was thrilled to have a filly. However after a few weeks it became obvious that she had lordosis of the spine. She was never viable as a riding horse and was never totally sound even in the field.
At the grand age of 23 and with great trepidation on my part, Jade produced Joe, ¾ brother to Jordy. Joe (Ebonized) is six now and for various reasons, mostly because I still enjoy showing Greg, he hasn’t been shown much yet, but I’m in no hurry. I have learnt the hard way not to count my chickens but I like him very much. Very quiet, very lazy and not as generous as Jade (in that gelding way!), but very capable, great minded and so talented. He is like his mother in that he is an odd combination of being incredibly light and ‘feely’ but also very laid back, which suits me so well. What he is capable of when he’s just being natural blows my mind and I am doing my best to nurture his abilities and stay out of his way as much as possible! He is my last chance at continuing this ‘line’, started by his Grandmother, and for that reason he means a lot to me. I can only hope and pray one day he will be even half as nice and as much fun as his mother.
I’m sure I am a real bore when it comes to Jade and I know I was smug as hell when I was showing her, smug in the knowledge that there wasn’t a horse on the showground or even on the planet, that I’d rather be riding. I can guarantee that no one had more fun or appreciated a horse more than I did my little bay mare. If I sound proud of what she achieved, I am, but it’s never been about that. Because of her and her mother, brother and two sons, this pony mad kid who got to the point of dreading stepping onto a horse, has had 35 years of achieving the sort of connection with horses I could have only ever dreamed of.