Gaily in front of the stock whip, The horses come galloping home
Leaping and bucking and playing, With sides all a lather of foam
But painfully slowly behind them, With head to the back of the fold
And trying so gamely to follow, Comes limping the Pearl of Them All
He is stumbling and stiff in the shoulder, With splints from the hoof to the knee,
But never a horse on the Station, Has half such a spirit as he...
No journey has ever yet beat him, No day was too heavy or hard
He was King of the camp and the muster, And pride of wings of the yard
But time is relentless to follow, The best of us bound to his call
I have only this kindness to offer, As gift to the Pearl of Them All
Here hold him out there by the yard wing, And don't let him know why I sigh
Turn his head to you Mate just a little, 'Cause I can't bear his eyes to meet mine
Oh Stand still old boy, just for a moment, These tears how they blind as they fall,
Now God help my hand to be steady, And Good Bye to the Pearl of them All
(With thanks to Slim Dusty...)
This week I laid to rest another champion stallion. A small horse with the gentlest nature and the biggest heart. He had lived 27 years on this earth - his last 17 with us at Raglan. In our 7 years competing together he won every trophy imaginable at Advanced level. And in his 10 years of retirement he spent many hours dozing as he looked out over the Raglan Harbour. This week I got to say goodbye to the horse that launched my dressage career - a horse so dear in my heart - Belmont Golden Boy.
"Mr B" was born in 1986. His sire was the Dutch stallion Ramzes II, who was one of the first warmblood stallions to leave his mark in New Zealand. The dam was Venetia - a stationbred with mostly Arab and TB lines. The breeder was Wendy Hayward. I'm sure as a foal he was as cute as a button - four white socks and a white blaze marking his bright chestnut coat. As a young horse he was sold to Howard Hunter for his daughter Sandy Fryatt to ride and this is where the "Belmont" prefix was added to his name as he joined the ranks as an eventer.
Sandy Fryatt recalls "Mick, myself and Howard went on a horse hunting trip back in 1988 after having some success eventing and Mark Todd having just won the Olympics - everyone in the NZ horse world was fired up! We travelled miles into the outbacks of the lower north Island looking at all sorts. Mick has a very good eye for a horse and we finally came across two Ramzee II colts in the paddocks of Wendy Hayward out the back of Pahiatua. Both unbroken 2 and 3 year olds which took our breaths away as they floated past us with their Ramzee's presence and movement. One a beautiful grey which went on to become Belmont Chatswood with the Fryatt's- advance eventer and the other Belmont Golden Boy.
I asked Sandy what she remembered about Mr B in his youth... "One of the things that sticks out in my mind was when Golden Boy first came back to live with us - he used to play hard to catch! He'd let you walk up to him in the paddock - you'd lead him 20 metres then he'd decide - Nah - I'm out of here and spin round and bugger off! He was too strong for even Mick to keep hold of so Mick had a plan to catch him next time with a long l rope and tie the rope to the power pole in the paddock - next time he tried it - he couldn't get away and just lay down and ate grass - he never tried that trick again!"
The other thing he used to do when we stood him at stud in Otaki was he use to go roaring down to the covering barn where his in season mare would be waiting for him patiently - Mick would be skiing beside him to stay with him - then he'd get in there to meet his mating partner and decide she wasn't good enough and start trying to bugger off back out the door! He loved to play hard to get!
So how did I come across this lovely horse that would start my dressage career and also whet my interest for breeding sport horses and standing stallions at stud? I had been riding a wonderful old eventer of the Fryatt's called Belmont Warendorf who I had taken to Pony Club Champs and sat my "A" certificate on him. When it came time to return him to Otaki I was left with no horse to ride. I remember Golden Boy as the small chestnut stallion that was never in work - recovering from a tendon injury - and he just sat in the stallion paddock and bred a bit. When Sandy and Mick offered me him to take home I remember ringing Mum and Dad and saying "We are going to need to build some high fences - I'm bringing home a stallion!"
And so it was. We built a higher fence. We built a breeding pen. And suddenly my family started to learn the ins and out (excuse the pun) of horse breeding.
My first dressage show with Mr B was at Kihikihi in October of 1996. His book shows he won both the Elementary 3.3 and the 4.1 before travelling to Taupo the very next day for a first and a second. I was suitably hooked on dressage! What an easy sport! It was all win win win! He was one of the very first stallions out competing in the Waikato / Auckland area. No stallion sashes or bridle tags in those days! And there was no flash horse truck either. We got about in a single horse float pulled by an old dungie ute.
We progressed steadily through the grades, Medium in 1997, Open Medium in 1998 and in October of 2000 we started our Advanced / Prix St George career. I often wonder how the hell we managed to get there. I was working as a three day event groom on the European circuit during the NZ winters. So Golden Boy would get a nice four month holiday a year - before one of my mates would take him for a month or so to bring him back into work. I can recall both Jarrod Haberfield and Barbara Clarke doing this for me. My lessons were mostly with Bill Noble up to this point. I had studied with Bill in the UK and he was a good help with me to get me up and going. I'm not sure he ever thought we had any talent - I don't remember him ever saying we would go on to great things - but I was a determined girl.
Golden Boy and I made our international debut together as the sole NZ representatives at the Brisbane CDI in 2001. He was a great traveller and took to flying with ease. I remember him sharing chocolate milk and crackers with me on the flights and how easy he was to deal with. We were third in the PSG class that year at Brisbane and we were the overall winners of the "Sunshine Series" which was run over three competitions in the Queensland state. On another trip we went to the Sydney CDI and finished in the top ten in the PSG, Inter 1 and the Freestyle. Even against those big-moving tall Aussie horses the little fella and I held our own.
I remember my second to last competition season with Mr B very fondly. It was the 2002/03 season. He was for that season the very best horse on the circuit at Advanced level. He won every single Area Championship he went to including Northland, Waitemata, Auckland, Waikato, Taranaki and BOP. He was also crowned North Island Champion and in a nail biting finish was also crowned New Zealand Advanced Champion after scraping though the final trot up with a mystery lameness that was short lived and he was fine in the final test to take out the title. A National Title at long last.
In between Nationals and Horse of the Year I stayed on at Taupo to avoid the long drive home. I can recall going to dinner with John and Caroline Toomey and John singing me the Slim Dusty classic "Leave him out there in the Longyard" about a fabulous stock horse reaching retirement - and although I was to go on with Golden Boy one more year, I knew the time to retire was close. Unbelievably after winning all those other titles in his penultimate year, we had to settle for second place at the Horse of the Year Show - beaten by a whisker by Debra Gibson on the grand Irish mare Evening Edition. I myself was to blame as it was me who persuaded Deborah to come down to Hastings for the class - I even worked the mare in the few days preceding HOY so she could return to Auckland to work. But I was pleased at the same time that Deborah had won - a lovely lady and a good mare too.
I don't remember too much about our last season of competition other than we didn't win quite as prolifically as the year before. And as I loaded up for Hastings and the Horse of the Year show I knew in my heart this was to be the last Hurrah for Golden Boy and I. He was only 17 and was fit and well, but he had won all there was to win, and owed me nothing. He was never going to be great as a Grand Prix horse and rather than see him struggle I knew it was time to retire him. He was quiet and could have been a great horse for a young rider to take on, but like I said - he owed me nothing and the last thing I wanted was him to be ridden into the ground.
In my wildest dreams I had pictured a perfect end to his career - a win at the Horse of the Year Show - but that is something so perfect it was almost to scary to dream it. A happy ending - so hard to find in reality. But that's exactly how it ended - with a beautiful retirement ceremony in the main arena of the Hastings Show Grounds, with Golden Boy winning the Advanced Plate and also the Horse of the Year (Advanced) title. I was so proud of him - standing like a statue in the prize giving whilst many of the other horses were rearing and leaping around him. This was his moment, our moment, and with floods of tears in my eyes we stood to attention while the list of his victories was read out and the crowd had a chance to farewell a champion. It was not easy that day - saluting the judges for the final time, taking a final victory gallop, and dismounting in my top hat and tails for the final time. It was all coming to an end.
I rode him only one more time after the Horse of the Year Show - fittingly it was for one more gallop on Raglan beach - the place where much of our training had taken place.
And for the last ten years of his life Golden Boy stood at stud and enjoyed a well earned retirement with the Minor birds on his back and a big hillside with amazing views to graze on. In his life time he had competed the length and breadth of the North Island, made several trips to Christchurch and a couple more around Australia. He never once let himself down and was always a champion to be around.
His progeny include three international eventers who proved the gameness of the breed. Many more are seen in the dressage and pony club arenas in New Zealand. Others still are on the hunt fields and out show jumping. They are known for their springy movements and great temperaments. They are tough and hardy just like their sire.
By the end of his career he had knocked up 1000 dressage points. An incredible effort. But it wasn't the big victories that stick the most in my mind. It was those quiet moments we spent together - the rides on the beach and the cereal we would share at the shows. If he heard the clanging of plates in the truck he would line up at the door into the horsetruck and eat honeypuffs and milk off the spoon.
I got to spend a bit of time with him in his final week and was more than humbled that Mick Fryatt made the 5 hour journey up to Raglan to say his goodbyes on behalf of the family. I cuddled him so hard, cried on his shoulder, and thanked him for all he had done for me. And on a sunny spring day with both my mum and dad at his side, we laid the old boy to rest on our farm.
Goodbye to the Pearl of Them All...