My Unapologetic Road to Eventing Gold

Equestrian Ontario Magazine is proud to present to you this excerpt from “Horses Came First, Second, and Last” By Jack Le Goff.

Reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books.

The late Jack Le Goff brings us behind the scenes of the international eventing world in his newly released autobiography.

In 1990, the Canadians approached me to help train their team. I had helped them part-time for the World Equestrian Games in Stockholm in 1990, and they now asked me to coach the team for the 1991 Pan Am Games and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The Pan American Games were to be held in Cuba, not terribly famous for its three-day eventing facilities which, to put it bluntly, are nonexistent. So, Belgian rider and businessman Carl Bouck­aert, one of the most stalwart supporters of eventing in the United States, offered his Georgia farm for the three-day event champion­ships. At that time the Pan Am Games were held at the equivalent of a CCI** today. The Games upgraded to a CCIO*** a little later fol­lowing the reorganization of the star system by the FEI. Up until that time all Advanced three-day events were categorized as three-stars, including Badminton, Burghley, and the Olympic and World Games. The sheer difficulty of these competitions set them apart from all others, and the general thinking internationally was that a four-star level would both recognize the high standard and complexity of the events and reward the riders and horses who completed them successfully by offering a higher level of points and thus acknowl­edging their achievements.

Nick Holmes-Smith was then 34. He had represented Canada in two Olympics, Fontainebleau (1980) and Seoul (1988) and two World Equestrian Games, Luhmuhlen (1982), and Stockholm (1990). He was riding the gray Canadian-bred Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse Ruderpest, owned by Paul Popiel, brother of Andrew. Ruderpest got his name from a song from My Fair Lady when the character sings, “Every time we turned around, there he was, that hairy hound from Budapest. Never have I known a ruder pest.”

Stuart Black and Von Perrier, Edie Tarves-Gourlay with Socrates, and Jamie Smart and Glendevlin made up the rest of the team, which was to give me one of the great thrills of my “retirement” by winning the team gold medal. Nick and Ruderpest won the individual gold after leading from the dressage.

Those Pan Am Games will linger in my memory for a long time if only for the weather. It was freezing, with temperatures hovering between 20 and 30 degrees and the wind blowing violently. The tack shops sold out because people had not brought enough warm clothes and more importantly did not have enough blankets for their horses. Such are the vagaries of the Georgia climate.

One of the young Canadians that I had the pleasure to work with during that period was Rob Stevenson and his horse Risky Business. Rob missed the Pan Am selection and had begun to train for the Barcelona Olympics. The horse needed careful preparation, and if not handled right, he would be unsound. He was a superb horse cross-country and his show jumping was good, so we kept that part of the preparation to a minimum. In fact, as I recall we only jumped him twice in the lead-up to Barcelona and the majority of the con­ditioning was done through a mix of dressage work and swimming. I had come to appreciate the benefits of swimming horses when we were trying to minimize the impact of the fast work on Bally Cor back in the seventies, and now Risky Business reinforced its value as he began to get fitter and fitter without the pounding on those legs and feet. I even began to think that eventing could be a real triathlon of the horse if we added a swimming phase!

The Barcelona Olympics were significant for a number of reasons. The cross-country course was elevated to new heights both in terms of design and expense, and it was the last Olympics to give two medals for one performance. The high temperatures of a Spanish summer combined with the complexity of the course created an almost impossible challenge for many of the horses and the resulting falls provided the media, and in particular television, with sufficient material to almost get the sport shut down.

There was an enormous public outcry about the perceived inhu­mane treatment of event horses to the extent that the Humane Society of the United States turned its attention to the sport and called for changes to be made. It was made very clear that event­ing would now take center stage but not for the reasons we had all wished.

The Australians and the New Zealanders, thanks to the superb preparation of their horses and the experience of their riders, came out of it all with the gold and the silver medals and Matt Ryan and Kibah Tic Toc won the individual gold. Herbert Blocker and that great mare, Feine Dame, took the silver, and Blyth Tait and Messiah took the bronze. Blyth and Messiah had suffered through a disas­trous dressage test that left them in 69th place, but their incredible ability in both of the jumping phases saw them soar up the stand­ings and take the bronze medal. Thinking back on Messiah’s perfor­mance, I have to ask myself if our sport in the 21st century will allow us to see a feat like that repeated.

As it turned out, Rob Stevenson and Risky Business were able to pace themselves nicely throughout that long, hot cross-country course and finished the day with 0.8 time penalties on the stee­plechase and 47.6 time penalties on the course. The other team members for Canada were King Plantagenet and Rachel Hunter, Sir Lancelot and Nick Holmes-Smith, and Von Perrier ridden by Stuart Black. Rachel and Nick placed 49th and 53rd respectively, and Von Perrier gave me another “first”, but this one I didn’t want. In all of my years of coaching teams, I have never, ever had a horse excluded at the final inspection. At Barcelona, Von Perrier, after being jogged about eight times for the Ground Jury, was spun, which caused great disappointment to Stuart and me.


About The Book

This excerpt from Horses Came First, Second, and Last by Jack Le Goff is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com)

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