They put him down this week. Sorry for the poor image, it’s all I have.
“Hotshot” (barn name “BJ” – stood for “Big Jerk”) was my old coach Lori’s old Grand-Prix jumper. She bought him when he was three and showed him quite successfully for a number of years. Eventually, when he was approaching his 20′s, it became clear that his body wouldn’t stand up to the level of competition, (20 is getting up there for a horse) so she retired him.
Around the same time, I needed a better horse to ride in low amateur jumper. I wasn’t the only one in need of a partner: BJ had not taken well to retirement. The first time Lori loaded the other horses on the trailer to go to a show and left him behind, he went berserk. It seemed like a good fit: BJ wasn’t in shape to handle 5′ jumps anymore but 3’9″ was no problem, and I got to ride an absolute veteran.
There are very few horses for who are not completely content with a life of eating grass every day, and BJ was one of those few. He loved to jump, and he loved to compete. This is a large part of what made him so special. In the show ring, he grew a foot taller and would almost strut, no doubt thinking “all of these people are here to see me“.
He was not malicious in the slightest, but you always had to watch him carefully because he enjoyed mischief. One of his favorite things to do was get loose at horse shows and go for a gallop around the show grounds, gleefully staying one step ahead of the people trying to catch him.
At the same time, he could be very forgiving. Once at the Atlantic Winter Fair, while making final preparations to go warm up for our class, we were suddenly surrounded by a large crowed of small children and their parents. A lot of horses are easily startled or agitated in such situations but BJ just patiently stood and waited. He even tolerated one small child whacking him on the flank with a balloon. (Many horses would have gone ballistic and put someone in the hospital as a result of that – parents of city kids need to get a clue about animals, but that’s another story). The whole time he had the air of a celebrity receiving his adoring fans. He had quite an ego.
Although very experienced, he was by no means an easy horse to ride. The first time I got on him he bolted on me and took me for a nice long gallop around the arena. When I finally managed to get him stopped, Lori said, “Well, you didn’t fall off like the last person I put on him”.
In the photo I’ve posted you can see I’m holding two sets of reins. The bit in his mouth is called a “gag”, and it’s a pretty hefty piece of hardware. If one thing defined BJ it was his desire to go fast: whether you asked him to or not. When Lori first started riding him she got out of control in the show ring and ended up actually jumping out of the arena and going for a gallop around the show grounds on more than one occasion. Fortunately he had mellowed a little by the time I got to ride him.
BJ also was a bit unconventional in his way of going. Jumping requires a horse to package a lot of energy, and for most horses this means a long, powerful stride at the canter. BJ was quite the opposite – he had a short step to begin with, and preferred to bounce like a sewing machine. I would routinely put 9 strides between jumps that would ordinarily be done in 5 or 6. I had to learn to not worry about strides and just sit up and look where I was going. He compensated for his short step by simply increasing his rhythm: picture his feet flying everywhere. We never had problems with the clock – timed jump-offs were his strong suit.
BJ and I had numerous memorable times together. We almost smashed into Ian Miller in a warm-up ring once. We won the first class I ever entered at an out-of-province show by just flat out running like hell, each of us feeding off the other’s energy. Normally in a jump off one makes efficient turns and saves time that way – we just galloped as fast as we could. No finesse, just speed.
My favorite memory of him is from the Collingwood Horse Show, which was at the time the largest out-door horse show in North America. BJ and I posted a double clear in a “mini-prix” class (tougher course, larger than usual prize money) and had a fast-enough time in the jump-off to come second, out of a field of about 50. This was especially important to me because my Grandfather, who always loved horses and, via my mother, is probably responsible for my own horse-craziness, was watching. I have such a vivid memory of the that class’s victory gallop. I was thinking “Grandpa finally got to see me ride, and see me win something”. My Grandfather passed away not long after that.
It’s been six years since I showed him. I last went to visit him in September. He was looking old and thin, but even so he was as cheerful and as glad for attention as always. He was the kind of horse who always had an alert look on his face, and would always put his ears up when he saw you. He spent his last years turned out with Lori’s various foals, and seemed to really enjoy acting like a mother hen.
He had so much talent and so much personality, and I am lucky to have known him. I’m feeling more than a little sad right now.