King Eider, the much-loved “character” who competed at 10 five-star events with Louisa Milne Home, was put down on 12 July at the age of 22.
The Toulon son, fondly known as Duck, had been enjoying his retirement and nannying Louisa’s younger horses, when he was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer.
“It was very unexpected,” Louisa told H&H. “He’d been on great form and was still being ridden, and very much having fun until the end.”
Louisa and her mum Caroline bought Duck as a four-year-old from Alistair Gatherum, who had imported the 17.1hh warmblood gelding from Belgium.
“We had known Duck since he was two and Mum always really liked him. He was enormous and very gangly, it took a long time for him to grow into himself but he grew into a very smart horse,” said Louisa.
Louisa and Duck worked their way up the ranks, completing their first advanced together at Eglinton in 2009. In 2011 they made their five-star debut (then four-star) at Luhmühlen, where they jumped clear across country and finished in 19th place. The same year they completed their first Burghley.
In 2013 their Badminton debut, which had been delayed by the event’s cancellation in 2012 owing to heavy rainfall, was put in doubt when following Duck’s last preparation run at Burnham Markert he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a condition that causes an irregular and fast heart rate. After undergoing a veterinary procedure to correct this, he was given the all clear to compete. That year Duck was one of only 12 horses to jump clear across country at both Badminton and Burghley.
Of their 10 five-star starts Louisa and Duck completed Burghley five times and Badminton three times, and in 2015 the pair were long-listed for the 2015 European Championships at Blair Castle.
“He was a five-star horse through and through – and he had no thoroughbred in him at all,” said Louisa.
“He was always sound and you never had to worry on the day of a trot-up, he always came out and lit up. He loved a party and we had a lot of fun together. At one Burghley we were first to go in the cross-country and it was one of his best rounds. We just got to go out and do our own thing. He was a very nice horse to go first on.”
Duck developed a large following and Louisa said he very much enjoyed the crowds.
“He was always looking for the cameras. He was such a friendly horse and very happy to stand and have his photo taken. I’m glad his time was before Covid because he would not have appreciated no crowds!,” said Louisa.
“He also had the biggest character – and wasn’t above making me look stupid. We really had to practise skinny fences as he could run out, not because he couldn’t jump them but because he found it very entertaining. After one Badminton we went to my local event at Hopetoun and had two run-outs at a skinny. You could see the character pouring out of him at that event – the photos of him were highly amusing, he just looked like the naughtiest schoolboy.
“We also used to have to put a clip on his stable door or he’d let himself out and at one Badminton he let himself out and took himself to the lorry. He also once galloped back from a trot-up at Burghley. He had to have very high fences at home or he’d jump out – and he used to go nuts in the field when he wanted to come in. He had a very big personality.”
Louisa and Duck rode at their final Badminton in 2019 but when they had a stop going into the water they retired. This was Duck’s last event and he went on to successfully compete in showjumping, before bowing out from competition later that year.
“The main thing was I always wanted him to come home sound and well. When we had the stop at Badminton I thought ‘That’s enough; we don’t need to do this, you’ve already completed it three times,” she said.
“He qualified for Foxhunter second rounds in showjumping and we competed at the Royal Highland Show. When he retired later that year he remained in work at home and was a great nanny for the other horses.”
Louisa said Duck will be sorely missed by everyone.
“He’s still here at the top of the hill, so he can watch the whole yard and be here for ever.”
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