Irish rider Elizabeth “Esib” Power has paid tribute to her retiring five-star campaigner and phenomenal cross-country horse Soladoun.
The 15-year-old former racehorse, who Elizabeth owns with Richard Ames, won on the Flat as a three-year-old before switching to eventing and will now spend his retirement “not wanting for anything” at Elizabeth’s yard.
The career highlights of the French-bred Madoun son include ninth at Burghley Horse Trials in 2018, a win at Kilguilkey CCI4*-S and third at Gatcombe and Chatsworth CIC3*s (now CCI4*-S) in 2016. His final start was at Badminton Horse Trials this year, where he rose 18 places after dressage with a jumping clear over Eric Winter’s cross-country track. An injury meant he was not presented for the final trot-up and connections have called time on his career.
“I always believed in him. I don’t know why because he was a really naughty as an intermediate horse – he ran out all the time. He was so bold. I just always thought that when he got through it, he would be an amazing cross-country horse,” Elizabeth told H&H.
“He will retire here and won’t want for anything. He is the nicest, kindest person in the stable. He is such a lovely horse.”
Elizabeth has had “Alfie” from the start of his eventing career.
“Jackie Green and I bought him out of Alan King’s yard,” she said. “I was based at Jackie’s at the time and I used to ride out at ‘Kingy’s’. That’s how it all started. I’m very good friends with Alan and I had one or two from his before Soladoun – they’ve gone on to be successful and good horses for whoever they are with.
“Ex-racehorses are something I enjoy – you take a chance and I’ve been very lucky. Physically, he really was an ex-racehorse to look at and still is. He isn’t your modern event horse that fills out and you wouldn’t recognise them. He has always had the thoroughbred look about him.”
She added that this means dressage is a challenge – not because he does anything wrong, but because of the way he is physically built.
“He gave me everything he could and tried really hard in his Badminton test,” she said, adding that Badminton is one of four events that particularly stand out in his career “not for reasons of glory” but for the horse he is to have performed the way he did.
Soladoun missed the whole of 2019 through injury. He returned in 2020, winning Kilguilkey CCI4*-S, but unfortunately sustained another injury. When Burghley was cancelled, Elizabeth gave him an extra year off. He returned to competition in March 2022, enjoying three runs prior to Badminton.
“He hadn’t run competitively for four years, to go straight back and to see all those people in the dressage. And in hindsight, to keep going across country and to deliver the performance he did, is unbelievable,” Elizabeth said.
His podium finish in the Event Rider Masters CIC3* (now CCI4*-S) at Gatcombe in 2016 marked the first of those four memorable runs.
The pair were down the order after dressage and their cross-country performance – the quickest of the day – propelled them up the leaderboard to finish third.
“That was a really special day,” said Elizabeth. “He shone and everyone saw him. The saw that he wasn’t an also-ran, he really stood out that day.”
In 2017, he made the time at Chatsworth, adding a seventh-place rosette to his third-place finish at the 2016 event.
“You’re going round thinking it isn’t possible to make the time, and he was in a beautiful rhythm,” she said. “He was a winner on the Flat, he wasn’t a ‘go slow’ racehorse – you can definitely tell the difference.
“Then there was Burghley 2018. It was so long since I had ridden at that level. I had expectations, but nobody else had expectations of me.
“For him to perform like he did was amazing. It was more how ridiculously easy it felt on him. Burghley shouldn’t feel that easy and it was one of the toughest years. He pinged round for fun and that was one of my favourite runs with him.”
The pair tipped one rail on the final day to finish ninth, Elizabeth’s best result at five-star.
“He is not going to go down as a horse who has won loads, but he has achieved an awful lot,” said Elizabeth.
“It took those big runs around the major tracks for him to get noticed. It’s hard in the modern sport when those flashy types take the limelight at the lower levels. That’s what I love about Badminton and Burghley; they still take a horse with grit and determination. And I think it’s really important they stay that way. If they change, I think there wouldn’t be a place for horses like him in the modern sport and that would be such a shame. I hope the sport doesn’t lose sight of that. It would be a really sad day for the sport if those horses didn’t have a place.”
In announcing his retirement, Elizabeth said she had “so many emotions” but was focused on just one – pride.
“My superstar horse gave me everything and he definitely left it all on the field of play. Unfortunately his body will not allow him to have the superstar career he so richly deserves and definitely wants,” she said on her Facebook page.
“Performance-wise, Alfie gave his all at Badminton. He did a super test and jumped around a super tough five-star at his ease. Not as speedy as usual but in hindsight it is a miracle he did what he did. He loves his cross-country and with the crowds as big as I’ve ever seen at Badminton his last cross-country will go down as one of his best.
“I along with Richard Ames are bursting with pride of our amazing boy. Of course we are heartbroken but we have Alfie home and well and he will have the best life a superstar like him so richly deserves. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and Alfie is definitely one of mine.
“Perspective is also very important and I am sending all my love and best wishes to Nicola Wilson for a very speedy recovery. A fabulous rider and person, who we are all thinking of right now.”
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