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‘Proper to the top he was an unbelievable trier’: rider devastated by sudden demise of grand prix horse

  • Leading showjumper James Smith has been left devastated by the sudden loss of his 13-year-old grand prix horse Simply Splendid, known at home as “Simon”.

    The pair, who won a grand prix at Bolesworth last year as well as a CSI3* class at Horse of the Year Show, had been competing at Balmoral Show in Northern Ireland last week.

    “He was completely fine – he won the speed class on the Thursday, then jumped clear and finished sixth in the grand prix on Friday,” James told H&H.

    They took the ferry home to Scotland on Friday night after the show and the gelding had been in good spirits during all their routine checks throughout the relatively short journey.

    “We’re only about an hour away from Stranraer [where the ferry docked] but when we got him off the truck at home he wasn’t 100% and looked slightly colicky,” said James.

    The vet came out to treat Simon but when there was still no improvement in his condition, James took the British-bred Ustinov gelding to the local veterinary clinic.

    “At the time we didn’t think it was all that serious, so we took him just in case he got worse — we’ve had him for four years and he’s never shown any signs of colic in his life,” said James.

    The veterinary team there discovered that Simon’s intestine was swollen and decided to operate immediately.

    “When they got in there, they discovered the whole intestine was tangled — it turns out he had a very small hole in his stomach, which apparently had been there his whole life but had obviously never bothered him, but for whatever reason some of the small intestine had ended up going through that small hole and got stuck,” James explained. ”That then cut off the circulation and the surgeon said there was nothing they could do, sadly, as it had all started to go toxic. There was so much of it as well — about 30ft of it they said.”

    James was left reeling from how quickly his beloved gelding had deteriorated.

    “The vets said it could have started 12 hours ago — maybe even before he jumped — and you wouldn’t really know and you just have no idea why,” said James. “It’s just one of these freak occurrences.

    “We couldn’t believe it when they called to say there was nothing they could do, we didn’t expect that at all.”

    ‘He was very opinionated and had his own way of going’

    James bought Simply Splendid as a nine-year-old from showjumper Sammie-Jo Coffin and he formed a great partnership with the gelding over their four years together — but it was far from plain sailing in the early days.

    “He had his own way of going with Sammie-Jo — he was very opinionated, he bucked a lot and his flatwork was non-existent basically!” said James.

    “When we got him, we tried to change him a bit and we spent ages trying to get him to go nicely on the flat but he hardly jumped a clear round. So we said, ‘This is not working’ and we just let him do things how he wanted to, and after that he started winning!

    “Looking back, I can’t think of a show that he went to and didn’t win a class, and he was very versatile; he won speed classes, he won grands prix, he was just a great horse.

    “Flatwork just wasn’t even a thing with him; you had to go straight past that, trot him round on a loose rein and once he was loosened up you were away, then he was so much fun to ride. He was brave, honest and he gave me everything — he wouldn’t naturally have all the scope in the world but he gave 100% and he was a real winner.

    “As well as Bolesworth and Horse of the Year Show, he won quite a few ranking classes in Valencia and he was third in a three-star grand prix in Vilamoura.

    “Right to the end he was an unbelievable trier, he jumped so well at Balmoral – he had his own way of doing things and once you let him be in charge he was amazing.”

    James said the loss of Simply Splendid has left a massive hole, particularly for groom Nikki Park.

    “Nikki looked after him the whole time, and because you couldn’t really ride him on the flat, she used to ride him on the beach and we have great hacking; he was a heavier sort of horse so the fitter you got him, the better he was,” said James.

    “We do have a few nice younger horses but he was the front-runner, the main one for the bigger classes, and he was ready to go and do that again this year. It’s a massive loss, but we were very lucky to have had him.”

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