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‘The value you pay for loving them is dropping them’: farewell to ‘extraordinary’ horse who made Hickstead Derby historical past

  • An “extraordinary” horse who made Hickstead Derby history and was “king of the yard” to the last has died aged 23 after a long and happy retirement.

    Loughnatousa WB, the first horse to win the Boomerang trophy under two different riders, was put down at his home for the last 12 years, with Bernice Cuthbert, who told H&H: “He wasn’t allowed to suffer; age was creeping up on him and it was the right time to send him to heaven. I was so relieved I could do that for him; he had five years of proper retirement, and was looked after as if he was going to jump the Derby again. That’s all you can do for horses, and it’s everything.”

    WB, as he was always known, was bred in Ireland by vet and renowned breeder Walter B Connors, whose initials gave him part of his name. He was by Walter’s father Nicholas Connors’ Spring Elegance VII, out of Early Biddy VII from the Beecher family’s Loughnatousa Stud.

    Walter sent WB to the Beecher family’s yard when he was three and Paul Beecher produced him until he was sold to Patricia Brown and moved to Bernice’s Aston Park Stud.

    Phillip Miller was his first competition rider in this country – “Phillip did a brilliant job as WB was wild with joy at shows,” Bernice said – coming second in a puissance, but as Phillip was unable to keep riding him, and as the horse was very important to Paul Beecher, it was arranged that Paul would come over from Ireland to compete him.

    “Nothing remarkable happened – in fact, quite the opposite! –  until he won his first Derby in 2012 from first draw, fulfilling everything that he had promised at home,” Bernice said.

    Paul and WB had come 13th on 16 faults the previous year but then in 2012, came in first and jumped clear. William and Funnell on Dorada also jumped clear but picked up four faults in the jump-off, meaning Paul and WB’s clear took the win.

    As Paul could no longer travel to England, Michael Londsdale took the reins, enjoying success including a joint-win in the 2012 Horse of the Year Show puissance and fifth in the 2013 Derby. When Michael’s circumstances changed, Trevor Breen took the reins, in 2014.

    “WB became even more exuberant with Trevor at shows and they had some great results together, including a second Derby win for both of them,” Bernice said.

    As well as that Derby win in 2015, the pair finished sixth in the class in 2014, and fifth in 2016. They also won an area trial and an International Stairway, and came third in a two-star class at the London leg of the Longines Global Champions Tour.

    Julian White on WB at home

    They were aiming for another Derby in 2017 but an injury ruled WB out, and he was retired to Bernice, where he lived a happy life until he was put down owing to age-related issues, on 18 August.

    “Even though you know it’s going to happen at some point, it’s always difficult,” Bernice said.

    “He was an extraordinary horse; very sensitive but unbelievably tough and courageous. We were lucky to have such good riders for him, and his courage and desire to jump round that Derby track was enormous. But he wasn’t just a Derby horse.”

    Bernice said although WB’s bravery was “unquestionable”, he was “a kitten in the stable”.

    “But as soon as he saw his rider in full gear, at a show, he became the most enormously powerful animal, full of excitement,” she said. “And whenever he went in the ring, whether it was at Bury Farm or Hickstead, he always neighed loudly, not to say ‘Where are my friends?’ but to say ‘Here I am’.”

    Bernice remembered highlights including, after WB’s first Derby win, a comment in H&H saying “three stars were born this weekend”; the others being Frankel and Black Caviar.

    “To be linked with them – he so deserved that,” she said, adding that the yard feels very different now without him.

    “His stable was a stride away from my office window and he’d be looking through the window at me, demanding attention,” she said. “If he wasn’t so big, I’d have had him in the house! I’ve never known a horse like him.”

    Bernice paid tribute to Patricia as a “wonderful” owner, of racehorses as well as showjumpers, for the care in which they are kept for life, and her support for the sport, her determination that her horses were for life and that “their wellbeing was always ahead of winning”.

    Julian White, who rode WB at home and was with him at the end, said: “He was an amazing character and whoever rode him could never take a single stride for granted; he had more enthusiasm than any person or other horse I have ever met. He leaves an amazing memory and many stories to us all and that is quite a feat in itself.”

    Bernice added that WB’s ashes will be laid to rest with two other of her horses; Apollo on whom she completed Badminton and Burghley, and her champion Flat racing sire Dominion.

    “How lucky is that, to have those horses?” she said. “The experience of those horses was phenomenal; I must have had a horsey star looking over me, and the price you pay for loving them is when you lose them. But it’s a price worth paying.”

    You might also be interested in:

    Showjumping fans gave Adventure De Kannan a rousing reception during his official retirement ceremony at Hickstead

    Find out about Trevor Breen’s second ride in the Hickstead Derby next weekend

    The Irish rider set an impressive standard when going clear on Loughnatousa WB from first draw, before holding off William

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