With legs so tangled they appeared windswept under his frail form, Sylvan Approval struggled with all his might to stand and nurse, but failed every time.
“Everybody said he should be put down,” recalls horseman Ann Banks, who from the first, rooted for the little guy, when his survival was hardly certain. “His legs were so crooked. He was the most crooked horse I ever saw, but his owners, Elizabeth and Robert Elliot, just wanted to give him a chance.”
Ever since the nerve-wracking birth in May 2000, Sylvan Approval has thrived on second and even third chances.
“His first owners refused to put him down. They had his legs splinted, and at the beginning, they had someone live with him 24/7 so he could be helped up and down” to nurse from his mother, Banks recalls.
“I remember seeing pictures of him, with his legs in splints, and thinking he was the most crooked horse I’d ever seen.”
Race name: Sylvan Approval
Sire: With Approval
Dam: Mull, by Northern Prospect
Foal date: May 5, 2000
Earnings: $19,095At this point in the young horse’s life, Banks was a family friend. But in time, when the colt grew to be a somewhat less crooked two-year-old, he wormed his way into the racing business she ran with her now ex-husband, David P. Banks.
And surprise of all surprises, the racehorse once saddled with the nickname Forrest Gump, broke his Maiden at Churchill Downs!
“Can you believe it?” Banks says. “And after that he went on to win two more races!”
Sylvan Approval didn’t stay long on the racetracks. Although he developed an eye-popping movement both beautiful and powerful, he was super-finicky about racetrack surfaces. Banks believes that his legs, though straighter than when he was first born, were sensitive to anything other than a perfect consistency, and as a result, he either won or lost badly.
But even after a short-lived career at the races, Sylvan Approval bounced back.
The Banks family sent him to live with Kentucky veterinarian and eventer Bambi Fox, and amazingly, he threw every ounce of his 15.2 body over the top of any jump in front of him.
“He is a brilliant mover. He looks like a mini warmblood,” Banks says. “And when he jumps, his knees go up to his eyes. It’s amazing to think how this little guy started in life, and how he ended up.”
For 10 years, Fox evented Sylvan Approval at the lower levels, under the name Brushfire, where he was very sound for his whole career.
“He just had such a huge heart, and he liked what he was doing,” she adds.
And when it was time for Sylvan Approval to move on again, Banks was ready to take him back home.
Driving for four hours to pick up the crooked-legged charmer, she wondered if he would remember her at all. But when she arrived, he jumped right into the trailer, in the dark, and quietly rode the long way back.
“When I got him back to his old barn, I wondered if he remembered it too, because he marched right in after the drive like a horse coming in from the paddock,” she says. “He settled down and starting eating right away.”
When his longtime owner decided to downsize her horse property, sad as she must have been to see him go, the petite gentleman continued to live under a star, protected from a bad end by a small circle of people who knew him from his first humble beginnings.
“Everybody that had their hands on this horse gave him the best shot available,” Banks says. From his owners, the Elliots, who nursed him to health, to Banks, who eased him into a short racing career, to the petite veterinarian who evented him until he was 12, everyone took the utmost care with him, and he proved his worth, tenfold.
“There are so many amazing stories out there, but I think Silvan’s is right up there,” Banks says. “He went from being a foal everyone said should be put down to becoming a brilliant mover and such a happy little dude.
“He was one of the lucky ones.”
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