Valentine, a poorly put together 19-year-old Thoroughbred with knee chips and early stage navicular, is blowing the socks off the competition in Preliminary cross-country throughout the Area 3 Eventing world.
The unlikely sport horse, who once won a race under Jockey Club name R Motel, by “running in terror from the other horses” is never so happy as when he is plunging into water, and soaring over obstacles with his owner Kayla August.
“His thing is Cross Country. He falls asleep before dressage and showing jumping. But put him in a start box and he goes wild,” she says. “At our first one-star, just before the starter said go, he reared and screamed” and they took off running, and haven’t looked back since.
August purchased Valentine, who some deemed dangerous, when he was a scrawny 15 years old. Said to require two hours of lunging before each ride, with August he fit hand-in-glove.
Race name: R Motel
Show name: Valentine
Barn name: Red
Dam: Chaka Zulu
Foal date: May 21, 1995“We clicked right away,” she says. “I remember getting this feeling like I was sitting at home in my saddle, and I had this snapshot in my head of how it would be. It was like he knew what I was asking without me needing to ask.”
Though X-rays on his legs have revealed bone chips in his knees, hocks and ankles, and navicular changes are starting in his front feet, her older gent has only taken two un-sound steps in his life; simultaneous abscesses in both front feet sidelined him once, and a stone bruise, picked up while running a course after throwing a shoe, sidelined him a second time.
“I had no idea the time he threw a shoe. I didn’t find out until we got to the Vet Box, and he was still fine on it and did Stadium Jumping the next day,” she says. “It wasn’t until we got home that he let me know he was sore.”
He has done so well climbing the ranks that last March 30 he cleaned up against very fancy Warmbloods at the Full Gallop Farm event in Aiken. “We won it all,” she says. “I was riding against a woman who had a young horse, who was much fancier than my Red. I don’t know how we pulled it off!”
She considered dropping Valentine back down from Preliminary, where he is campaigning now. But he is not a horse who wants to be pulled back, she says. “He jumps Preliminary fences like he’s jumping Intermediate. He just loves it.”
Though the pair is riding out the summer heat away from the competition fields, she plans to enter him at Full Gallop in August or September, and other events in the Area 3 region. Age, to this horse, is a state of mind.
“He’s usually one of the oldest horses and he is not put together well at all, but when he moves, he’s amazing,” she says. “And he shows all those young horses exactly what perfection can look like!” —Author’s note: This story was originally published on June 23, 2014.