All ears, head and legs, La Grange was quite a site.
Already rejected as a steeplechase prospect, the two-year-old gangly oddball was offered to the team of James Paxson and Priscilla Godsoe, of River Hills Fox Hounds; What they saw was no beauty.
“He was so rangy looking. He was in good weight, but very immature looking, almost unattractive,” Godsoe says. “Of course, I fell in love with him right away.”
From that point in 2007, Godsoe made it her mission to get La Grange to smarten up, pay attention, and start looking like a winner.
Inside of their first three weeks together, she had him out foxhunting;
Setting out at a gallop, hounds streaming ahead and baying at a scent, La Grange got the rhythm immediately.
“We tried to keep things simple with fox hunting. You know, like galloping him down highways, riding across train tracks, jumping guardrails, and doing the whole Man From Snowy River movie scenes!” she says jokingly.
As La Grange accumulated miles of foxhunt under his hooves, he became her favorite mount to ride to the hounds. He was rarely rattled and figured if “mom” asked him to jump Registered name: Bravo E Duro
New name: La Grange
Sire: Good And Tough
Dam: Mia Zia Dea
Foal date: 2005something, he was all in, ready and willing to leap over anything!
Out on the woodsy trails in Nottingham, Pa. that run the perimeter of rolling fields, La Grange, who yes, was named after the ZZ Top song, found himself in the middle of a classic English hunt almost every day.
With each new day La Grange’s self assurance grew as Godsoe allowed him to choose his own path, and make decisions on his own.
“When I’m hunting, I’m not trying to hold the reins and choose the horse’s steps; I’m focused on the hounds,” Godsoe says. “So the horse has to find the path, and they learn to make decisions about where to place themselves.”
Transitioning him to the show ring was a quick transition from the five years spent hunting and jumping in the rough. A few weeks before taking him to his first show in 2010, Godsoe jumped him over a few jumps courses in the ring, made note of his absolute brilliance at jumping, and figured it was now or never.
“Having spent one day schooling him in a real arena over real jumps, we entered him in his first AA horse show,” she says.
He was entered at the St. Christopher’s Horse Show in the five-year-old Young Jumper Division at a height of 1.15 meters.
Two weeks later, he was entered in his second effort at the Blue Rock Horse Show in Pennsylvania.
He won again.
It turned out that all that time dashing over fields, through the woods, over natural jumps, and choosing his own path, had paid off!
His awkward looks now fading, he morphed into a confident so lovely there have been times he has been nearly indistinguishable from much more valuable, far fancier mounts, she says.
Early into their show career, James Paxford was invited to enter La Grange in the fabled Devon Horse Show, Young Jumper Division.
“Who could say no to that?” Godsoe says, chuckling.
After winning a 6th place and a 7th place against the very top of the horse show world, Godsoe turned to Paxton and exclaimed, “We might have a cool little horse!”
And then came a personal best for the Godsoe-La Grange team. Competing in the Mini Prix at Duncraven against some of the world’s top riders, including her personal hero, Kevin Babington, they placed 5th!
“The fact that we were competing at that level made me think, ‘OK, we can do this,’ ”she says. “These riders were all qualified Grand Prix riders, and we were 5th to them!”
At that level, Thoroughbreds are few and far between, Godsoe says. But if ever there was a guy with the right stuff to get to the upper levels, La Grange is the man, she says.
She plans to enter him in the Grand Prix level in 2013. And while he’s still young for a level in which most horses start at age 10, La Grange has developed into a fine, fine horse in the foxhunting fields. So now it’s go time.
“When I ride him, I feel as though I’m on a horse as nice as the top competitive ones,” Godsoe says. “In the past, you may see two Thoroughbreds out of 40 in a Grand Prix.
“This is going to change. And we’re going to be part of that change.”