An unconventional Thoroughbred gelding and show jumping champion Joe Fargis are together teaching a young Virginia horseman the ropes in the competitive high amateur Jumpers.
Grant Chungo, 21, and his 17.2-hand off-track Thoroughbred Ballinure have been taking lessons for years from the Olympian who rode his Thoroughbred mare Touch of Class to win the 1984 gold medal in individual jumping. And what Chungo has learned from his horse and at the foot of the riding star is that an ex-racehorse who spends a little too much time in the air, and perhaps not picture perfect in form, is in fact just perfect for him.
Sire: Parker’s Storm Cat
Dam: High Rolla, by Smarten
Foal date: March 15, 2006“Joe Fargis says that with this horse I’ll learn everything I ever need to learn,” Chungo says. “I can make a mistake, and he’ll get over it and take me to the next jump. Some horses won’t do that. If you make a mistake on them, they’ll stop.”
But Ballinure has no stop in him, he notes.
Among the highlights of his recent exploits, Ballinure was the champion high amateur horse at Culpeper last July and has placed in the top three in the Twilight Jumper Series in Virginia for the past several years. He has conquered Grand Prix courses and was on the verge of doing a 1.50-meter, Nation’s Cup style course a few years ago when Chungo decided to pull back the reins on their ascent.
“We were really moving up in our journey together and I’d forget sometimes that I was sitting on a pretty young horse. He never stopped with me. He always got me through,” Chungo says. “He tries so hard that when he was 6 or 7, I had to really stop and cool it because I realized he was still a young horse … and I didn’t want to get him in trouble.”
His personal respect and love for his horse has grown over the nearly 10 years they have been together.
Chungo bought the OTTB as a four year old, while working for Joe Fargis in Florida. After seeing a video of a horse who’d grown too large and was too slow for racing, Chungo decided to pool his earnings and buy the horse through a payment plan.
The pair made their first grand prix ride in Lexington, Va. two years ago as the youngest horse and rider team at that show. After his coach and mentor suffered a bad fall in the same show, Chungo and Ballinure went into the ring first, and managed to come out with a 10th place finish after having a rail, he recalls.
Since he was a young Pony Clubber, Chungo has trusted his fate to the Thoroughbreds. “That’s all we ever had,” he says. “We don’t have the budget and the most I’ve ever paid for a horse is $2,500.”
And though he is surrounded by top Warmbloods at most horse shows, his beautiful mover has proved to be in his rightful place among all the top class horses.
“He’s unconventional, but he does it,” Chungo says. “He doesn’t have the perfect Warmblood form, with that really tight front end. And we never do speed classes because he spends so much time in the air … but he’s a great horse, and I’d just rather stick to him than have any other.”