Comeback horses The equines who returned to competition against the odds
Unexpected comebacks are often hoped for, but can never be counted on. Andrea Oakes digs out stories of horses who returned against the odds
‘The biggest thing was keeping her calm — she wanted to do three things at once’ ISABELL WERTH ON BELLA ROSE’S REcOvERy
WINNING one gold medal at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) is an extraordinary achievement for any horse — and winning two medals doubly so. But reigning supreme after being sidelined with injury for nearly four years? That’s nothing short of miraculous.
Bella Rose’s epic comeback was the talk of the dressage world in September, when she carried Isabell Werth to both individual and team glory at Tryon. The pair seized their chance to rewrite the history books; their previous WEG appearance, in Normandy in 2014, ended in disaster when Bella Rose suffered lameness issues after winning team gold and had to be withdrawn.
It was a devastating blow for Isabell and the mare’s owner, Madeleine Winter-Schulze, but the situation worsened that season when a serious injury was diagnosed. Isabell herself takes up the story of how the extent of the damage became clear.
“The point at the beginning was to find out exactly what was wrong,” she explains. “MRI scans showed Bella Rose had a bone problem that required surgery. A screw was inserted and later removed, after which everything healed, but she needed time to recover.”
While fans may have feared that they’d seen the best of Bella Rose, Isabell kept the faith that her “dream horse” would reclaim her place in the limelight.
“The vet said there was no reason why she couldn’t return to dressage,” adds Isabell. “It was a matter of having patience.
“Bella Rose spent time at the spa, on the water treadmill, as that helps the healing process. She was super throughout her time off, always content, but as soon as we could start training she woke up and wanted to go. The biggest thing was trying to keep her calm; she wanted to do three things at once.” Isabell admits that she was lucky enough to have other horses at the top level, and so avoided the temptation to orchestrate a hasty comeback with Bella Rose. It was not until June this year that the pair burst back on to the scene with an emotional double win at Fritzens in Austria.
Her decision to ride Bella Rose at WEG this year, leaving her world number one and triple European gold medallist, Weihegold OLD, at home, reveals the trust Isabell had in her beloved mare to deliver the goods — despite the lengthy layoff.
“From the first moment I was inspired by her,” says Isabell, who teamed up with the 14-year-old chestnut 11 years ago. “She has such charisma, elasticity and pride, and she always wants to give more. Now, she is better than ever. She is fit, happy and really strong — not just in her body, but in her mind.
“Any horse can get injured, of course, but she came through and there’s no reason not to keep going. I always felt that one day she would be back at the top.”
‘We will be guided by Maisie and how she feels,
because it would be greedy of us to push her’
FLORA HARRIS ON AMAZING VIII’S RETURN TO COMPETITION
NEW ZEALAND event rider Tim
Price missed his top ride Wesko in more ways than one when the horse damaged a tendon at the height of his career.
“It was a massive blow, as he had so much on the horizon that year,” explains Tim, who was preparing his former Luhmühlen winner and Rio Olympic hopeful for Kentucky 2016, having finished runner-up at the event the year before. “Horses do come back from that sort of injury, but you don’t know until you know.”
After early treatment with stem cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma (PRP), Wesko was sent to Mark Ford for 18 months of rest and rehabilitation.
“The yard wasn’t the same without him,” adds Tim, who said at the time that the incident felt “life changing”. “The horse has done a lot for my career and had always been 100% injury-free.”
Wesko, now 15, returned to Tim at the end of 2017 — and this summer made a spectacular competition comeback, finishing second at Jardy CIC3* Event Rider Masters and sixth at Blair Castle.
“It was a dream to get to where we did this year,” admits Tim, clearly chuffed to have his “old mate” back in action. “But we’re still on the journey — we’re not totally there yet. He’s definitely come back eager and happy to be working again, but it’s important that we take our time and don’t ask too much of him.
“It’s very much about him enjoying himself and me enjoying him,” says Tim. “In the past there was maybe a bit of pressure, but this time around we will see what suits him. Next year, he’ll be great — he’s a class horse.”
Occasionally, an injury is not just careerending but life-threatening. The future looked bleak for Flora Harris’ event mare Amazing VIII, who was ambulanced away from the cross-country finish on her Badminton debut in 2015.
“She did a tendon — a spiral tear, a proper job,” explains Flora. “We absolutely thought it was the end. The injury was so severe that treatment with stem cells or PRP was pointless. If she was a gelding, we would have considered having her put to sleep.”
It was only because “Maisie” appeared so comfortable over the following days that the team persevered. After a period on box rest, she was sound enough for the field.
“We tried to put her in foal but she didn’t take, despite repeated attempts,” says Flora, who noticed that the usually content mare was becoming bored and fed up. “We sent her to winter at Candletrees Equestrian in Somerset, where they did a beautiful job of getting her fat and happy and giving her something to do.
“Tracy Howe did all the slow rehab, walking Maisie for months on hard surfaces, longreining her and hacking over Exmoor,” adds Flora. “When she came home, she was ready to go back in the school to do some work.”
In July, a full three years after the incident, Maisie delighted her connections with a successful run at Little Downham. She has since completed two CIC3*s, finishing sixth at Millstreet and forming part of the victorious British Nations Cup team at Waregem.
“Our vet can’t believe how her leg seems to get better and better,” says Flora, who will keep the mare, now 14, at short format events. “But we will be guided by Maisie and how she feels, because it would be greedy of us to push her.
“We were heartbroken when she injured herself so badly and genuinely thought she was finished as a ridden horse,” she adds. “We just feel very lucky to have her back.”
FANS of French showjumping mare Flora De Mariposa were relieved to see her return to competition in September after a year out of action. The popular 13-year-old, who won team gold at the Rio Olympics, developed a tendon problem during Dinard CSI5* in 2017.
“The injury didn’t need surgery, mostly just time,” explains Geneviève Mégret, who owns Flora. “After a few months she had thalassotherapy and a phytotherapy treatment [seawater and plant-based therapies], before gradually resuming flatwork. She jumped two 1.35m classes at her first show back.”
After years with Pénélope Leprévost in the saddle, Flora is making her comeback with new rider Félicie Bertrand. Does Geneviève believe the mare can succeed for a second time after her setback?
“Flora is a genius and when jumping she is careful, smart and brave,” says Geneviève. “The mare is in great shape, so we’ll take our time and use a progressive programme to try to reach the top again.”
‘She is better than ever — in her body and mind’: Isabell Werth’s Bella Rose made a remarkable comeback after four years out of action to win double gold at WEG this year. The dressage mare had been plagued with lameness issues, which required bone surgery
2016 Olympic team gold medallist Flora De Mariposa has just returned to competition after a year off due to tendon injury. She was treated with seaweed and plant-based therapies
‘It’s about him enjoying himself and me enjoying him’: Tim Price’s four-star winner Wesko has made a spectacular comeback aftertwo years on the sidelines
‘We thought it was the end’: Flora Harris and Amazing VIII are back on the circuit despite a spiral tear to the mare’s tendon in 2015