10 Unforgettable Olympians: Big Red

In our countdown to Rio, we take a look at 10 of New Zealand's most memorable Olympic horses

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Rider: Joe Yorke

MONTREAL 1976

Big Red was a rangy 11-year-old chestnut by Final Court. Originally part of a full New Zealand show jumping team for Montreal, he and Joe became our sole equestrian representatives there, as Red was only horse to withstand a blood disorder that swept through the ranks in the team’s pre-Games UK base. The pair had been in brilliant form, gaining Olympic selection as a result of numerous wins and placings, including Horse of the Year and the Pilmer Plate for puissance in 1974, and the Norwood Gold Cup in 1975. Ridden by Harvey Wilson, Red also won the Victorian show jumping champs. He was full of personality and a great favourite with spectators.

Although he managed at least one superb Table A victory in the UK, Red was plagued with on-and-off lameness in the Games lead-up; this caused several breaks in his preparation. Occasional slight swelling and limping were the only symptoms, and, when the time came, he was declared fit to tackle Montreal’s huge track.

He and Joe turned on a truly valiant effort, jumping their round in the throes of a major thunderstorm. “That last fence; man, it was big!” Joe commented afterwards. It was maximum height and width, and came hard on the heels of a massive treble.

Red and Joe made a valiant effort over a massive track in Montreal
Red and Joe made a valiant effort over a massive track in Montreal

Five rails meant the pair failed to make the final, but they finished in a six-way tie for 30th, beating various international stars, including Paul Schockemöhle.

When Red and Joe returned to England, the occasional lameness was investigated: Red had been suffering from a broken splint bone. He made a full recovery and went on to compete in Britain, ridden by Derek Ricketts. Joe returned home, founded the country’s first agistment stables in 1977, and now runs a bloodstock business.

The Big Red Cup, awarded to show jumping’s Young Rider of the Year, is named in the horse’s memory.