10 Unforgettable Olympians: Glengarrick

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

Heelan and Nugget were foot-perfect on cross-country (NZHP Library)
Heelan and Nugget were foot-perfect on cross-country (NZHP Library)

Rider: Heelan Tompkins

Athens, 2004

The oldest and smallest horse in the field, ridden by the youngest rider – 26-year-old Heelan Tompkins – Glengarrick didn’t win a medal at Athens, though he and Heelan were the sentimental stars of the show. They finished seventh individually, in a competition wracked by controversy.

Born in 1985 and aged 18 when he competed in Athens, ‘Nugget’ was a 15.3hh black ex-racehorse who’d retired from the track after one too many nosebleeds. He was taken to Medium level dressage by his racing trainer’s wife Kath Robins, ridden successfully from pony club to Advanced eventing by Karla Jamieson, then bought by Heelan when he was resting with a tendon injury. Heelan was the top-ranked young rider in the world in 1997, and together this pair won every major eventing title in New Zealand and were reserves for the Sydney Olympics before their selection for Athens.

After his dressage test at Athens (Image; NZHP Library)
After his dressage test at Athens (Image; NZHP Library)

At the Games, they produced an excellent dressage test for 44, finishing the phase in 13th place.

Fast and clean (NZHP Library)
Fast and clean to rocket up the scoreboard (NZHP Library)

Fast and clean across country, they show jumped well, but not quite well enough, and finished just one rail away from a medal.

They show jumped well, but one rail saw medal hopes disappear (Image: NZHP library)
They show jumped well, but one rail saw medal hopes disappear (Image: NZHP library)

Nugget was officially retired after Athens, but the quiet life did not suit him and in 2006, at the age of 20, he competed with Heelan at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen. Once again he was the oldest horse in the field; once again he finished seventh. At the time, he was also the oldest horse ever to compete at a World Equestrian Games, and his clear cross-country round was exactly on the optimum time, which earned him the title ‘Best cross-country horse in the world’.

Nugget returned to New Zealand and began a new life as a pony club mount with Heelan’s young cousin Kirsty Parsons in Hawke’s Bay. He died in April 2015, at the grand old age of 29, having lived out the last years of a peaceful retirement on Heelan’s Taranaki farm.

Nugget aged 29, enjoying a moment with Heelan
Nugget aged 29, enjoying a moment with Heelan

Heelan told NZ Horse & Pony: “During our time in this sport, we have different horses who shape our careers, and our focus on achieving our goals sometimes blinds us to enjoying the journey. My best friends, my greatest adventures and the closeness of my family have all been shaped through meeting Nugget. What a champion, my beautiful Glengarrick.”

After he died, Heelan was greatly moved by the many messages and tributes that went up on social media. “I love that he is remembered so fondly by so many people. I am not sure how to put into words how special Nuggs was. I know from the day he arrived I never once looked over my shoulder jealous of anyone else’s horse; I’d always rather be riding Nugget. I knew I was on the best one.

“I have some peace knowing Nugget was never taken for granted – he was treated like a champion and loved by everybody who crossed his path. There are too many people to thank, but Lesley and Tony Shelly bought Nugget for me to ride, and later allowed me to retire him, and I will always be grateful to them.

“I miss his beautiful face.”

(NZHP Library)
(NZHP Library)