What did you think when you first… saw Promise?
I thought he looked like a fat little pony. He was a bit chubby, because he’d been out on grass for 18 months. He was nine.
What did you think when you first… jumped him?
Surprisingly good, for a fat little pony!
When did you first…. realise you had something special?
It was after I did the first season on him and he just kept stepping up. He’d had 18 months off and went out at Novice, then the next week at Intermediate. That season he came second in a CIC2* and won a CCI2*. There are not many horses you can do that with.
When did you first… have a breakthrough with him?
Early on we got on to the same page with our jumping when I did some grid work to get his attention on the fence. I just set up a grid where it came up a little bit fast, and the faster he went the harder it was, and left him alone to make his own decisions. One day he came out and actually stopped in front of the grid and that day I just gave him a pat and put him away. It was the first time he had actually watched the fence. I came out the next day and started from scratch with a pole on the ground. I was able to ride him on the buckle and I’ve never had to go back since. And then in the dressage, I had another breakthrough with Penny Castle on the flat; she literally taught me what on the bit was.
What’s the first… word you would use to describe him?
Champion is the first word that springs to mind, but actually the right word for Promise is gentleman – he’s a real gentleman. He’s the kindest horse in the world in the stable. He loves attention and he’s such a people horse. If you walk into his paddock he’ll whinny and come running up to the gate.
When did he last… disgrace himself?
He hasn’t, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t blame him for the World Championships, I blame myself. The horse has nothing to prove to me, he’s a legend.
When did he last… give you a sleepless night?
He always gives me sleepless nights. Frances and I joke about this all the time. Before every competition there’s some sort of scare that keeps me up. When I’m away from home, he’s with people I trust, but I’m nervous. For example, before I went to Badminton, he had blood in his nostrils when I got to the top of my final gallop. He’d never bled before and he’s done so many gallops. I called the vet and he said if he’s bled then he’s out, you’ll have to pull him. We managed to get our local vet out straight away to do a tracheal wash, and they couldn’t find any trace of what it was. I always watch him on the video camera in the truck, and whether there’s a horse next to him or not he attacks the divider next to him, and bites it, so the only thing we could think of was he’d bumped his nose on the way to gallops and done a vessel. But that’s the kind of thing he does, all the time.
What’s the last… thing he’ll let you do?
He’s pretty good, a real gentleman, but I can’t tie him up. He just pulls back. Somebody always has to hold him, so when he goes to a competition, we have to have two people. He’s a pain, but he’s worth it. The only time he doesn’t pull back is when the farrier comes. He likes the farrier and the farrier is a great horseman. It’s as if he thinks ‘I’m getting shod now, I need my wheels’, so he stands there and doesn’t pull back. That’s how clever he is.
What’s his first… reaction to a big crowd?
He thinks they are there for him and enjoys the moment. He’s really professional. You can be in the warm-up and think you’re not happy with the feeling, but he always rises to the occasion. Like at Burghley in 2014; he’d done too much dressage and then the World Championships and then a week later he was going through the whole procedure again, so by the time I got to the warm-up he was a bit tight in his body from all the work. But then he went in the ring and he was just a pro.
When did you last… fall off him?
My first cross-country schooling session last year. I was cantering him into a Pre-Novice jump and I was just sitting still on him, leaving him alone, and he spooked at the tyres at the last second. He put in another stride and did this weird jump and twist. I was hanging off the side as he galloped away and then I hit the ground and he dragged me for a while.
His best attribute
His engine and his willingness to please. He has this never-ending engine. You can get to the end of a really big track and all the other horses are dragging themselves across the line, but when you close your leg he’ll just go boom. He’s amazing. And alongside that, when he understands his job, he’s all over it. He doesn’t understand the meaning of the word no. He’s trying to do his best all the time.
If he hadn’t made an eventer…
He would have made a great racehorse. He’s pretty fast.
Three things you maybe didn’t know about Promise
- His best attribute – all that energy – is also his worst attribute. Jock is always nervous when he puts him out in the paddock, and has to be careful when he’s hacking him that he doesn’t do stupid things.
- He is a fussy eater, but the best way to keep him eating is to keep him working and feed him lots of small meals, sometimes up to six a day. That’s why Jock rides him four times a day in the lead-up to big events.
- Promise’s party piece is his medium trot and Jock says he doesn’t even have to ask for it – he just shows him the diagonal and lets him go. Jock spends all his time leading up to tests riding medium trot for just a few steps then walking, so he can train some gears into him.
Stable Name: Promise
Breed: NZ Thoroughbred
Dam: Darn Style
Owner: Frances Stead
Best-ever result: Winning Badminton on debut in 2013, second at Burghley in 2014, seventh at the 2010 WEG in Kentucky