After a nightmare two years, Canterbury’s Susie Hayward was last season reunited with her adored stallion Andretti, and with the pair back to full health, things are finally looking up.
Regrets? There have been a few. Chief among them was the decision to send Andretti on a European campaign with show jumping former World Champion Philippe Le Jeune; a plan that started out with high hopes but ended in disaster, with the horse sick, out of form, and unhappy.
And just as the stallion had began to return to his normal state of health back in New Zealand, Susie herself was literally knocked sideways in a freak paddock accident that left her with serious internal injuries including a split kidney and lacerated liver.
After a long recuperation, Susie is easing her way back into competition with ‘Andy’; she’d dearly love to return to New Zealand’s World Cup ranks.
But for now, she’s taking it a day at a time, happy simply to have her beloved Andy back by her side, and grazing in the lush green paddocks of Brackley Farm, a 234ha cropping and lamb-fattening property at Barhill on the south bank of the Rakaia River in mid-Canterbury, which Susie operates with her husband Wayne.
Roll back a couple of years, and 57-year-old Susie – a self-described amateur rider and grandmother – was enjoying a dream run with the licensed Holsteiner she had imported from Germany in 2010. She got the 2013-2014 season off to a flying start with a second in the first World Cup class at Hastings, followed by a win at Mystery Creek.
She wasn’t planning to compete at the 2014 Horse of the Year Show, but then show organiser Kevin Hansen approached her to ask if she’d give the ride on Andretti to his star guest rider, Belgian Philippe Le Jeune, who was at that time reigning World Champ.
“It was such good advertising for Andy, how could I refuse?” she says. Philippe struck up an immediate affinity with the talented stallion, guiding him to success in a 1.40m class and finishing second equal in the prestigious JB Olympic Cup.
Philippe made no secret of his desire to take Andy back with him to Belgium, said Susie. “He loved the horse. He started asking at HOY if he was for sale, but the answer was ‘no’. After we went home, he kept ringing. It made me feel very proud that Philippe held him in that high regard that he wanted to take him back to Europe. I didn’t want to part with Andy, but I thought it would be good for him.”
After much deliberation and plenty of tears, Susie finally gave in. She and Andy left New Zealand in April 2014, bound for Philippe’s yard with high hopes of him qualifying for a slot on the Belgium team for FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy.
Within days of arriving and after more than 48 hours in transit from Auckland to London via Melbourne, Singapore and Shar-Shar, Andy was on the road again headed for CSIO5* World of Showjumping competition at Lummen. From there, they returned to London for Royal Windsor then travelled more than 5000km across Europe to Rome, all within the first few weeks of being in the Northern Hemisphere.
“Andy jumped well but struggled with time faults at Lummen. At Windsor he jumped well, going clear in the Grand Prix, but just ran out of energy in the jump-off, and at Rome he jumped well but missed the Grand Prix after hurting himself in the stable.”
For Susie, the shine was already beginning to wear off. “I had taken all his supplements with me from home so that it wasn’t a major change for him, but they took no notice of me. None of them got used … but who was I to argue with the World Champion? I think they thought, ‘What does she know, she’s just a silly old granny from New Zealand’. People think it looks like an amazing life for those international horses but it’s a hard life.”
Susie said a tearful goodbye to Andy in Rome. “That was awful. I was worried that he wouldn’t be happy there, but I had to go home.”
After she’d left, Andy developed bronchitis. He recovered, and was soon back competing, travelling to France and Spain competing in CSI4* competitions in Franconville, Fontainebleau, Dinard, La Coruna and the CSIO5* at Gijon, but from his lack of form, clearly things weren’t right.
By October, Susie felt he’d had more than enough, and flew over to bring him back home. “I knew immediately I had made the wrong decision [to send him in the first place]. He wasn’t eating and looked terrible…. I felt I’d let him down.
“But I thought it would be such a cool opportunity for him. He had jumped all over the world when I bought him, and I took him away from all that, so if I hadn’t given him the opportunity again I would have always wondered, what if?”
A strong bond
Susie found Andy in Germany when she went to purchase a Grand Prix jumper to replace her successful thoroughbred, Notting Hill. She tried more than 30 horses, both mares and stallions, and knew Andretti was the one from the moment she sat on him.
“Because of my age I was sick of producing young horses. I wanted something I knew I could go straight out and compete on, and he suited me down to the ground. He just stood out. He was really in a class of his own.”
She hadn’t set out to buy a breeding stallion, but Andy was the complete package. Not only was he held in high regard in Germany having competed with distinction up to 1.50m, but being a fully licensed son of Acorado I, he provided her with an opportunity to recoup some of the expense of importing a competitive horse from Europe as a potential sire, while also boosting the New Zealand gene pool.
The change to a New Zealand lifestyle was a huge one for Andy. At the age of eight, he had travelled all over Europe but hadn’t spent a single day in a paddock since his licensing, aged three.
“The wide-open spaces completely freaked him out,” Susie recalls. “Initially he shook, walked the fence and it took him ages to learn how to eat grass. It was all foreign to him. He wouldn’t even pee in his paddock, holding on all day until he was back in the stable.”
“He’s a very sensitive and an insecure horse in a way, and it took a long time for him to settle into life as a Kiwi boy. And being a stallion, he can be quite precious. But there isn’t a bad bone in his body. I’m a 56-year-old grandmother, an amateur rider, which says a lot about Andy. He is a complete gentleman in every way. I couldn’t have kept him if he wasn’t.”
Susie became the centre of his new world, and in a way, his security blanket, creating a bond that is undeniable. He’s happiest when he’s with her, which goes some way to explaining why he went downhill after she left Europe. “In a way we are a bit like an old married couple,” says Susie. “We know each other. He would much rather spend time with me, than not.”
Andy spent the winter building up condition, but plans for reviving his competition career went out the window when the freak paddock accident with a young horse very nearly cost Susie her life.
Susie was turning out a filly when another horse called out, and the filly kicked out in excitement, catching Susie on her right side. Her injuries included a split kidney, badly lacerated liver, multiple broken ribs and a broken elbow. “It was just one of those freaky things,” she says.
Luckily, Susie had her mobile phone on her and was able to call for help. She was airlifted by Westpac Rescue Helicopter to Christchurch Hospital where she spent the next 12 days. Although the external wounds healed quickly, her internal injuries were severe, and doctors warned it could be up to two years before they would be fully healed.
Susie is now taking each week as it comes, and is looking forward to getting some of Andy’s progeny out under saddle, too. While she has no aspirations of becoming a big-time breeder, she loves working with the young horses and says his progeny seem to be easy to work with, intelligent and kind.
Andretti is one of the few fully licensed chestnuts with the Holsteiner Verband. Generally most licensed Holsteiners are bay or grey; Susie says authorities tend to be harder on chestnuts during licensing. He is also licensed by the Hanoverian Society.
Andretti hails from the famous ‘A’ line, which goes back to the legendary Selle Francais stallion Alme Z. His sire Acorado I is a son of the world famous show jumping sire Acord II, one of the most influential sires in Holstein today. Like his father before him, Acorado I won his 100-day performance test with an astonishing 147 for jumping, receiving two 10s, and 127 for dressage. Before his untimely death at just seven years of age he had produced more than 20 approved sons.
At the London Olympics, Alme Z’s bloodlines dominated with an amazing 27 of the 75 show jumping horses (including two by Acorado I), and seven of the 12 team medallists carrying his blood.
On his dam side, Andretti is a member of the ‘stam 776’ line responsible for producing many top stallions including Ramiro, Lucky Boy and Landos. His dam Liane is a daughter of Come On, who competed at the highest level with numerous riders including HRH Princess Haya of Jordon and World Champion Ludger Beerbaum.
- This article first appeared in the February 2016 issue of NZ Horse & Pony