Some horses take a long time to mature, and then there is Top Of The Mark, who may have done more by the age of six than most show horses do in a lifetime.
The chestnut stallion they call “Grover”—by CH Top Spool and out of Carol Lynn (BHF), by CH The Talk Of The Town—is owned by Mary Gaylord McClean, and is a product of her Golden Creek Farms breeding program. He was sent to Prospect Lane Farm in Versailles, Kentucky as a weanling, and began his show career in 2014, winning the Junior Five-Gaited class at Mercer County in just his second show ring appearance. In 2015, he won the Five-Gaited Stallion Stake at Lexington and went on to take an impressive third in the Stallion Stake at Louisville.
Then came this season: he won the Five-Gaited Stake at Indianapolis Charity, the Five-Gaited Stallion Stake and Five-Gaited Grand Championship at Lexington, the Five-Gaited Stallion Stake at the World’s Championships. And then before the World’s Championship week was over—and following a thrilling two-horse workout—he won the American Saddlebred industry’s most coveted prize: the Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championship.
“It was really an awesome experience,” trainer Tré Lee said. “We’ve always done very well with his siblings. According To Lynn was the first really, really nice gaited horse I ever had a chance to do anything with, so for something from that family to pull through and get that done was really cool.”
Today, Grover is barefoot and enjoying some much-deserved time off at Prospect Lane, but his achievements are still fresh in the minds of horse lovers everywhere. Here are six things you probably didn’t know about this 6-year-old superstar.
1. His nickname Grover comes from his original registered name.
Before Lee and his wife Emily began Grover’s training, they decided he needed a nickname. Because his original name registered with the American Saddlebred Horse Association was Lynn’s Top Dollar, Emily threw out the option of naming him after the president on the one-hundred dollar bill. But one-hundred wasn’t enough for Lee; he was more interested in whoever was on the thousand-dollar bill. That turned out to be Grover Cleveland. “Eventually Mary decided she didn’t like it [the original registered name], but wanted to keep something with Top Spool in it, so he got to be Top Of The Mark … but Grover stuck with him,” Lee said.
2. He doesn’t get ridden very often.
While Grover was ridden for practice more when he was younger, now that he’s 6, most of his workouts involve conditioning work pulling the jog cart rather than under saddle work, and the jogging is often done by Emily. “Typically during show season, I’ll get two rides a week on him,” Lee said.
3. He saves his fire for the show ring.
In the barn, Grover is quiet and very unassuming, holding his head at half-mast in the stall and flopping his lower lip like a Standardbred when in crossties. “If you told somebody he was the World’s Grand Champion standing there they wouldn’t believe you,” Lee said. He is also extremely kind – especially for a stallion – and a bit awkward. “Kids could get him ready,” Lee said. “He’s still like a big teenager or something. He’s kind of a little bit clumsy, like the really tall kid in class.”
But that all changes when you climb aboard. “When you get on him, all the beauty comes to him,” Lee said.
4. He doesn’t really have a favorite treat.
Grover enjoys all the normal horse treats, including carrots and peppermints, but does not favor one over the other. Lee believes he would be happy to partake in anything that was offered to him. “Whatever you give him he would probably eat,” he said.
5. He doesn’t get tired.
Performing as a five-gaited horse takes a lot of energy, so gaited horses often tire quickly, but Grover doesn’t have that problem. “He can do the same clip for as long as any horse I’ve ever been on,” Lee said. “It feels like he doesn’t have to exert himself fully to be going wide open; it’s very easy for him. You feel like you’re looking around and passing everybody but at the same time he just feels like he’s on a cruise.”
Lee believes that part of this comes from the fact that Grover is an extremely game horse that does not get frantic. “A lot of game horses kind of get a little upset or nervous, but there’s not a nervous bone in his body,” Lee said. “He puts all of his energy into what he’s doing and I think that makes a huge difference. In between his gaits he’s restful, and when he canters he canters really nicely.” This allows Grover to conserve his energy for the thing that matters—performing.
6. He gets the winters off.
Grover has been on break since his big win at the World’s Championships in August. “I haven’t even ridden him since the horse show,” Lee said. “We brought him home and pulled his shoes off, and he’ll just be off all winter long.” It is a reward for a job well done, but it is also pretty typical of Grover’s schedule. “Besides the winter he got broke, he’s never worked a complete winter in his life,” Lee said.
Grover will continue his vacation until February 1st, when he will begin jogging again to get back in shape. “He’ll breed a few mares in the spring and whenever he gets all fit and tightened back up, we’ll show him a little bit more,” said Lee, who is excited to see what next season brings. “He’ll probably be an even better horse next year.”
About the Author
Allie Layos is a lifelong equestrian with a passion for the written word, and she likes nothing better than to combine these two interests. While she has ridden multiple disciplines, her first love is saddle seat, and she serves as editor-at-large for the international show horse magazine, Saddle & Bridle. Her work has also been featured in a variety of equine-related books, websites and other publications.