“He was just better than anything I’d ever sat on. And honestly, to date, probably the best thing I ever sat on.”
Brianne Goutal fondly remembers the first time she ever rode Onira at Frank and Stacia Madden’s Beacon Hill Farm.
“At seven years old he was already very advanced,” she said. “He was always a step ahead. He was always thinking where he was really supposed to be. You couldn’t really trick him. You couldn’t set a combination that was too short or too long. Or a vertical that was too tall.”
That feeling Goutal experienced the first time she rode Onira would prove to be correct many times over in their 14 incredible years together.
The bay Dutch Warmblood gelding not only helped launch Goutal’s career, he kept it advancing, earning top placings at the highest levels as recently as last Sunday when he was second in the $30,000 Boar’s Head 1.40 Jumper Challenge against 60 competitors at the Hampton Classic, in Bridgehampton, New York.
This past Monday, Goutal, 28, officially retired her horse of a lifetime.
It’s a bittersweet moment in their lengthy career. Goutal was just 14 when Onira came into her string. They grew up together, racking up an extraordinary list of “firsts” along the way.
“There was never anything I didn’t jump first with him,” she said.
“So, I think we had the same experiences. It was the first time he ever did an indoor competition. It was the first time he ever did a 1.50m, 1.60m. For sure, the one and only time he did an equitation class!
That equitation class: the 2004 USEF Show Jumping Talent Search East Finals, one of four major equitation finals Goutal captured in her junior career. Onira was her junior jumper at the time.
“I was supposed to show a different horse that got injured the day before the show,” recalls Goutal. “Onira was literally the only horse in the barn that I had that jumped the water, so he went to the show. I remember thinking that was, like, ridiculous.”
The 2005 individual gold at the North American Young Riders Championship was another first, as was their first Grand Prix Class in 2005 at the Garden State Horse Show in New Jersey. (They came back to win it in 2006). Then there was the 2008 World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden, where they placed just outside the top 20—yet another first.
But it’s their 2009 Nation’s Cup jump off round against Germany in Falsterbo, Sweden, that Goutal cites as one of her most special memories. Their round clinched the gold medal for the US team.
“We jumped off for the gold medal against Germany. I don’t think I should have been the one jumping off but it was us anyway,” she smiled. “Neither of us knew what we were doing.”
Their many impressive achievements can be attributed, in part, to the unique bond Goutal and Onira have developed over the span of their partnership.
“I always joke they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” said Goutal.
“It’s definitely something that the more I do this and for the amount of time we put into each horse, you don’t see that many relationships that are that long.”
Over the course of their 14 year career, Onira suffered a couple of “borderline career ending” injuries. Goutal credits time off for his extraordinary longevity in the show ring.
“Every time they told us six months off, one year off, we always did at least one extra term. I always tried to make sure that he had enough and then more time to recover and I think it really saved him.”
Goutal describes Onira as “fiercely intelligent, very mischievous. Always getting into everything he’s not supposed to. He’s the kindest, the bravest. A real, real competitor.”
But he does have one dislike: Schooling.
“Hates it. He’s always trying to run away from me in the schooling classes,” she laughed.
Onira’s show ring days officially came to an end on Monday. The mischevious gelding is now retirement bound. There’s just one problem: He doesn’t actually enjoy being turned out for long periods of time.
“My goal would be to get him really living full-time outside. But I don’t think he’s going to like it very much. So, it might take a little while.
“I might have a good trail horse for a little while,” she quips.
About the Author
Anne Helmstadter is a writer and lives in Las Vegas. When she’s not riding her OTTB she can be found supporting her two girls at horse shows and driving to and from the barn in her horse scented car. Her writing has appeared at literarymama.com and in Las Vegas’ Zip Code Magazines. Follow Anne’s blog at www.bitspieceslife.com.