There are 1.60m horses, there are speed-round horses, and then there is Theo 160.
Whether you’re a human or an equine, there are few things harder to do in this world than finding your niche. In terms of careers, it’s a state of being that typically comes with age, self-knowledge, and experience—and even then, only if you’re lucky.
Unless, of course, you’re Theo 160.
At 11 years of age, the speedy chestnut Holsteiner gelding under Ireland’s Conor Swail has developed a reputation for being a specialist. He may not be the world’s tallest, or biggest-strided horse—a fact that, according to Swail, often works in his favor. Yet while many international show jumpers are either being geared-up for the championship-level 1.60m+ height, or sticking it out as speed-round specialists at 1.45m, Theo has found his calling at the still sizeable, middle-of-the-road sweet spot of 1.50m.
And boy, is Swail cashing in.
Two years ago, in late August of 2021, Swail and Theo 160 entered Thunderbird Show Park’s Summer Fort Classic CSI3* with only one 1.50m class and one international win to their name. By the end of the week, the gelding had just one rail down in his first 1.60m grand prix, and had been victorious in two more ranking classes. (He’s also pretty versatile; one of them was in a virtual downpour.)
Maybe Theo’s a sucker for a prize giving ceremony, or maybe he’s just built for speed. Either way, the gelding’s resume has only grown more impressive following that breakout week in Langley. Back in tbird one month later for the Harvest Celebration CSI4*-W, he and Swail won yet another 1.50m class and finished in the top-10 in every class they entered.
The pair ended their 2021 season with 14 podium finishes, highlighted by five 1.50m wins and a 79% top 10 finish rate at the height, according to Jumpr App.
“He is very brave, so even if you’re running a little fast at the jump, he’s always going to try and be careful at it,” Swail said of Theo after a win at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP) in California in March of this year. “I can trust him, and thankfully, [I know] he’s pulling out all the stops for me.”
Pulling out all the stops became a familiar story during Theo’s 2022 season, as well, at venues such as Las Vegas and DIHP. Theo earned a spot on 16 podiums that year, with Swail beginning to hone-in on his 1.50m acumen. The gelding jumped 25 classes at that height (out of a total of 47), averaging a 56% clear round rate and finishing in the top-10 64% of the time (Jumpr App).
But Theo was just getting started.
Case in point: the 2023 season is shaping up to be the gelding’s best yet. With a few months still left to jump on the calendar and more than €220,000 won so far, he’s well on his way to doubling is 2022 prize money. And though he’s jumped fewer than half the number of classes, Theo has maintained his podium count at 15 so far, and—somehow—improved upon his standout 1.50m record. This year, he’s jumping clear at 63% and finishing in the top-10 a whopping 79% of the time he enters a 1.50m class.
Little wonder that Theo 160 has either topped or been among the top-three horses in the WBFSH Breeder Rankings for the last three months. (He was bred by World of Showjumping co-founder/photographer Jenny Abrahamsson). And while Swail has sometimes referred to Theo as his “fifth-best horse,” or a supporting member of the string who occasionally steps up to the number-one spot as needed, a closer look at the gelding’s stats tells a different story.
His future may not hold Rolex Grand Slam accolades (though who can say in show jumping?!), but Theo 160 may have something far more important in this sport: a bread-and-butter niche where he’s set up for success.