The look of champions

The Hickstead Derby has a roll call of equine legends, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON.  If you had to pick one of those illustrious names to be the champion of champions, who would it be?

For many, the title would go to a one-eyed horse called Adventure De Kannan. When he powered round with rider Trevor Breen in 2013, he won our hearts as well as the prestigious trophy.

That’s the reason for his final lap of honour in this year’s Derby – a chance for the crowd to acknowledge not just his brilliance, but his courage, in a special ceremony before he retires from competition at the age of 17.

Addy, as he’s known at home, doesn’t realise that in theory, he’s at a disadvantage. You could say the same for the miniscule Stroller, who won the Derby in 1967.

Stroller was only about 14.1hh (145cm) whereas Addy is 17.1hh (175cm). Yet the one thing they have in common is the one thing you can’t put a price on – a great brain.

A long time ago, my then trainer tried to persuade me to buy a horse who could help me make the jump from the lower levels of affiliated classes to “proper” Grade C competitions. This horse, he said, had the heart of a lion and the mind of a saint.

I tried him and loved him, even though he dished so badly, he could – in the words of the Irish dealer selling him – trot down the road and kick out the windows on either side. “He won’t stay sound for jumping,” said the vet who looked at him, so I didn’t buy him.

What I learned the hard way is that sometimes, the most important part of a horse’s conformation is the bit between the ears. That horse had a better brain than me: a few years later, he was winning Grade B classes with a rider who had followed her heart rather than her head.

Adventure De Kannan had already proved his ability when he had to have an eye removed due to recurring uveitis. But how many of us would buy a horse with one eye, even if it didn’t seem to affect him?

I hope I would, now that I’m older and a little bit wiser. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you meet a horse who is so generous, you know he’ll help you even though he doesn’t look the part.

And sometimes, if you have the sense, you say “Thank you” – and buy him before someone else does.

Tell us about your experiences where you’ve gone with your heart rather than your head, or where you wish you had.