A good event horse must be brave, careful, athletic, agile and intelligent, with quality paces, the ability to gallop, and a good dose of stamina. A great event horse must have all these attributes plus an enormous heart, an endless willingness to try, and a trust in their rider that enables a special partnership to develop. Paulank Brockagh ticked all the boxes.
The tale of Sam and “Brocks the Wonder Mare”, as she is fondly known, really is the stuff dreams are made of; a Badminton win, an Olympic team medal, and 35 international outings – 12 of these at 5-Star Level. Indeed as 2020 dawned, the dream seemed far from over. Seventeen-year-old Brocks was as fit and healthy as ever, and a 7th Badminton start was on the cards. It was not to be; in the wake of Coronavirus and resulting event cancellations, the decision was made to retire Brocks. The next chapter is befitting of this fairytale — she has returned to her breeders and birthplace in County Wicklow, Ireland.
The Irish Sport Horse mare, by Touchdown out of Calendar Girl (Trigerrero), was bred by Paula and Frank Cullen (hence the name Paulank). The Cullens sent Brocks to Sam Griffiths’ yard in Dorset, England ten years ago, with a target of competing in the Seven Year Old class at the FEI World Breeding Federation Young Horse Championships at Le Lion D’Angers. During this time, Sam’s long-term owner Dinah Ponsford spotted the mare, and she was soon sold to Dinah and her daughter Jules Carter. For Sam, this was a perfect outcome; he was able to retain the ride, and a promising partnership was born.
EQ Life: When Brocks came to your yard in 2010, did you have any idea that she would become such a star?
Sam: From the start, I always knew she was a Badminton horse, because she was a cross country machine. She was a super horse; if you got too close to a fence, she was really quick on her feet. If you were too far off, she just had scope to burn, so she was always a real pleasure to ride. When I first got her, I didn’t think she’d turn out to be as good as she was. But I always knew she was a Badminton horse because she had that power, scope and cross country ability. She was just so trainable and tried so hard. That was her real strength, her willingness to try, and she just got better the more I did with her.
She’s just an incredible cross country horse. It was years before I even got a cross country fault on her, and when I did I think that was probably my fault!
Particularly jumping around somewhere like Rio, which was a really tough course and the course designer kept the distances quite open so you needed a big striding horse, that just played into her strengths. She was just such a good horse.
EQ Life: She appeared to be a big, brave horse that loved her job, the kind that everyone wants to be sitting on cross country. What was she like to train through the levels?
Sam: She’s probably 16.2 to 16.3 hands, but she was always quite a solid horse, very strong and powerful, so she rode quite big. It took us a long time at the start of her career to train her canter, to make it collected. When I first got her, she was a horse that if I was to have a rail show jumping it would probably be coming out of a combination because her stride was so big. It took a while then to compress her and once she got the idea of being able to hold herself in a shorter canter, that’s when she got really reliable in the Show Jumping phase.
We did do a bit of straight Show Jumping, and probably should have done more of that — but the eventing season over here gets pretty full on! One year I took her down to Spain to compete in Show Jumping, that was part of part of an EA training program to really focus on the show jumping phase.
EQ Life: When you look back at the amazing career Paulank Brockagh had with you, highlights must be the Badminton win in 2014 and your outstanding performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where you came so close to an individual medal. Are there any other performances that perhaps aren’t so prestigious, yet really stand out to you as being special?
Sam: She was always really good around the big events. I came 8th one year in Pau, France in the 5 Star. I was coming back from an injury at the time, and so I wasn’t on my top form; she just carried me around. That was a good performance and the kind of mare she was, she was just so reliable.