RUSH OF BLOOD
“In hindsight I knew nothing of breeding, it was a rush of blood idea and had I had to wait a few weeks maybe I would have been more thoughtful and not put her in foal,” says Michelle. “Who knows? But anyway, Derek now wants to be known for being instrumental in being the first link in producing Virgil to Olympic fame!”
Michelle well remembers the day the foal was born. “It was around foaling time and I noticed one morning that the mare looked a bit agitated so I went to investigate. There on the opposite side of the fence was a tall and very leggy foal perched on the edge of the dam. He demanded attention from the day he was born. Trying to manoeuvre that leggy, strong foal back under the fence was a feat, I have to say!”
Michelle says she had used up a lot of “V” names on previous horses and now having to name this foal wasn’t easy. “I wanted Vern, and Virgil was second choice. Virgil Tracy is a character from the Thunderbirds Are Go! television series. He was the pilot of Thunderbird 2 and was dubbed ‘The Peacemaker’ of International Rescue. Virgil won the name over the Footrots cartoon character Vern.
Everyone who saw Virgil immediately commented on his presence. He never really went through the ugly times and was broken in at the age of three by Adam Sutton. It wasn’t long before Michelle was riding him with confidence and took to him to a one-day event simply to “show him around”. He was well-noticed and two students of Chris Burton apparently told him he needed to buy him. Burto let it go and so the continued schooling of Virgil went on.
“I took him to SIEC for again a look around and there was a tiny – and I mean tiny – step down from a grassed area to another area and he decided he could not step down it. I wasn’t giving up and Sam Lyle went past on his first horse to go cross country and commented on ‘what a wimp’ and was I having trouble. By the time he passed on the third horse of his to compete, I was still there. I eventually won the battle of the wills and continued on. When I started to jump him in 80cm classes he was jumping then as if they were 1.20m fences. It was pretty amazing and of course the showjumpers were interested.
“I took him around to Shane’s for an outing and, after I had ridden him all over the place (past Shane several times who was on the bobcat) I asked what he thought? In true Shane style, he said he never noticed him. When Shane is on a mission he is not distracted, not even by my great horse Virgil! I asked if he was interested in looking as I was needing to probably sell him as I needed some money to buy Buster a decent pony, so I took him over. The next day I called Shane and he said he liked him. The next day he called in the evening to say he really liked him, and then the next day he called as he stepped off and said I love him… big words indeed!”
And so Shane and wife Niki purchased Virgil, with Michelle retaining a share in him.
Michelle always believed in Virgil’s potential and she and Shane nurtured the dream as he continued to succeed. His first overseas jaunt was to the eight and nine-year-old Young Event Horse Championships in Blenheim and then on to the test event for the 2014 WEG in Caen. He had a minor injury playing the hero in the paddock and had a spell in Australia, which Michelle says was probably good for him, as he had done a lot in a short time.
It was at this time that Michelle realised life was not so easy and recalls two people who helped her along the way: great friend and mentor, Lucinda Green, and Helen Chugg of Diamond B Farm. Their help was humble and honest and she was forever grateful for their input during a trying time.