Chris Chugg has been Australian Showjumping Champion 5 times in a career spanning 45 years. He has ridden three thoroughbreds to Grand Prix and all reached that level after three-and-a-half to four years off the track.
“Mr Currency” and “Navy Seal” were both by Imperial Seal and WS Scandal by Ruling’s Story out of Lady Lovatt.
“Mr Currency” was my first TB that went to GP,” recalled Chris. “He won five World Cups, went to the WC final in Gothenburg, and then competed at the Barcelona Olympics as part of the Spanish team.
“Navy Seal won the 2* at Adelaide Three-Day-Event, Australian
Showjumping Championships and World Cups before he retired. Scandal was a stunning 16 hh black mare, the epitome of a classic thoroughbred, who was started by Peter Wagner. We went on the Atlanta Olympics warm up tour, she won a GP at Ypaja in Finland, placed second in Drammen, Norway and then she competed in Helsinki in the only Nations Cup which an Australian team has officially won.”
The mare was sold to former FEI President, Princess Haya, who was trained by the Irish international, Paul Darragh, who died in 2005.
And how does he go about training an OTT thoroughbred?
“I’m very lucky that I got Scandal after being worked by Peter, and she’d been a failed hack in Queensland with Dale Plum. Generally, with thoroughbreds, you have to re-educate their brains so they become relaxed. As racehorses their job is to go in a straight line and be fast. For showjumping we are looking for a different type of training so I will start an off the track horse doing a lot of work at the trot getting the bend through their body and making a nice shape on a circle.”
“They need confidence to back up, jump the jump and learn to slow down to do their exercises.”
“I feel you have to be a little bit experienced in your horsemanship when training a TB unless you get something that’s cool in the brain or, as we’d say in the old days, is ‘stayer bred’.
“If you want to get your foot in the showjumping door the thoroughbred market is cheaper, and another big incentive is the new thoroughbred classes being created with decent prize money on offer”.
“And there’s a lot of new blood out there – Gabi knows about all that!”
“I’ve had one off-the-track thoroughbred which I took to World Cup – and that was Jimmy Choo.
“By Shangri-la out of Crystal Slipper his racing name was If The Shoe Fits and he was originally purchased for my sister. She’s very much into fashion and she was the one who named him Jimmy Choo.
“I later sold him to Millie Clarke, a young rider from Berry, and the money I got from that sale enabled me to import Cristalline.
“Jimmy was a very important step in my career.”
So what type of thoroughbred makes a good jumper?
“Look for a good shoulder, that it’s relatively uphill and has a good canter. And it would be a bonus if it also had lovely breeding.
“I’ve had other thoroughbreds – an eventer by Grosvenor – a very good jumper, and another lovely type by Filante – you could always look out for those lines. But these days I really think you have to go on type.”
Does she have a particular method for training these horses?
“Thoroughbreds are naturally very intelligent. They’re quick to pick up things and to learn. And they’re always eager to do their work. By the time you get these horses off the track they’ve not had the education we want to give them but they’ve had some education, and are relatively worldly. The tend to take on things with ease, in comparison to a young warmblood which maybe hasn’t seen very much.
“If I was starting out with one I’d possibly make some trot poles and a little cross rail – you can pretty much ask anything of a TB and it’ll give it a go.”
She feels that dedicated thoroughbred classes which are now starting to appear on showjumping show programs in line with decent prize money is a generous inducement to both amateur and professional riders.
“I grew up with thoroughbreds, they were the only horses we could afford. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them – and there are plenty out there needing new careers.
“And for people like Chris and me this is an incentive for us to keep our eyes open for a good looking one – they’re very marketable.”