May 09, 2020

Horse Heroes: Show of Heart

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Show of Heart with his breeder, Nina Gardner, at the Bromont Three-Day Event. Photo courtesy of Nina Gardner.

Show of Heart was born on March 19, 1990 at Tim and Nina Gardner’s Welcome Here Farm at its original location in Maryland, a Thoroughbred gelding by It’s Freezing and out of Lovely Duckling. Bred to race, “Smokey” began his career on the track as a 2-year-old, breaking his maiden at Laurel Park after eight starts. Between his 2-, 3-, and 4-year-old year, Smokey had a total of 46 starts on the track, earning just over $44,000.

“He was only moderately successful on the flat, but when it appeared that he had reached his peak, we put him into steeplechase training with Larry Smith,” Nina shared. “Here again, he was only a moderate success. This was close to the time that we moved from Maryland to Pennsylvania. Since it was clear from his steeplechasing career that he could jump, I eventually asked Phillip Dutton to compete him.”

“When I started at riding Smokey, he had been let down from the track and started his new career at the Gardner farm in Maryland,” Dutton recalled. “He had run over fences so had a good understanding of jumping, although his jump was a bit low and flat because of his steeplechasing days.”

By the time Smokey was entering his 6-year-old year, he and Dutton were achieving top results at the Preliminary level. He won his first outing at the Intermediate level at Morven Park in the spring of 1997 and completed his first long format competition at the one-star level at the Essex Three-Day Event in May of that year. Later in the year he stepped up to the Advanced level and rounded out the year with a fifth-place finish in the long format two-star at Radnor.

Show of Heart. Photo courtesy of Molly Micou.

In 1998, Dutton and Smokey competed at the Kentucky Three-Day Event in the three-star, the first year the competition offered both three- and four-star divisions, finishing ninth. That fall, they were third in the three-star at Fair Hill International.

Dutton and Smokey returned to the Kentucky Three-Day Event in 1999, this time placing eighth in the three-star division. In the fall, Dutton and Smokey traveled across the pond to contest the 9-year-old’s first four-star at Burghley, where the pair finished in 18th place. In the spring of 2000, Dutton and Smokey finished in 18th place once again, this time in the four-star at the Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Smokey was selected to be Dutton’s mount for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, with the Gardner’s 8-year-old Thoroughbred House Doctor as Dutton’s reserve. However, an untimely sore splint necessitated Smokey’s withdrawal, and Dutton went on with House Doctor to attain a team gold medal for Australia. “I remember my time with Smokey very fondly,” Dutton reflected. “He was a very tough little Thoroughbred who really enjoyed the sport.”

Smokey returned to the Gardners’ farm in Maryland where Tim and Nina’s daughter Julie began hacking him out. Smokey, who had developed some anxiety, seemed to relax under Julie’s care. “Their partnership was very successful in that he calmed down and she fell in love with him,” Nina said. “She was very angry with me for selling him because she wanted him for herself when we eventually retired him.”

Adrienne Iorio purchased Smokey from the Gardners in 2001. “He was a great partner,” Iorio shared. “He was a cheeky little monkey. There was nothing easy about Smokey – you worked for it – and I’ve never fallen off a horse as many times as I came off him. But he was just fantastic. He made me ride, but he is the horse that I compare all others to. Even though he was a bugger and he had a huge sense of humor – he would run off with me for no apparent reason – and he had serious opinions, I felt endlessly comfortable and confident on him.”

Iorio and Smokey’s competitive partnership began in the spring of 2001 with a win at the Preliminary at the Jumping Branch Farm Horse Trials and took off from there. By that fall, the pair were competing at the three-star level, finishing 13th in the long format three-star at Fair Hill International. The following year, the pair made a trip overseas to compete in the three-star at Blenheim where they finished 59th.

Smokey returned to the Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2003 with Iorio in the irons, finishing in 21st place in his third four-star. The pair returned in 2004 but withdrew after completing the cross-country phase.

Caroline Teich and Show of Heart. Christina Handley Photo courtesy of Caroline Teich.

When Smokey’s upper-level career with Iorio came to a close, he went on to teach several young riders the ropes. First, he went to Caroline Teich, who was training with Alyce McNeil, a friend of Iorio’s. “I was looking for a horse to move up to Preliminary on when he came up for lease,” Teich said. “We went to go see him at Apple Knoll Farm and I remember my first ride being a bit of a mess. I was 14 at the time and he was the first upper level horse I had ever ridden so it took me a while to get used to riding such a Ferrari!”

“Smokey was a complete professional,” Teich remembered. “Even in the stall you could tell he had ‘done it all.’ He was calm, cool, and collected. He was a schoolmaster in every phase – the only mistakes we had were usually mine in show jumping. He taught me how to really gallop since he was always eager to eat up the cross-country course and make the time. We regularly got reprimanded by my trainer for going too fast, but we were just having too much fun!”

“He taught me to love dressage. I, like most eventers, put up with dressage as an excuse to get to the ‘fun stuff.’ I spent a summer working for Meri Straz, a dressage trainer in Ithaca, New York, and I came away from that experience a completely different rider.”

Teich and Smokey spent four years together competing at the Preliminary level. For Teich, a highlight of their time together was competing at the 2005 USEA American Eventing Championships, where they finished fourth in the Junior/Young Rider Preliminary Championship. “We [won] the dressage at the AEC in 2005, a complete thrill for me,” she said. “We finished with two rails but still placed fourth.”

Smokey went next to compete with Hilary Maddaus, and together the pair rarely finished outside the top 10 at the Novice and Training level over the course of their two years together.

Hilary Maddaus and Show of Heart at the Bromont Three-Day Event. RedBayStock.com Photo.

From Maddaus, Smokey went to the care of Molly Micou. “I actually just happened to stumble upon Smokey,” Micou said. “I had had an unexpected abrupt end to another lease and I had already signed up for the GMHA Junior Horsemanship Clinic (a place all too familiar for Smokey) so I was desperate to find a mount fast. I have known Adrienne Iorio most of my life, beginning with Pony Club, so I reached out to her. At the time I lived in Massachusetts, but I was vacationing with family in Pennsylvania and, unbeknownst to me, Adrienne was also at her farm in Pennsylvania. Within about 24 hours I was trying him out in borrowed boots and helmet and planning his trip back to Massachusetts with me.”

“Smokey was an invaluable horse and I treasured my time with him,” Micou continued. “He built me into the rider I am today and I still reference the lessons he taught me in today’s conversations. I was the last rider to be able to absorb all the wisdom he could pass on, but he never let anyone on to his actual age. He constantly shocked people with his athleticism. Although he was jumping 3’3/3’6 with ease at 24 years old, he never did any movement or jumped any fence if I was not riding with complete precision. If I was leaning even an inch forward, I ended up on top of the table. I had quite a few memorable spills, but it certainly taught me to ride correctly. Even though we had our fair share of falls, he was the most stoic horse I think I will ever know. He would have taken a bullet for me or any of his other riders.”

Molly Micou and Show of Heart at the FENCE Horse Trials. Liz Crawley Photo courtesy of Molly Micou.

When the time came, Smokey traveled with Micou down to South Carolina where she attended school at Clemson University and rode Smokey on the Clemson Intercollegiate Eventing team. “I think my favorite event with him was Millbrook,” she said. “He knew exactly where he was and he just ate the ground up. At one point he started heading towards an Advanced fence out on cross-country and I had to use all my strength to pull him up and steer him to our correct fence!”

“Most of my memorable moments weren’t competition wins, but personal victories. The majority of our relationship together was me learning from him. I will be forever grateful to have had my share of time with Smokey, many thanks to Adrienne!”

When Smokey was ready to retire for good, he went home to Tim and Nina’s farm where he lived until his passing this past winter. “I mentioned to Nina that he was done, and that I was looking for somewhere to retire him, and she said, ‘bring him back,’” Iorio said. “I dropped him off and he went out in a herd full of mares. He was pretty happy going out with his girlfriends!”

The USEA Horse Heroes series celebrates equine athletes who have contributed to the sport again and again, competing with multiple riders at the upper levels of the sport. Do you know of a horse hero who deserves recognition? Email your tips to [email protected].

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