Numerous awards would follow, but one senses Big Ben’s overwhelming presence in this oil painting as he waits in a ribbon line-up at Wolfsburg, Germany (1986). He would go on to become World Cup champion of show jumping horses in 1988 and 1989, winner of the Spruce Meadows Masters’ grand Prix (Alberta), gold medalist twice at Pan American Games in 1987, and the winner of over fifty grand Prix victories throughout the world during the 80s and 90s.
Born on April 10th, 1976 in Belgium, liver chestnut in colour with a white blaze on forehead and white hind socks, he was named Winston. His father, Etretat, was a tall, three-quarter thoroughbred racehorse. His mother, Oekie, Belgian warmblood, was known as the “charming lady of the farm,” always agreeable to ride, and gentle.
Jumping came naturally to the towering gelding of 17.3 hands. At 2-1/2 years, he was observed leaping of his own accord over a 1.3-metre jump. With no previous training and no one else around, he cleared the rails three successive times, foreshadowing his upcoming stardom among show jumping horses.
Purchased in 1983 for $2000 by a Dutch trainer, he was then renamed, Big Ben. Six weeks later, Ian Millar looked him over, liked his loose and easy trot, athletic build, and noted his sensitivity. Ian purchased the arrogant-looking horse for $45,000 and brought him to the rolling hills of Millar Brooke in Perth, Ontario.
The oil painting cannot reveal the ballet in motion that Ian and Ben provided for audiences the world over. Appearing almost as a single unit, they cleared jump after jump magnificently!
Big Ben preferred the company of children to adults, LOVED bran muffins, chose green apples over red, and when running hard, made a loud noise in his throat.
He maintained the undivided affection of his tiny groom, Sandi Patterson, who called him Bennie. Together the two looked like Mutt and Jeff. Much of Big Ben’s health and stamina was credited to Sandi’s self-sacrificing care. However, within one 10-month period in 1991 at age 15, he underwent two bouts of surgery for the most dreaded of all ailment for showjumping horses…colic. Shortly after in 1992, the mighty Ben bounced back from yet another harrowing experience, a highway accident.
Those who have watched Big Ben jump with effortless grace, remember the horse who……
• ate up distance without seeming to rush
• understood competitions
• knew a big occasion and rose to it
• possessed amazing balance, phenomenal eyesight and memory, and demonstrated surprising agility!
I, too, will never forget the thrill of watching Big Ben and Ian Millar winning for Canada at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto!
May this oil painting bring Big Ben into your home…as folks around the globe knew him…in his glory days!
(24″ x 30″ Original in Private Collection)