Ant n’ Dec…. Des n’ Eric….forever entwined by history but fundamentally as different as you could possibly imagine! What they did hold in common though was that they brought Tim and Jonelle to Europe in 2003 when it seemed pretty easy to pack up a couple of bags and ship to the UK for Badminton and Burghley.
Des made it to Burghley in 2003 and finished 42nd with a 20 cross country whilst Eric only made it to a single one day as he got travel sick and put his hand up for the autumn off.
A chance meeting at Martinvast CIC 3 star where Tim was competing Des led to the boys arriving at Maizey Manor Farm for me to winter after that Burghley. Des looked pretty classy, Eric slightly less so and Tim and Jonelle dropped them off, waved goodbye, mentioned starting them in work “whenever the Badminton horses normally do” and went back to NZ.
Sometime in mid December I brought them into work and hacked them from the field. I started off on Des as he looked the coolest but soon swapped to Eric as he was so much more fun! The day before Jonelle arrived back I clipped them both and whilst shearing through Eric’s massive winter coat was mortified to discover a huge scar running down the front of his face. It was 24 hours of “how the hell do I explain this” before Jonelle mentioned he had had it since a 2 year old, “ probably fell head first into some rocks whilst foraging for food”. As Des got fitter and became more aloof Eric got funnier and practiced his tricks like untieing himself and making you walk all the way up the gallops behind him whilst he remained tantalizingly just out of reach.
The 2004 season began and we trekked off to the usual pre Badminton events. Jonelle was pretty laid back with her plans and whilst Eric tried to bolt down the centre line and lived dangerously showjumping he blew me away with his cross country in the advanced at Belton. Scopey was an understatement. Tim, meanwhile, had a plan as always and running at Belton was not on his agenda. He casually announced at the end of the dressage day as we were sitting in the truck that he was leading the advanced ( full of Badminton horses!) so we kicked him out to walk the track and insisted he ran the next 2 phases. He duly won the event and I can still see William Fox-Pitt staring at the scoreboard in disbelief the next afternoon and asking if anyone knew who “the Price boy is?”.
We rocked up at Badminton and I led Des into the stables… he had had his photo in Horse and Hound and was the man of the moment. Eric wandered in behind, no agenda, just happy to find some food awaiting him. Des warmed up for the dressage looking like a champ and then proceeded to have a nervous breakdown as he entered the arena. Eric warmed up looking fairly unruly and then went down the centre line like a train. Des found the Badminton Lake rather overwhelming the next day and quit out for a 60 whilst Eric thought it was the coolest water fence he had seen so far. See photo above left! Eric kicked out a couple of rails but finished top 20 whilst Des added more rails to finish in 48th.
Des did run Punchestown for a top 10 placing in the 3 star in June ( where Tim drove Rodney Powell’s horsebox over and then lived in a tent beside it for the rest of the week…. Jonelle went over for the weekend and found him “happy but pretty hungry!” ) but he really fell out of love for the game at top level after that. After retiring at Gatcombe in the British Open in the summer Tim dropped him down to novice which was where Des actually found his happy place. He spent the next three seasons eventing at the lower levels with Flora Seddon who gave him a great life and a lovely home despite the fact that every time she ventured out of novice he chucked it in!
Eric meanwhile had earnt himself a trip to Athens as the reserve horse for the 2004 Olympics. Reserve is a horrible gig and it was even worse in Athens as the reserve horses were not stabled on site but randomly around the area. Poor Eric found himself miles out of town in a miserable location and the price was paid when he flew back to the UK and competed at a tough Burghley that autumn. Unbeknown to us he was suffering from travel sickness again which never showed up until he fell close to home for the one and only time in his life.
2005 saw the Price’s relocate permanently to the UK and Jonelle headed back to Badminton with Eric on the form of his life. He had showjumped clear in 2 out of 3 warm up events and was looking more settled on the flat. He went down the centre line looking more like a dressage horse than the Flying Scott and then knocked himself on a 10 metre circle going hopping lame. He made it through the test but it was clear he couldn’t run so was withdrawn. He re routed to Luhmuhlen 4 star which he completed but picked up an injury and didn’t come out again until 2006.
By 2007 Jonelle had made the decision that she needed to re invest in younger horses as Team Selection was her goal and Eric’s utter reliability on the cross country was not always replicated on the flat or over the coloured poles. Eric was sold to the USA and after a couple of rider changes ended up with Ashley Keyhoe who was both his forever home and his perfect partner. Yet again Eric defied expectations.. he had injured a tendon in in 2006 and it never scanned that well but he continued to compete for years afterwards with never a lame step.
Check out the video below of Eric in 2010… what a legend. I have so many memories of him but an abiding one is of him wandering off at Aston le Walls one summer and we found him with his head stuck inside a rubbish bin as he rummaged for ice cream wrappers. He didn’t panic, he just stood there with it stuck on his head waiting for us to remove it, as he knew, with his faith in humanity, that we would turn up and do so. And Jonelle? She always credits Eric with giving her the confidence she has in her cross country riding as he was simply invincible. If there was ever a 5 star cross country horse then that was Eric as a fence has never been built that he could not jump.
Except a small one. Then he was positively dangerous!