A tall, cold glass of beer may suit some people’s fancy; but my sights are set on the elegant frame of a thoroughbred known as Heineken.
His long legs, furry winter coat and soft eyes greet me as I walk into the Foell’s barn in East Gwillimbury. Mr.Tease would look like a kid’s pony next to this handsome dude. While I’m standing there in awe,
a lovely lady by the name of Christine (Chrissy) Pride pops her head around the statuesque horse to say hi. Walking towards me it’s hard not to notice how petite Chrissy looks against the backdrop of this towering dark bay gelding. While Heineken stands at 16.3 hands (i.e. about 5ft 7in), Chrissy is about 4'11.
I found out about Heineken through Chrissy’s daughter Erin who currently boards her horse at the same stables where Mr.Tease lives. When Erin heard about my second chance project she told me about her mom and Heineken.
Intrigued by another second chance story I met with Chrissy to find out about Heineken’s past and present life.
Chrissy purchased Heineken in 2004 from a lady who bought him before he was auctioned at Barkey’s (now Claremont Auction).
This auction is not the usual place where you would go looking for a show jumper or dressage horse. “It’s the end of the line or the lower grade I guess," Chrissy explained.
You often get there and it’s ones they are just trying to move rather than selling them online or for a sport horse or a children’s pony.”
Based on the information that was given to Chrissy, it’s unlikely that Heineken ever had a racing career. Chrissy’s vet believes that Heineken had a bone chip at some point and was therefore unsound to race.
“It costs a lot for them (the former owners) to keep a racehorse in training so they probably just moved him and that was it,” admitted Chrissy.
Unraced and bound for the auction block, Heineken was lucky enough to be bought by someone who worked at the auction before he went through the sale.
The lady who rescued him from his fate at the auction boarded him at the same place as an old family friend of Chrissy’s. Unfortunately, since she already had too many horses Heineken was soon looking for a new home.
Chrissy and Erin both admit that the thoroughbred they met a decade ago is a far cry from the handsome man he is today.
“He was thin and very gangly as a three-year-old and you couldn’t ride him in a straight line. It was like riding a wet noodle,” explained Chrissy.
Erin uttered some similar sentiments. “He was super scruffy as it was winter when we went to see him. He was scrawny and super leggy… just hadn't finished growing or filling out and was just gelded maybe four months beforehand.”
But to her mom’s surprise, Erin was pretty much sold on Heineken from their very first ride together. However, before bringing him home (and to make her mom feel better) Erin rode him a couple of more times and had him check out by the vet.
Although both mom and daughter have years of experience in the saddle bringing home a thoroughbred was definitely something new for them.
“I know a few people at the beginning said ‘you are getting a three-year-old for your daughter?!’ and you know she was on ponies before so this was quite a change for her,” admitted Chrissy.
While definitely not a pony, Heineken’s personality was another key factor that won her daughter over quickly.
“He loves people and attention and thoroughly aims to please... He might not always be the smartest or learn the fastest but he has a huge heart and will try anything he is asked,” said Erin.
Taking him to Quebec with her the following summer (2005) while she worked at a riding camp, Erin also saw how patient he could be with children. “He let the kids crawl all over him and we even sat four or so on him bareback one day that's how chill he was with them - they would dangle from his neck or slide off his butt and he let it all happen so long as he got a hug kiss and carrot at the end.”
Not only was Heineken entertaining the kids at camp but the young thoroughbred was also providing Erin with transportation to and from work.
“He was my car that summer to and from work,” said Erin. Definitely not your typical mode of transport but even at his young age, Heineken was reliable and Erin remained confident in his ability. “She rode him as a three-year-old through the trails to the riding school, worked for the day, got on and rode back,” Chrissy told me with pride.
Once he turned four or five he became Erin’s pony club horse. “We did rallies… which were three/four day weekends where you shipped out with your pony club group to a facility (that was) hosting and had lessons each day in dressage, cross country and show jumping.”
The bond between Chrissy and Heineken began to form when Erin began university. Not surprisingly, given the abundance of schoolwork she had less time to ride. So while her daughter was busy with school (and also working at Greenhawk) Chrissy began taking lessons on Heineken with her dressage coach.
“The summer I finished school I came home thinking he was still my horse (Erin laughed) but she was already showing him and doing lessons and her mare had been leased to Quebec so we were essentially 'sharing' him.”
After she wrapped up university, Erin and Heineken did a bit of stadium show jumping but they soon found out that the stadium wasn’t H’s favorite spotlight.
“He was great at home but when he got to the horse show he wasn’t so keen in the ring and he was bit shy and not forward to do the fences. So she (Erin) didn’t want to push him with something that he wasn’t comfortable with. It was obviously not his forte in the ring,” said Chrissy.
Erin admitted that Heineken was becoming more nervous in the jumper ring and had a bad fall in the mud at Palgrave and scared himself.
Giving him yet another chance to shine Erin and Chrissy decided to focus on his dressage career, and for the past five or so years Chrissy and Heineken have been training and competing in local shows. “We did the local bronze shows at Blue Star…we were runner up champion for the first level two years ago.”
Watching her groom Heineken I ask her what level they are working on now. “We’re doing second level…we are trying to do second level dressage,” Chrissy laughed while brushing through H’s long tail.
Extremely humble about her riding skills, I watch Chrissy ride what she once called the “wet noodle.” Heineken’s gorgeous expressive movement (as Erin had told me) has replaced the days of gangly legs as the duo works through their routine. Chrissy makes H’s transitions from the walk to trot and trot to canter look effortless. “Those long legs are less of a hindrance and just make him look fancy,” gushed Erin.
Sitting on top of the gentle giant Chrissy asked me if I wanted to ride him.
As much as I would love to, I politely decline.
Chrissy hops off and with Heineken's reins in hand we head towards the stables. I thank her, exchange goodbyes and hop back into the car to go see my horse. Witnessing such a strong partnership between Chrissy and Heineken definitely gives me hope that Mr. Tease and I will find that someday.