Tina Cook has paid tribute to Miners Frolic, her three-time Olympic medalist and European champion who was put down last week at the age of 24.
“It’s a cliché, but he was the horse of a lifetime and such a kind, generous horse,” she said. “He wasn’t necessarily born brave, but he had a natural will to try his best for me. I always felt we had a real partnership and he was one of life’s triers.
“He took me to two Olympic Games and I didn’t think an Olympics was ever going to happen for me.”
Tina was given Miners Frolic – already nicknamed Henry – when his breeder, American Maurice Pinto, decided to sell up his training business.
“He had horses with my father [Josh Gifford] and then decided to take out a license and train himself – he trained Miners Frolic’s mother, Mighty Frolic, who won many hunter chases,” explained Tina. “He was always very supportive of young people, helping me find sponsors and getting going in eventing.
“When he decided to sell up, he gave my brother [trainer Nick Gifford] and I each one of his home-breds and told us to produce them and do as we pleased with them, perhaps try and make some money on them. It was very generous of him.
“I drove over to pick up this four-year-old wondering what he was going to be, and as soon as I saw him, I thought, ‘I can do something with that, he’s beautiful.’
“As a young horse he wasn’t particularly brave and had a rather thoroughbred jumping technique – he always wanted to be careful but was slightly dangly in front.”
Tina started educating Miners Frolic with some pre-novices (now BE100s) and Burghley young event horse classes as a five-year-old – “just to get him out and do something with him” – and said it was a “wonderful surprise” when the horse won the Burghley young event horse final.
Tina still wasn’t convinced Miners Frolic was going to be a superstar as he went through his six- and seven-year-old years, but he made a major breakthrough when he was seven with second in the young horse World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers. By this time, the Nicholas and Valda Embiricos had joined Sarah Pelham in the horse’s ownership.
“Thoroughbreds can take longer to learn the game and I was very careful with him because he was of a sensitive nature – I always made sure he was confident at each level before he stepped up, because I felt if he was over-faced or over -pressured, he could fall apart, worry about it and lose his ambition to do it,” said Tina.
“In my mind I had a beautiful tool to work with, but I had to get it right and keep his trust and belief in me.”
However, Henry was just 10 years old when he went to his first Olympics in 2008. The previous autumn, he had finished second at Blenheim Horse Trials.
Tina remembered: “William Fox-Pitt said after that that the selectors might look at a horse like him for the Olympics and I said not to be ridiculous, that he hadn’t done enough. He suggested taking him to Boekelo – so I thought, well, they’re five weeks apart, he’s a thoroughbred, racehorses run every two weeks routinely, if he’s fit and well and healthy, why not?”
The pair finished third at Boekelo and were listed as reserves for Hong Kong before being called up to compete.
“Some high-profile people questioned my sanity taking him there, with the heat, the intensity and his age, but I thought, ‘I’m going to seize this opportunity’,” said Tina.
“There’s a certain naivety in a young horse – if they have that trust and belief in you before you go, they’ll try that bit harder for you.
“There were high-profile mistakes on cross-country day so – while I knew he’d get the trip – I knew I needed to hold his hand and not put too much pressure on him. In hindsight, I could have gone quicker – and I wasn’t a million miles off individual gold – but it’s easy to be wise with hindsight.
“And then on showjumping day, in the main stadium with the lights, and intensity, I had no idea if he’d go in and fall apart, but he performed above all expectations to jump two clear rounds and win two bronze medals.
“I was so proud of him – he was really thrown in the deep end as he hadn’t done a five-star or been exposed to anything like that.
“To come out and win the individual European title a year later was amazing. Germany had a disastrous week – I was even ahead of Michael Jung on that podium! – and I had a great one and that’s the name of the game at a championship.”
Looking back at Miners Frolic’s career, Tina said: “It was lucky for the horse that he came into our sport rather than racing, the one he was bred for, as I think he’d have been a bit slow as a racehorse and I ‘m not sure he’d have coped with that lifestyle. He gave us so much and had a super life.
“He was a very sensitive horse, but had a great temperament. He had so much going for him. The galloping across country was very easy for him and his technique improved as he got older – and jumping clears wins you medals. ”
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