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EUROPEAN INVASION

Ask him about the effect Warmbloods have had on the hunter world—both in the field and in the show ring— and he has lots of thoughts to share. He remembers a German mare named Isgilde that he and his late wife Sallie imported in the 1960s, when Warmbloods were quite rare in this country. (Sallie Wheeler, a noted horsewoman in her own right who was instrumental in bringing the National Horse Show back to Madison Square Garden, passed away in 2001. The two were married for more than 35 years.) Isgilde, he remembers, won the championship in the

working hunter division at Devon five times—truly an impressive achievement. “She was just a super mare,” he says fondly. “She was already a jumper when we got her. She was a good mover and had nice quality.” By comparison, he continues, some of the Warmbloods

he sees are too big and heavy to appeal to his eye, lacking that ineffable sense of class and quality that typifies the finest hunters. Warmbloods tend to be wonderful movers, he says, but explains that to him, Thoroughbreds have more of that elusive “quality.” He’ll admit that he almost always finds Thoroughbreds most attractive, although he acknowledges the rideability so many enjoy in the Warmblood. He enjoys handling and competing both Thorough-

breds and Warmbloods and finds great success with both. Clearly, though, the Thoroughbreds he knows so well will never be far from his heart. Many of his 2009 accomplishments, for example, came with two-year-old Thoroughbred Holden. He also remembers Showdown. With this bay Thoroughbred, he won 43 consecutive hunter classes back in 1974. “We started in May and finally lost in August. Before that, we won every class we entered at Devon, which was just terrific. And it was my fault when we finally lost—I gave him a bad ride!” “Years ago, it was mostly Thoroughbreds in

the hunter ring. Then things gradually changed and most young Thoroughbreds went to the track. You had to buy hunter prospects off the track and reschool them,” he reminisces. “In Europe, all the young horses get jumped. That means you have lots to choose from as you look for prospects.”

STAR QUALITY

As Mr. Wheeler looks back and then considers today’s show ring, he says the quality of the horses he sees today is not as high as in years past. He attributes that in part to the many classes with lower fences available today, which he feels don’t do enough to challenge the horses. “Today, there are just too many three-foot divisions,” he explains. “Years ago, the horses started at 3’6” and moved up

38 May/June 2010

Mr. Wheeler in 1966 with Showdown, one of his favorite mounts.

from there. Now they keep ’em down too low too long in my opinion.” As a result, he says, too many hunters “step” over their jumps, bending their legs but not really using their backs. “I understand why trainers do it, of course,” he continues. “It’s a good selling point. A good horse that goes around easily and that a junior or amateur can ride— that’s a pretty popular horse, one that will sell easily.” For most of his career, he has focused on developing

and showing young hunters in hand, generally starting with yearlings and showing them as two and three year olds “I just love to look at young horses,” he explains. “I go to the yearling sales each year and look at many, many horses. Sometimes you see the one you just know is special. And that’s the one you should buy. I always look for a horse that is really correct and has quality.” Defining correctness is really quite simple, he says, although it might not be easy to find. “A long neck, a pretty head, sloping shoulders, a straight hind leg, knees that face front and feet that match—that’s correct,” he explains. In addition, he looks for a horse of a certain size, saying that 16.1 is a lovely size for a hunter. “Quality,” he says, is more elusive and harder to define.

You simply know it when you see a horse that has it, he explains. Together, correctness and quality give you a horse with the potential to be a winner, remarks this seasoned horseman. But potential isn’t enough, he continues. To win in hand

a hunter needs to be in top shape. His weight should be just right and he must be thoroughly conditioned and fit. It goes without saying that a top horse must always be impeccably groomed. “My grooms and I work very, very hard,” he says with a laugh. “We look at these horses every day and think Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60
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