Olympic Horses with Humble Beginnings

Many of us dream of finding horses with International potential in a backyard barn or turned out in a field.

There are two horses competing this year that fall into that category — they started out in careers that did not generally lead to Olympic success.

Amy Tryon and Poggio II
Amy Tryon and Poggio II

Poggio II, Amy Tryon’s eventing mount, worked as a pack horse in the Cascade mountains after washing out as a race horse. Amy and a friend purchased him 10 years ago for $2500 from a classified ad, based on his bloodlines. Within a year he was the first horse Tryon rode in a world-class eventing competition. His star has continued to rise. Poggio II is the only horse to qualify for every U.S. national team over the last six years.

He won an individual bronze medal at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Germany and helped the U.S. equestrian team to a bronze medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics and gold at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Spain.

The 2008 Olympics will be the 16 year old Poggio’s last international event.

Balagur, the dressage horse ridden by Russia’s Alexandra Korelova, had an even more improbable start. The 17 year old gelding began his career as a circus horse. He was then bought by the mounted police, where he remained until the age of 10. The late Elena Petushkova, one of Russia’s greatest Dressage riders, saw him in a parade and thought he had the potential to perform piaffe and passage. That potential has certainly been realized — like Poggio, Balagur is a two-time Olympian. And he seems to be getting even better with age. This year at the FEI World Cup™ Dressage qualifier in Neumünster, Alexandra and Balagur scored a perfect 10 for their piaffe. Balagur and Alexandra are currently in 5th place in the Olympic Dressage competition.

There’s another interesting element to Balagur’s story. While most of the Olympic competitors are “classic” warmbloods, Balagur is a Russian Orlov Trotter, a breed developed to pull carraiges. Not only is he the only Orlov Trotter in the Olympics, he’s the Orlov Trotter that has put the breed on the International map. Heck, most people have never even heard of this breed, which was created in Russia in the 18th century. The breed, which was developed by Count Alexey Orlov at his Khrenovsky Stud farm in the European part of Russia, is known for its fast trot and outstanding stamina. The foundation sire was a Turkish Arabian stallion, Smetanka, who had short legs and an unusually long body. This was caused by the presence of an extra pair of ribs, which became one of the characteristics of the new breed. The breed almost disappeared in the early 20th century, but today 15 stud farms in Russia and the Ukraine exist.

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