There was a bit of a kerfuffle on social media in the weeks after Burghley, as waves from the Press Conferences after the XC and the SJ at Burghley eddied outwards. Oliver Townend, when questioned there about the winner, who won on his 4* debut, gave the assembled Press (of which I was one) great soundbites, saying:
“he was very sharp as a young horse, which is why originally he wasn’t sold away. He used to bolt a little bit, we’ve all had a turn at falling off him at home, the last time being two weeks ago. You know, he’s always been tricky in the character but at the same time when you’ve asked him to do his job he’s very very beautiful at doing his job, he’s very nice to ride, so, you know, I’ve become very fond of him, cos if I wasn’t fond of him he’d have been got rid of one way or the other because he was fairly wild as a young one in terms of a bit dangerous probably…”
“Well, we just all fell off him too often. You know, he’s run out of the school without jumping out, he’s run through the rails, he’s run through a mirror, he’s done lots of things that he shouldn’t have in his life but.. so have I.”
“I think he has just had a fright at some stage, when he arrived he was just fairly wild and fairly rank, and he used to run off with a lot of people and we’ve all fallen off him properly, but I don’t think it’s through being nasty or naughty, it’s just through general sharpness and blood and a bit of fear occasionally.”
Also, on the latest issue of the Eventing Radio Show, Oliver said (starting about 20 minutes in) that Ballaghmor Class is “verging on probably one of the sharpest we’ve ever had”, and that Katherine Charlton, who runs Class Event Horses and who bought the horse as a 3 year old, backed and produced him, is “a friend, a long-term friend”, and the horse is “very sharp, which I presume is why I was the customer for him. She didn’t tell me that at the time, she told me about all the positive bits”.
For what it’s worth, I typed all those comments up very carefully, and verbatim, sometimes listening to a sentence repeatedly to be sure I got it down perfectly correctly.
When the media reported what had been said, and tongues started wagging, Katherine took the unusual step of posting a statement on her Facebook wall, defending her reputation:
“Further to recent press release’s about Ballaghmor Class I would like to put the record straight. I bought the 3 yr old gelding from the first Elite Sale of Event Horses in Tattersalls in September 2010. Consigned to the sale by Kedrah House Stud. Only a month before he was the Reserve Champion at the Royal Dublin Horse Show in the 3 yr old potential event horse Class. I backed him myself and hunted him before producing him through the Future Event Horse League. He also jumped in the 4 yr olds at MillStreet qualifying for the final. He was Selected for the Go For Gold sale on his merits. TALENTED YES! WILD & DANGEROUS NO!!!”
The subsequent Facebook thread contained comments from other people such as “media can be very deceptive”, “some people just thrive off talking nonsense”, “a story can be made out of nothing”, “people like to make up bollocks for interesting reading”, “some people… too much time! oh and probably can’t ride a clothes horse…I’m talking about the press and everyone who embellish the story… not Ollie Townend clearly”, “people will always make up stories”, “things get twisted or mis interpreted in the press. Oli may/may not have meant it to come out like that”.
When I read all those I realised that Katherine wasn’t the only one who wanted to set the record straight.
Of course there is the huge problem of “fake news”, and exaggeration/embellishment by the Press but we are careful on e-Venting not to ever go there. Every word that has been published on this site (and others I have seen, in fact) has been faithful to the words that were said in the Press Conferences. We did not exaggerate what was stated.
After I commented on the thread, Katherine and I messaged back and forth about Ballaghmor Class, and I got to know the horse’s background. These are her words (all reproduced with permission):
“I backed him myself in a very easy quiet way.”
“He was good to back.”
“He hunted here over Christmas as a 3/4 yr old and he competed in the Future Event Horse, qualifying for the league final. He also showjumped in MillStreet in the 4 yr old Discovery in the main arena and got into the final.”
“The horse had been well campaigned here as a 3 and 4 yr old. He was reserve champion young event horse as a 3 yr old in the whole of Ireland, he was the highest priced 3 yr old that sold in that sale.”
“The RDS is massive, the atmosphere is electric and only a sane horse would cope, and he was the Reserve Champion there when I bought him. I am not saying he was a dobbin but dobbins don’t win the biggest event in the World.”
“I had no arena when Oli flew over to try Thomas. I rode him in the field and over some jumps then Oliver got on. So he can’t have been too difficult lol.”
“Things that have been quoted that are totally untrue.”
Another rider who rode him in competition said “he was a pleasure time ride as a 4 year old” (at Millstreet.)
Of course, as we all know, horses change. They can change beyond recognition. A totally different environment, the passage of time, different handling and riding, different management, diet, fitness, the horse getting stronger and more mature, can of course bring about huge changes in behaviour. Nobody would deny that.
The point I think though is that the statement that the horse was “fairly wild and fairly rank” and “a bit dangerous probably” as a youngster, when in fact he had been campaigned by an ‘amateur’ rider at some of the biggest shows in Ireland, apparently without drama, is pretty misleading. Also “She didn’t tell me that at the time, she told me about all the positive bits” makes it easy to infer that there was deliberate witholding of the truth about the horse.
Whether the intention was to make a better story for the Press to report (which it definitely did), to put off potential purchasers at this stage, or whatever else, I have absolutely no idea.
I feel for Katherine – it’s a big deal to have rumours going around that you might have sold a horse to someone, however immensely capable that rider (and of course nobody is going to deny Oliver Townend’s phenomenal talent and experience), without disclosing important information about the horse, for the sake of everyone’s wellbeing. I don’t know Katherine from Adam, I had never even heard of her before this kerfuffle started, but I worry that her business could be affected. Also, credit should always be given to those who do the difficult job of starting these talented, athletic young horses off on the right foot, and carefully steering them in the right direction for future success.
Of course, there is the argument that ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’, and now Katherine Charlton and the name Class Event Horses are far better known. It is very possible that in future two Class horses could represent Britain, with Oliver Townend on Ballaghmor Class and Zara Tindall on her hugely promising BGS Class Affair, who just jumped double clear in the 8/9yr olds CIC*** section at Blenheim International.
Katherine says: “Zara bought him from Paddy Byrne but I owned and named him. Funnily enough he was extremely sharp and Paddy rode him for me as he was too sharp for me, and after the season he agreed to buy him as he was a professional’s ride!”
I will definitely be keeping an eye on other Class horses I see out and about, they are clearly ones to watch.