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South African's Paul Hart And Heartbreak Hill Are Going To 2012 London Olympics

Paul Hart and his 16 year old Thoroughbred gelding with a KZN pedigree, Heartbreak Hill, have been selected to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games in London in the Equestrian discipline of Eventing. Eventing is the sole equestrian discipline representing South Africa at the 2012 Olympics.

Eventing is a true test of an all-round horse and seeks perfection from every discipline, with three phases over three days. The first is Dressage, the second Cross Country, and the final being the Show-jumping phase. Vets check the horses for soundness and fitness before the start and during the competition - which in itself is an event.

The Dressage phase consists of a set of prescribed movements, which are performed at, or between markers, which are placed around the arena. Marks are awarded according to how accurately, fluidly and precisely the movements are executed. It is important that the horse is graceful, supple and obedient and remains calm and attentive throughout the test. The cross country phase tests their courage and stamina. This is the most exciting and exhilarating eventing test for riders, horses and spectators alike, where horse and rider are asked to gallop over undulating terrain whilst negotiating intimidating solid jumps. These include ditches, banks, drops and water. Each of these tests the courage of both horse and rider. The course must be completed in a specified time, which is worked out by a Technical Delegate (who inspects the course for safety) and the Cross Country Judge. Penalty points are calculated based on time taken and the faults incurred for disobediences on the course. These are added to the Dressage score and carried forward to the final tests, which is show jumping. This tests the horse’s agility, suppleness and obedience over a normal show jumping course following the rigorous tests of the cross country. This is generally the most nerve-wracking part of the Eventing competition.

The overall winner is the horse and rider combination with the lowest combined penalty points at the end of all three tests. In South Africa, Horse Trials are usually run over one or two days. Due to the hard terrain (going) here, the steeplechase and roads and track phases are not held, as is done overseas in traditional Three-Day Events.

In short Eventing is about obedience, courage, stamina, endurance and speed and it takes an exceptional horse to succeed in all three disciplines, as well as being very sound and fit. The sport is not without its dangers as the cross country phase consists of large intimidating fences, ditches, banks and water jumps. It is not a sport for the faint of heart, and the riders need to be fit and precise as there is little room for error in all phases, as well as time penalties for going over the optimum time allowed, or knocking jumps.

What makes this horse, Heartbreak Hill - or affectionately known as 'Harry' - exceptional is that he is a Thoroughbred ex-racehorse with a KZN pedigree.

Rocky Marriage(USA)   Paul Hart with Heartbreak Hill   Jungle Cove(USA)

Paul Hart will be the first South African in 20 years since David Rissik to be competing in the Olympics for South Africa in the Equestrian field of Eventing. Paul is based in Johannesburg, rides professionally as well as passing on his knowledge and teaching students at all levels. Paul also competes in the highest level of Show-jumping with a Warmblood stallion called Colbart. It is not an easy task to be at the top of your game in two different equestrian disciplines, as each has its own demands. Harry is currently based in the UK.

Heike Harvey, a talented horsewoman based in Camperdown, KZN, competes at top level eventing in South Africa herself as well as being a close friend and student of Paul. She describes Paul as "the most genuine, honest person around" and "I trust him implicitly. He loves his horses and is always kind to them. When something goes wrong, he looks at himself first and asks 'what did I do wrong?' He has endless patience. With him being overseas so much, he has learnt a tremendous amount. I can see it in the way he teaches now; absolutely brilliant. He gets me to ride so much better and the horses work stunningly. Paul always gets the best out of every horse that he rides, and some of them haven't been easy. You have to be a great rider to arrive in the UK two weeks before a 3 Star Event and just do it. That is what he has been doing. Riding and teaching here to earn a living and then go overseas and qualify!" An admirable feat indeed.

Foaled in 1996, Heartbreak Hill is by a stallion that stood at George Rowles' Ivanhoe Stud in the KZN Midlands, named Rocky Marriage(USA), out of a mare called Boomy Hill by Jungle Cove(USA), a stallion that stood successfully at the Scott Bros in Nottingham Road.

Heartbreak Hill was raced by his breeder, and competed nationally, racing at Turffontein, Vaal, Bloemfontein and the Eastern Cape. Little did this horse know that the fair amount of travelling he did as a racehorse would stand him in good stead for the future, that he would compete as part of the South African Eventing Team at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky - the birth place of his immediate ancestors.

Heartbreak Hill as a racehorse won two races for his owner over three seasons and R81,123 at ages 3 to 4 over distances of 1400 - 1600m and he placed 11 times from 29 starts.

His dam, Boomy Hill, was an eight-time winner herself including a Listed placing, producing an admirable stud record of eight runners and seven winners. This dam-line is of American descent and includes Bold Black Type winners who went on to be sires such as Alsab and Alhambra.

Rocky Marriage(USA) by Riva Ridge - Exciting Divorcee by Candy Spots, produced many a Stakes Winning horse including the likes of Cherry Tree Hill, July Day, Abscond, Jump For Joy, Weather Bird, Suave, Palace Shock and Rocky Rituals - to name but a few. His sire Riva Ridge won the Kentucky Derby and was the stable mate of the famous Secretariat.

Rocky Marriage, although born in America himself, began his career in training in England where he won two races, his maiden and the Donnington Castle Stakes at Newbury at two. Transferred to race in America, Rocky Marriage won ten races including the Grade 2 Bold Ruler Stakes and the Berkeley Handicap, and finished second in the Carter Handicap. After one season at stud in America he was sent to Ivanhoe Stud in 1988. Not only did he produce consistent racehorses, but his progeny began proving themselves in the showing-jumping arena's nation wide and became wanted property. Rocky Marriage died at the age of 30, after being pensioned at 25 years of age.

Harry's maternal grandsire is Jungle Cove(USA). He retired to stud initially in Kentucky, where he stood for a fee of $2000. He was purchased for R250 000, and exported to stand at Scott Bros from 1976 - 1986. He has been described as "A big (16,3 hands), good-boned, long-backed, strong-bodied bay who was plain about the head, slack in the pasterns and generally not an attractive individual. Although not a pretty horse, he did have a certain presence about him." Described as "a late maturing middle-distance stayer" he raced in America and Canada from 3 to 5 years (1969 - 71) and won 6 races from 1400 to 2200 metres, achieving and admirable Merit rating of 131. Incredibly, he was South Africa's Champion National sire from 1981 to 1987. Jungle Cove was by the great Bold Ruler (sire of Secretariat) out of Santorin by Greek Song. Hearbreak Hill is inbred to Bold Ruler and Heliopolis.

Paul Hart tells us how he came to acquire Harry: "We were looking for an event horse and Shirley Green told us about the horse in Cape Town. They couldn't manage him and he was too much of a handful. He is quite a big horse, he doesn't look it but he actually is almost 17 hands. Quite unusual for a short-coupled Thoroughbred to be that tall, and that agile. People are actually surprised when the stand next to him, because he doesn't look that big. He had a record of stopping by then and he had stopped quite a bit, and that's why he was for sale. Gonda Beatrix was at a show and she saw him and said he looked very good and I must fly up that afternoon, as she didn't think he would stay around for too long. So I flew up that afternoon and I tried the horse the next day - and when I tried him he actually stopped (at the jumps)! We went back the next day and tried him again and he was better, and really light and moved really well with his hocks and that's how we got him, just a fluke find and so we bought him. We have had him for nine years now."

Paul and Heartbreak Hill competing in the dressage phase.   The cross country phase   Showjumping phase

Paul tells us about bringing him on: "His jumping and eventing was always easy. That's his strong point, today even, he can jump the biggest, strongest jump in the world and he is athletic. His Dressage is a problem, he gets quite hot but he has unbelievable movement, I mean people are always surprised that he is Thoroughbred because he really can move and he has a really good extended trot. He just battles to keep it altogether and if he has a blow-up, it's not as smooth as it needs to be.

When asked about how much the quality of pedigree has an influence when Paul is buying a horse, he says: "Rocky Marriage had an influence when I bought Harry. I actually taught a girl on a Rocky Marriage for years and I always said if I found one I would buy it because her horse was fantastic, and he still is. I liked the Rocky Marriages and when we tried to find another one for eventing after buying Harry, we never managed. Every time I got there to see a horse, it was either gone or sold so what we are going to do - the Warmblood stallion I currently have named Colbart that I showjump - will go to a Rocky Marriage mare and I will be breeding an event horse out of her."

Paul believes that the Thoroughbred is a very competitive breed. "I think Thoroughbreds are fantastic and they have come back into fashion again. They are athletic, they are fast and they learn quickly. The problem is finding them big enough and good enough. I don't think you find as many big Thoroughbreds as you used to. For me to find one that suits me and my size is always quite hard. I'm a big Thoroughbred fan, I mean you always have enough juice in the tank with a Thoroughbred, the course is 12.5 minutes (approximately 7km long) and they can run. I think what's nice is to get them before they have raced too much, so that you can make the Dressage better."

Paul's highlights of his career include winning the 2008 SA Eventing Champs and competing at Blenheim in England. "I have to say winning SA Champs is up there because that for me was a milestone. I have always wanted to win it, and always thought I would win it, and it just escaped me. I was always second or third or something went wrong so when I finally did win it on him, I was really pleased but I would have been more pleased if the Cliffords were alive so that they could have seen it, because they sponsored me for 18 years and we never won it. My other highlight was going clear at Blenheim. Blenheim is one of the biggest events in England. That was when I knew he was a really top horse, he flew around there so brilliantly."

Describing Harry's qualities, Paul says that when he was in France, "all the top riders said he has the best conformation for a sport horse. He has really excellent conformation, straight legs, short coupled, really strong back and he really is a beautiful horse and beautifully put together. He has really good big paces and he is fast, so it's a wonderful thing to have. He is a sensitive horse. You can't be in a rush at all, you have to be very calm around him. He has flown around the world and he has taken it in his stride. He has flown everywhere, to America, to Germany, and he has travelled everywhere so they just learn to be very patient and comfortable. Their horseboxes overseas are far more comfortable then ours to stand and travel in. The horses can eat and drink while they are driving on a long journey and some of them have airconditioning in them, so it is much better for the horses to travel and arrive fresh."

Exporting a horse out of South Africa has always been a challenge with African Horse Sickness, and due to stringent rules, horses are only able to be exported after a lengthy process, which is not without its disadvantages. "The quarantine was the hardest part for me and for the horse. They did a very good job, it is just harsh when they are locked up like that - it's almost like a submarine and they spray this terrible stuff (prevention of midges that carry the African Horse Sickness virus) which made Harry cough for two years after that, before he went into quarantine he never coughed. They lock them up at 4pm everyday and they could only come out at 9am the next day and mentally they find it very hard to stand like that; I think that was the hardest part of the horses' journey. And then of course the flight which went on forever - because they couldn't land with the mist and then they had to divert the plane.

Harry in Quarantine in Cape Town   Harry in the plane, on his way to Europe.   Heartbreak Hill being presented for inspection

"They were in the aeroplane for 28 hours. Graham (Winn) said the horses couldn't have stayed in there for much longer, they were getting that hot. The horsebox had to come from the other side - they can only drive for four hours and then they have to have a 45 minute break. The state vets had to come and release the horse because we landed in the wrong place. They quite strict about it and they don't help. If things go wrong and you land elsewhere, you are in trouble. The journey was long and hard. The way they are loaded, they walked up this little ramp to the plane. It was quite scary. They didn't get hoisted into the plane, they actually walked up a narrow little ramp with flapping banners on the sides to keep them in. They could have fallen off so easily, but it just shows how brave these horses are. They just walked up, and it's steep and they went in and loaded. All of the horses that went were special and they learnt to take it in their stride. They also took comfort from each other and they were quite friendly to eachother, and I think that's how they got through it all."

Harry has competed internationally, in France, England and America and he travels very well as long as it's done quietly. "If you slam the partition closed, which often happens when people are under pressure, that makes him really tense and unhappy, otherwise he is really perfect. He travelled on his own to Blenheim. He travels on his own to shows in the truck and it doesn't bother him and I think he has travelled enough now to know. He knows when a show is coming up because of his routine. He picks up at the right time, he does it all, he knows and I also think he has picked it up over the many years of competing."

Describing Harry's work and routine, Paul tells us that at the moment Harry is on a break and he will start work again soon. "Every morning he goes on a horse-walker for an hour and then every day he works. He has a different work routine daily, one day would be Dressage, the next day would be jumping, and then galloping the day after. We always do the horse-walker first because he is getting on, it warms him up and makes sure he is right for what he is going to do that day. Also with the weather, you can't guarantee what day they are going to gallop, but it has to be in that week so sometimes we have to move his routine around, so everyday it's a different discipline.

"He does road-work which I was horrified about!" The reason Paul says this, is that horses' legs and feet can be damaged from work on hard surfaces and it isn't common practice in South Africa to work horses on roads. "He goes out in knee boots and full leg boots to protect his legs, and they do lots of roadwork. The horses trot. They walk on the downhills and trot up the hills and they do that for about an hour. It is all a part of his regime and he has never been fitter and he has never been sounder, so there is a lot to be said for it. It is all very quiet work except for the galloping. He does 12.5 minutes of galloping easily. At Blenheim I could have gone on and done it even more. In France when he had his first vet check 5 minutes after finishing, his heart rate was 82 and he was allowed to leave early. He was the fittest horse at the show. I think the lung capacity develops and Tamsyn Hutchins works him for me and she does great work. Whenever I get there he is fit and well.

"After the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky I sent him to England to Tamsyn’s yard in Kent. I decided to qualify for the Olympic Games early so we went to Portugal the next February and qualified and then I went to Brahman and I qualified there. So my qualification was done very early so that I didn't have the pressure at the last minute, so that I could back off and make sure that he stays sound for the Olympics. That's why I made sure I did it early last year, and I was lucky that it worked. Anything can go wrong around those tracks, so it is just fortunate that I have such a great horse."

Paul talks about his future plans with his talented gelding. "He will stay in England after the Olympics, and then I am hoping to do Burghley or Badminton. I would love to do Badminton because I think he is more suited to that track, and he is very good at galloping at trenches and turning and he gets quite a handful - after that we will see how sound he is and how happy he is. He will be 16 then and it all depends. Everyone over there thinks I'm mad. When he has had enough I will retire him, and he will come home and stand in the paddock and hack. I will never sell him. I have been offered a lot of money for him quite a few times and it's just a sentimental thing. He has done a lot for me, and I am very fond of him. He also belonged to the Cliffords and they were very good to me and so I would never sell him. It's just not an option. Hopefully he can win something big so we can afford to fly home!"

Paul has had fantastic support and sponsorship over the years to assist to get him where he is today. "I would like to thank Mike Marsden who sponsors me. He is actually involved in racing and owns horses with Paul Matchett and he has been fantastic. He has backed me all the way and not just him, a lot of the horse fraternity have helped me get there but he keeps me going and without him I could never have done it, and without Tamsyn and her help - her family are fantastic. When I go over there I stay with them, they make life very easy for me providing a base like that. You don't leave there with a bad feeling at all, I know she looks after Harry brilliantly and rides him brilliantly so it is a very nice support mechanism to have.

"I am very fortunate to have such a great horse, I really mean that. You start many horses in your life and you never know how far they will go and when they go this far, you are just lucky that they have the scope. People say, 'oh, but he is a Thoroughbred' - but he just has the deepest jump and lots of power, he is a full package of horse. You couldn't hope for a better horse and it wouldn't matter what breed he was, because he has got it all. I am just very fortunate."

KZN Breeders would like to congratulate Paul and Harry on their fantastic achievement, wishing them all the best for the upcoming Olympic Games where he will be carrying the hopes of the South African equestrian community. We wait in eager anticipation!

Follow Paul and Harry's journey on their Facebook page, Paul Hart.

   Harry at the World Equestrian Games, Kentucky.   Paul and Harry in action