Taloubet, The Horse Who Made Me: A Conversation with Paulo Santana

Paulo Santana & Taloubet at the Washington International Horse Show. ph: Tori Repole for NF.

“Horses can’t talk, but they can speak if you listen.”

Paulo Santana of El Salvador and the 18-year-old KWPN gelding Taloubet (Baloubet du Rouet x Quidam De Revel) have been communicating with one another for the past ten years.

In the beginning they spoke different languages and didn’t always see eye to eye, though it would be the “unconquerable” Taloubet who ultimately helped Santana learn the ways of the horse.

“…the show vet said he was finished with a 50% tear on his superficial left front tendon.”

It is that truth that has allowed their partnership to withstand the tests of time, as discussed by Santana below:

Noelle Floyd: Can you talk about your relationship with Taloubet.
Paulo Santana: When he was eight, he was in a very difficult market in Europe. He had a hard mouth and a strong temperament, which made him unsuitable for clients.

One day I rode him when I was trying other horses and I felt something different from him. I knew that jumping bigger jumps with him wouldn’t be a problem, but his mind would be the thing to work on.

I confess that during the first two years I thought I’d made a mistake; if I had the chance to return him I think I would’ve taken it several times! But, we started to get along and in the tough moments I knew he was always there for me.

Between 2011 and 2012 he showed in the big division every single weekend of the year, and maybe another horse wouldn’t have survived all of these tests. He gave me the exposure that other riders may not have had with a string of six or more horses.

NF: What was the turning point in your relationship?
PS: He made me learn a lot. Before, I had the mindset that the horse had to submit to our way of work, and he showed me that that doesn’t work with any horse who has geniality. I really learned, after years, and I’m so lucky that he lasted that long, that I had to give him the freedom to do things his way.

Paulo Santana & Taloubet. Ph: Tori Repole for NF

Kent Farrington’s horses have lots of personality and he really respects that. Instead of trying to make a crazy horse calm, he learns to ride it and he gets the results. He really demonstrates how to ride the spirit or character of an animal rather than break it. That’s what’s making him the most acclimated rider, because he’s an example of this.

NF: In what way has Taloubet influenced your approach as a horseman?
PS: He’s influenced my program in every way. I feel ashamed that in the past I used too many artificial means; draw reins, etc.

Today, I try to really listen to the horse. I tell my clients, students, and kids, that when I ride a horse for the first time, I’m doing an interview. I don’t tell them what to do, I just try to listen.

He taught me that you have to listen, and more importantly, that you have to create a language between yourself and the horse, which needs to be understandable. Make what you want clear and then listen to how he responds; you’re not trying to create a totally submissive horse.

In this sport, we’re lucky to have multiple chances to succeed. So, if your communication is not the best at one show, you have the next week, next month to keep trying.

NF: There were several moments that nearly ended his career. Can you talk about that?
PS: He had a big fracture on his third fetlock behind, it was something that was very scary. He had to stay out of work for six months and when he came back he did very well.

“I think retirement for him is something that he would hate. He would be depressed.”

He was 2nd in the CSI5* Grand Prix in Calgary on June 25, 2015, and later he came out of the ring with three legs. We did an ultrasound at the event and the show vet said he was finished with a 50% tear on his superficial left front tendon. Our own vet came the next day to examine him and they both agreed that he was done.

I know he’s a fighter. They said he was finished but he has the most tolerance for pain that I’ve ever seen in my life, and I really wanted to try to rehabilitate him. We had him ridden by a dressage rider for a while and we used lots of alternative medicines. Sixty days later, they ran an ultrasound and there was absolutely nothing there- he was ready to go.

We waited for four months and then he started with a 1.40m class. Another four months later and he was jumping clear rounds in the 1.60m.

When I came back to Canada the very next year, the vet there said “would you mind if I checked your horse? I need an ultrasound image because we need this in the books!” He couldn’t believe that my horse was walking and back doing clear rounds in the big classes. That was the most amazing story, because he is a fighter and wants to be back in the game.

NF: You talk about him like he’s your best friend.
PS: I mean he is. He has his days and I have mine, so now we just learn to stay away from each other when those days come! One of the best things is that I rarely ride him; he stays with one of my riders, students, or grooms. I only ride him around once or twice a month and during the horse shows, and he loves it. He knows when it’s time for his job, for training, and for rest.

NF: At the age of 18, what do you believe has allowed him to remain at the top level?
PS: Vets get upset with me because I keep him away from cortisone. It’s totally forbidden. He has the same health as he did when he was four.

That’s something that my father knew of in hospitals, with the famous plastic surgeons and research, that the effect [of cortisone] might be good but the destruction it brings to you is unrepairable. I think that’s what’s effecting the longevity of all the sport horses.

“He gave me the exposure that other riders may not have had with a string of six or more horses.”

NF: Not the change in footing?
PS: The footing right now is very fast, which is a good scenario to take off from but terrible for landing, especially when you allow hundreds of horses in the class. I think that it’s ok to ride on that footing if you do three or ten minutes of your day there, but the fact that people are opting to get fast footing in their training system is accelerating problems.

I really believe in nature. I was watching a video with Nelson Pessoa the other day from Aachen 30 years ago and it was pure mud. They used to jump Thoroughbreds from the racetracks in very deep footing. He said to me that at that time, they never heard the word “suspensory”-it was tendon injuries. There are so many other injuries that have been created. Yes, the medicine has become much more advanced but I really think that the performance is bringing up all of these new problems. People need to adapt to a much more natural method of healing.

NF: What are your plans for the future?
PS: In 2018 we are trying to create a more cooperative system to make the sport more affordable for “the players”. [We want to] create a very profitable, safe, and honest environment where the good athletes get good contracts, the horse shows pay fairly, and it won’t cost so much for the organizers.

Professionally, I will be riding in the Bolivarian Games in Colombia. I’ll come back to Florida for the [winter] season and will try to get a horse qualified for the World Equestrian Games in Tryon. I’m unsure if it will be Taloubet, but everyone on my team wants it to be him. It might be too much for the old boy but he feels better than ever. I’ll give him the option and he’ll tell me.

Also, as does everyone else, I want to go to the Olympics.

NF: And for Taloubet?
PS: He is 18 now and feels better than ever. Of course, his body isn’t the same as before, but we can still get a lot of results with him. I think retirement for him is something that he would hate. He would be depressed.

[A few weeks ago] we jumped four international classes. Normally that’s way too much for an international horse show and especially for a horse that is 18 but he was clear in every single one. He won on the first day, was 2nd on the second day, and just had the last pole down in the grand prix.

He’s a very enjoyable horse to have and it’s a great partnership now because I know his limits. We don’t fight anymore.

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