he first time Anne Kursinski sat astride the horse who would become her legendary partner, Eros, she knew she just had to bring him home with her. But he was far from the superstar he was destined to become in those early days.
“He was just over 16 hands, very slight, and he was a real Thoroughbred who had raced,” Anne recalls. “The first time I saw him, he was just this little ewe-necked horse flying over the fences. George Morris had wanted me to try him, and the minute I jumped him, I thought, ‘Wow, he’s going to go to the Olympics.’”
A tall order for a horse with such inauspicious beginnings, as show jumpers go.
But this partnership, destined for greatness, wasn’t one to let the odds get them down. For Anne, the process of producing Eros (Family Ties x Tudor Success) to the great jumper she knew he could be was every bit as rewarding as the innumerable victories they ultimately earned. The idea of coaxing greatness from a horse is one Anne knows well, and if you ask her today what her greatest accomplishments are, she counts the longevity of Eros’ career as one of them.
It would be a disservice not to mention highlights off of a long list of accolades that adorn Eros’ FEI record. A win at the American Gold Cup. A team silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Victory at the Pulsar Crown Grand Prix, with a purse of $450,000 in 1998. Countless trips overseas with top placings, including fifth at the 1997 FEI World Cup Final in Gothenburg. Anne sums it up best herself: “I could write a book about him.”
It wasn’t easy, though. Producing Eros required just as much talent as it did an understanding of the horse and horsemanship. Anne speaks of Eros as if she were referring to an old friend, not just a competition horse.
“It was a lot of compromise with him,” she explains. “He was extremely sensitive, and so you had to meet him halfway.”
Wish you could take a lesson with Anne? Good news. You can.
Anne analogizes her method of training Eros as similar to water dripping onto a rock — repetition, softly. “It was a lot of repetition and finding new ways to ask,” she elaborates. “The goal was always to work with him, not against him. Especially with a horse like him — he was so talented, I didn’t want to take away what God gave him!”
Finding ways to work with her horse and not against him was tricky, but Anne navigated it expertly. She’d had plenty of experience prior to Eros, of course, with horses such as her 1988 Olympic medalist, Starman, and she used every bit of this to help her bring out the best in her sensitive new ride.
“He liked to go around a bit with his head up,” she recalls. Where some riders may have worked to change this headset, to change the horse’s shape, Anne decided instead to go with it. “That’s how he saw the jumps. He liked being on a light rein and doing it on his own. So a lot of it was just learning how to not interfere too much with him.”
Time marched on, and Eros grew older. The job of an elite show jumper is a demanding one, hard on the body. As Eros matured, Anne focused on longevity, not miles. This, she says, is a cornerstone of horsemanship that we often forget.
“We see a lot of horses being rushed these days, either to compete or to be sold at their prime,” she says. “With him, we were in it in it for the long game. It’s always been about what’s best for him and what would enable him to reach his potential and be happy doing it.”
Anne credits Dr. John Steele, her longtime vet, with teaching her the fundamentals of caring for those notoriously fragile Thoroughbred feet. Keeping those happy, she said, made a difference in keeping Eros happy and sound even into his 20s.
She still takes pride in the fact that Eros competed into his second decade. For her, that is perhaps the biggest accomplishment of all. “You learn a lot about a horse when you have him from age five to age 33,” she says fondly. “When you can have a connection like that, it’s almost like mental telepathy.”
Picking and choosing her show schedule also made a difference, Anne says. For horses like Eros, a jam-packed schedule of runs isn’t needed. This is one more factor that played into the length of his career.
“We kept him sound by waiting for the big shows and not running his legs off,” she says. “I never felt like I overused or overjumped him.”
Anne says she likes to take the time to evaluate each horse that she sees to get a sense of what it wants to be. Just as with Eros, their personality and work ethic manifest themselves over time. “Each horse is different, if we just take the time to learn about them. I’m very detail oriented; I like to walk through the barn each evening, and look in each stall, and just spend time with each horse, getting to know them. We have high expectations for wellbeing in our program.”
It’s a program built on the foundation of longevity, not instant success. “You have to take the time to let the horses be horses,” Anne says. “You have to put the time into proper development. It’s tough, and it takes time, but the payoff is better, greater, longer — a happier, sounder horse.”
Photography by Jan Gyllensten, www.photogyllensten.com.