'When You Love Them, They Feel It': Samantha Mcintosh and Check In Prove That Friendship Wins at MET Oliva

'When You Love Them, They Feel It': Samantha Mcintosh and Check In Prove That Friendship Wins at MET Oliva

The handsome bay stands at the back of his stall, all four legs wrapped with ice boots, ears half-heartedly pinned back.

“He likes to be alone,” chuckles his groom, Margaux Rampnoux.

Yet, having won the Mediterranean Equestrian Tour (MET) Oliva CSI3* 1.50m Grand Prix less than an hour before, no one would begrudge the stallion known as Check In a few moments to himself.

Eventually, however, “Checky” comes over to accept a treat of a banana from his rider, Samantha Mcintosh, who finds his grumpy faces endearing.

Samantha and Check In jump-off to win the CSI3* 1.50 Grand Prix.

“That’s the first grand prix I’ve won on him. He’s had lots of placings but that’s the first time we’ve been up front,” she says of the 16-year-old Oldenburg, her partner of four years and mount for the FEI World Equestrian Games last fall. “His jump is just phenomenal. He has a lovely, huge, big stride.”

Sam and the Takapoto Equestrian-owned stallion posted one of only four double-clear trips out of 52 in the first round of the grand prix. The last to jump-off, they needed a clean, quick round to top Best of Berlin BS and Switzerland’s Edwin Smits, who had already banked three victories in as many days.

“It was good I was at the end [of the starting order], so I had watched most of the class,” Sam says. She described the course as technical and requiring adjustability — not exactly Checky’s strong suit. “I knew I had to watch the time allowed. He has a big, slow movement. The first round wasn’t the most beautiful round I’ve ridden but he fought really hard. He knows his job and he really wanted to be the winner today I think.”

James S (far right) and his stable mates hoping for a fruity treat.

As they take their victory lap, Sam drops her hand and nods in acknowledgement of the cheering spectators, but she has eyes only for her horse, silently soaking in the moment with him.

Back at the barns, the quiet demeanor she exhibits in the saddle is mimicked on the ground. Going stall to stall, each horse greets Sam with an expression of genuine friendship. She offers one the remainder of Checky’s banana.

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Born to show jumping parents Penny Stevenson and Colin Mcintosh, Sam naturally gravitated towards riding as a child and has enjoyed a storied life in the sport. Though born in New Zealand, she rode for Bulgaria at the 2000 Olympics as well as the 2002 and 2006 World Equestrian Games. She ultimately switched her flag back to New Zealand (for whom she rode at the 2010 and 2018 WEG) and is now settled at a peaceful farm south of Bordeaux, France.

After a whirlwind career, Sam has a small program now with only five horses, which suits her just fine. She prefers to spend more time with each horse and individualize their training programs, tailoring her whole system to foster their physical and mental wellness. Her farm is tranquil and spacious; the horses enjoy lots of turnout and long walks in the forest — sounds dreamy.

Each horse has a little mascot hanging from his or her halter, and a larger stuffed animal dangling in the stall. It brings them comfort, Margaux says, and they often sleep with their heads rested against the toys.

“I’ve done my years of riding from dawn to dusk. I try to keep it so that it’s a pleasure now as well as being serious,” Sam says. “I just like to first have my horses fit and happy and still treat them like horses. Although they have everything they could possibly want, I’m not trying to pamper them too much.”

Margaux, whom Sam calls her “right-hand man,” is equally dedicated. “I think when you just love them and like them, they feel it,” Margaux says. “They look happy. That’s what’s most important.”

Looking at the perky faces peering at us from down the barn aisle — Checky included, as Margaux massages his face with a curry comb — there’s no arguing that fact.

Checky is happy to get a grooming from Margaux.

It’s been a successful start to the season in Spain for Sam and her team. Trading winter weather for palm trees and sunshine, MET is a regular stop in Sam’s world travels.

“I came back to Europe [from New Zealand] in 2014 and I think I’ve been here every year since,” Sam says. “I love it here. It’s so well organized, the facilities are fantastic, they improve every year. It’s good sport. There is always a lot of top riders coming here. … You don’t see all the work that goes on behind the scenes. … There is no detail that gets left unattended.”

Sam and Margaux were already nearly packed up by the time the grand prix finished. With today’s journey home looming, they would bid farewell to the tour on the second floor of The Club, MET’s towering bar and restaurant overlooking the grand prix arena, for their “traditional celebration” and a hearty cheer to Checky.

Read this next: How I Do It: Uma O'Neill on Being an Amateur but Riding (and Living) Like a Pro

Photos by Leslie Threlkeld for NoelleFloyd.com.