OTTB Spotlight: Faithful

Today I bring you a guest blog post written by Paula Carleton Evans. Paula is currently working on a book about about the Chilean Thoroughbred Huaso nee Faithful, an ex-racer who jumped a wall higher than eight feet back in 1949 and still holds a world record for that feat. The story is timely, as yesterday marked the 65th anniversary of Faithful's legendary jump.

I hope you enjoy Paula's historic account of this incredible OTTB!

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The oldest world record in sport reached a phenomenal milestone yesterday, 65 years after it was set by a Thoroughbred whose name may as well have been Pegasus, and the sport, aviation.

On February 5, 1949, Huaso nee Faithful, ridden by Chilean cavalry Captain Alberto Larraguibel Morales, jumped a wall 8 feet and 1 inch (2.47 meters) high. No horse and rider team has yet to match or best the achievement since. Outside of Chile, where it is duly celebrated, this landmark of equine and human athleticism is largely unknown, barely registering even among competitive puissance riders.

No mirrors or pulleys were involved in this spectacular feat, held as it was to the exacting protocols of a world record which dictated all circumstantial particulars such as where, when, and the number of allowable attempts (three). The only non-designated element of assistance received by horse and rider was in the form of outrageous belief in their combined abilities, as though the horse's original name of Faithfull had become intrinsic to its being.

This makes the world record set 65 years ago in Vina del Mar, Chile a record not only of the highest equestrian jump, but also of the greatest documented instance of faith between human and horse.

But getting to that point of perfection took many mistakes, possibly a world record number. Faithful had been bred for the racetrack, a Thoroughbred of top South American lineage that traced back to Britain and the original sires. For six years, Faithful unflaggingly proved his lack of speed, never once entering the winner's circle. Add to this lusterless career a reputedly dismal set of ground manners, and one concludes this horse was lucky to have lived in a time and place where Thoroughbreds were a precious scarcity. 

Retired finally from the track, Faithful was acquired by the military for training in dressage. These were the days when parades served the powerful PR function of demonstrating a nation's military prowess and rousing support from the public. In 1942, when Faithful was enlisted in this effort, a sharply suited cavalry could still suggest a country's glory.

But for Faithful, dressage would be another exercise in ignominy. One day while training in a ring, Faithful balked at a request, plunging rebelliously backward into a wall from which a piece of metal (some sources claim a rake) protruded. Faithful's flank was severely gouged and he almost bled to death. But as his odd luck would have it, a vet of happened to be at the barn, and the devastating injury was swiftly tended, saving the ornery horse's life.

Such was the success of the treatment that Faithful made a full recovery with every ability restored but, crucially, one: the exacting muscular control necessary to execute the precise action essential to dressage.

This did not however end the cavalry's interest in Faithful. Upon recovery, he was put into training for stadium jumping, a popular event again useful to display military know-how. Training began, with Faithful discarding his dressage technique but, notably, retaining his contempt for rules. One day, while being long whipped over fences in an outdoor ring, the rider-less Faithfull tired of the three foot jumps, and leapt instead over the enclosure's external six foot wall, exerting himself doubly rather than comply. 

It was at this moment that the hand of fate showed itself, for just as Faithful was staging his flying protest, and making the case that his talents were misidentified, Captain Alberto Larraguibel Morales was driving up the stable's entry on his singular mission to find a high jump prospect, a horse with the rare ability to clear fences of heart-stopping height.

And so it was that naughtiness changed the course of equine history, setting in motion a process which would culminate, 65 years ago yesterday, in a then-renamed horse defying gravity in a way unmatched by any since. With his intractable disposition and elegant rider aloft, Huaso--thus named to reflect his Chilean origins as the term is exclusive to his country--spent the next seven years being uncharacteristically cooperative and uncommonly sensational at a sport that has never since seen his like and most likely never will.

Faithful's world-record jump; photo courtesy of the Chilean Museum of Military History

Click here to view a video of Faithful's jump.

15 Comments

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Fred and Joan

What an amazing account of horses ability to jump! We did not know ANY horse could jump 8'1". That would be as high as our barn stalls walls and Faithful could have easily cleared our 7' perimeter fences! We enjoyed the photos and video of him in action too. Our first farm stallion, Count Mein Too, we found out was also a good jumper. That's why we raised our perimeter fence to 7' high, but occasionally we have a yearling who surprises us by not being where we placed them the night before! Sadly, we lost Count to we believe to be cancer several years ago. Fortunately we have several of his sons and daughters who seem to have the same abilities and excellent temperament that he possessed.

07 Feb 2014 8:59 AM
New York, NY

Wow, what am amazing story...and so wonderfully written!  I want to read more!

07 Feb 2014 9:01 AM
New York, NY

Incredible article!!  I really enjoyed reading this.

07 Feb 2014 9:19 AM
SallySlew

What a story! Thank you for hosting Paula. It's nice to hear stories of ex-racers who go on to greatness after a less than successful track career.  As all of us thoroughbred fans know, thoroughbreds are loaded with brains and heart. Will Bloodhorse be publishing the book? I look forward to buying it.

07 Feb 2014 9:44 AM
Jackie WV

WOW.....Unbelievable!!!  Ester, thanks so much for posting this story.  I practically grew up in the "hunter jumper" show ring and I always had a thoroughbred as my partner, but I never dreamed a jump of this magnitude was ever even attempted let alone accomplished. Goes to show you....Never under estimate the heart of a thoroughbred!!

07 Feb 2014 9:45 AM
Donut Jimmy

As a child I had this in my Guinness Book of World Records. So I was confused when American and European riders claimed this or that "world record" jumping mostly Puissance walls at significantly lower heights.

Note that the rails are tied in place. This makes the feat simultaneously a fraction easier (only a fraction, but he can brush over it) but also something modern riders would probably be loathe to try. It is impossible to tell in the video whether he bumped the top rail, and whether he did so hard enough to dislodge it from modern cups. Not that it really matters.

I would imagine tying the rail makes the jump both more dangerous in some ways (obviously if he hit the rail it would not knock down out of his way easily) but may also ultimately add safety (as a rail knocked down from that height could tangle in a horse's legs.) Modern puissance walls are made of relatively small wooden bricks which won't catch between a horses legs as dangerously, and are also much lighter than a 12 foot rail.

The slope of the top of Huaso's jump is probably a better shape for maximal effort as it more closely mimics a horse's normal bascule when jumping. If any modern horse is ever going to attempt to match this, it probably better not be over a puissance wall.

Remarkable also is his landing. He completely recovers in a stride and a half and appears perfectly happy with the jump.

It was truly a remarkable feat. Thanks for reminding us all.

07 Feb 2014 11:03 AM
Love 'em all

What a wonderful treat this has been, and thank you for sharing Paula Evan's interesting piece of equine history with us.

Found Faithful's pedigreequery site, which also has a small front view pic of his famous jump.  Born in 1933.

www.pedigreequery.com/faithful11

What a horse!  

07 Feb 2014 11:39 AM
Karen in Indiana

Love it! Reminds me of McDynamo's story. Sometimes when a horse isn't being cooperative, they're trying to say 'That's not my thing'. And if we listen and try to find what that 'thing' is, they shine.

07 Feb 2014 4:00 PM
Proud Acres

That was absolutely amazing! Who knew a horse would have the courage to even try that, let alone accomplish it! Thank you for sharing

07 Feb 2014 4:42 PM
Jen Roytz

Such a cool story (they all are - each horse has a unique tale...and tail!). :)

Good job, Esther. You're so good at what you do!

07 Feb 2014 4:54 PM
replay

This is absolutely wonderful. Interesting to note: I was told by an old school dressage teacher that most extraordinary horse pictures the expression on the horse and that of the rider are the same. Sure is here!

07 Feb 2014 11:42 PM
PatsyK

Great story! So many other things could have happened to this incredible horse! Shouldn't this be at least a made for TV movie! Again, the truth is better than any script could be.  And lets all try to always remember that sometimes we're just asking a horse to do something he really doesn't like. This is such a well written story I hope I will keep it in mind every time one of my horses is acting up a bit....maybe I'm just asking them to do the wrong thing!

09 Feb 2014 1:51 PM
Old Old Cat

I think this might be a second career for my filly.  Last November,  as a two year old still in training for a hoped for a  non winners of two turf race to end the year, she was super fit, climbing the walls, ready to run again.  When I got the official word from the racing secretary that the race would not be written I went to Fair Hill to let the Trombetta crew know she was done for the year.  They were sweeping out broken glass from her stall.  During the night she had gotten tired of her usual play toys, and jumped up pulling down the overhead light fixture and steel cage.  Mike's custom designed barn has an extra row of blocks, making the ceiling and lights that much taller than normal.  He could only laugh and say that no other horse had done that in all the years the barn was up.

09 Feb 2014 3:33 PM
greyghost

What an incredible feat! The stamina it took to withstand the landing without falling is nothing short of a miracle.

09 Feb 2014 11:48 PM
deb

hope to be able to see and read the book when it is done. what an amazing duo!

18 Feb 2014 12:47 PM

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