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That Special Bond – with Kerry Finch: “There can’t only be one, because there were so many”

Wednesday, 24 November 2021
That Special Bond

Photo © World of Showjumping “There can’t only be one, because there were so many,” Kerry says with a smile when asked about which horse that during her career has been the most special one to her. Here with John Whitaker's Unick de Francport, one of her all-time favourites. Photo © World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

Our series ‘That Special Bond’ continues, and this time around we speak with Kerry Finch who has groomed not only for one legendary Whitaker, but two – and who over the last decades has taken care of some of the sport’s most famous horses. 

“When I was ten, I already wanted to work for Michael – that was my life-long ambition,” Kerry smiles. “It was all I ever wanted to do, and I ended up working for him for thirteen years. I started up just before my 21st birthday. After I stopped with Michael, I went on to work for Billy Twomey for six years, then I freelanced a bit for six months. During this time, I went to John for a month of grooming, but I never left – three years later and I am still here!”

“If it’s one thing I have learned from Michael and John, it’s the value of keeping it simple,” Kerry says. “It’s so important letting a horse be a horse, and not over-training them. Field-time and doctor green is the best thing you can do to any horse, as well as hacking them out. Wrapping them in cottonwool just does not work. At home, Michael and John would perhaps work the younger horses a bit more, while the older ones with more experience they would just keep ticking over.”

The Special One

Photo © Hippo Foto/Dirk Caremans "She just preferred having the attention and being at the centre of things," Kerry tells about Michael Whitaker's Portofino that jumped at no less than six World Cup Finals during her career, here is Las Vegas in 2005. "She hated if the lorry left without her and did not really like being out in the field." Photo © Hippo Foto/Dirk Caremans.

“There can’t only be one, because there were so many,” Kerry says with a smile when asked about which horse that during her career has been the most special one to her. 

“There are two mares that really stand out though. The first one is Portofino (Habsburg x Orthos), that Michael rode at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen in 2006, at two European Championships and six World Cup Finals. At nine years old, we went with her to Syracuse and Toronto – she ended up third in the Grand Prix in Syracuse and won the World Cup in Toronto as well as being third in the Grand Prix. It was the first World Cup win for me as a groom, and really special,” Kerry smiles.

“Portofino was no fan of other horses, but she loved human attention,” Kerry tells. “She would literally follow me around with no headcollar or lead rope, she was like a dog basically. She just had so much character! Portofino was a horse that just did not want to have fences down; she just wanted to do her job – much like Argento from John really. She hated if the lorry left without her and did not really like being out in the field – she just preferred having the attention and being at the centre of things. I went to visit her a little while ago, she is 27 and now she is actually enjoying going in the field.”

“Then there is obviously Tinka’s Serenade (Tinka’s Boy x African Drum), that I took care of while I worked for Billy. With Tinka, it was her way or forget it. There was no reasoning with her,” Kerry laughs. “Tinka would always go out in the field with a pony, and if she would be standing at the gate looking at you, you would not walk away and leave her there because she would start a rodeo show around the field. She had no self-preservation, you just had to bring her in straight away if that was what she wanted.”

“Tinka was a proper chestnut mare, but she loved doing her job! The bigger the atmosphere, the better she would jump. I still remember in Paris, when she was 18 and finished third in the Grand Prix there, she was so naughty with the crowds – throwing her legs up everywhere, spinning around and doing all sorts, but she loved jumping with the atmosphere and she was another one that did not like touching the fences,” Kerry smiles. 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WOSJ “Tinka was a proper chestnut mare, but she loved doing her job! The bigger the atmosphere, the better she would jump," Kerry tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Nowadays, it’s Unick de Francport (Zandor x Helios de la Cour II) – or Frank as we call him – who is my special one, but in many other ways than Portofino and Tinka. Frank and John have had huge success together the last years, but it took eight-nine months of perseverance as he was a bit quirky in the ring at the beginning – he liked to take a spin around. Then we went to the Great Yorkshire Show, and he ended up being third in the Cock of the North on the last day. Frank absolutely loves that arena and was second again this year. Anyway, it slowly started from that show and got better and better with everything coming together,” Kerry tells about the 13-year-old gelding that Whitaker finished second with in the LGCT Grand Prix of London this summer. 

“Frank is an easy guy and likes the simple things in life; he likes to go in the field but does not like to go in the walker. At home, he goes in the field with the donkey – that’s Frank. With me, he’s a bit of a dog – he likes to go for a hand walk and stop to have his grass. You have to be soft with him though, and make sure to never be abrupt in anything you do – then he gets upset. If Frank was human, I think he would prefer to sit down in a big, soft chair and have a good cup of tea,” Kerry laughs. 

“While he perhaps was not that close to my heart, Two Step (Polydor x Froehlich) – that I groomed while I worked for Michael – was also a super special horse in many ways. Two Step did not like carpets, so at the indoor shows where they put the carpets over the floors, we had a problem. I can remember being in Stuttgart, where I had made him a deep bed over the carpet but overnight he dug it up with the result that the carpet appeared beneath… When I arrived in the morning, he was still where I had left him the night before, because he was so worried about the carpet,” Kerry laughs. “At the indoor shows, you could also just leave the door to his box open, because he would never come out to the carpet. Two Step never got ridden at home, it was ride and lead, or out in the field and lunge because he was super sharp. That worked well for him though, and he kept jumping until his twenties.”

Hardest To Get To Know

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “Diaghilev, that I took care of while I worked for Billy, was probably the hardest to get to know,” Kerry tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Diaghilev (Vangelis S x Handstreich), that I took care of while I worked for Billy, was probably the hardest to get to know,” Kerry tells. “When he first came to Billy, Diaghilev would constantly be standing back in his stable and did not want to know of any of us. He was a bit of a difficult one and made it clear that he wanted to be left alone. After work, we put him out in the field every day, and slowly he would come around. In the end, I bribed him with Polos to get him to like me – he would always know if I had some in my pocket even when I did not know it myself. Diaghilev won some great classes with Billy; in Birmingham, Dublin, Hamburg and Liverpool.”

“Amai (Nonstop x Bacara) – that Michael won the Grand Prix of Aachen with – was also a bit hard to get to know, and I never really bonded with him,” Kerry tells. “Amai had a poker face, and would never give anything away really, but he was also never my horse to get to know – I only did a few shows with him. I have some lasting memories from Amai though; scars,” Kerry laughs. “Amai hated getting his rugs on, and once in a while he would get hold of me good and proper!”

Missing The Most

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "With Tinka, it was her way or forget it. There was no reasoning with her,” Kerry tells about one of the two mares that she misses the most. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“I suppose that would be the two mares, Portofino and Tinka’s Serenade,” Kerry says. “They just loved the attention and were such special creatures. They enjoyed the sport so much, loved the life on the road – just happy in life they were. These two mares also took me all over the world and gave me so many memories; Portofino to the World Equestrian Games in Aachen in 2006 and to the Olympics in Athens as the reserve with Michael in 2004, and Tinka to the World Cup Final in Lyon in 2014.”

 

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