by Lisa A. Riopell-Gonzalez
Walking through a city park, have you stopped to admire the many statues of horse and rider?
Have you ever wondered what the real life version of horse and rider must have been like?
Surely both man and beast were mighty and accomplished or there’d be no sculpture. If only the horse part of the statue would come to life: for it would be well-muscled with beautiful confirmation; in-tune with its rider; and ready to go forth into the next challenge. I have had the opportunity to meet such a horse and his name was Champagne Watchout.
His name said it all, really. The champagne gene brings such brilliance to a horse’s coat that it creates some of the world’s most beautiful equines. “Watchout” told you exactly what you needed to do for there was nothing that this horse could not do; and do well. Jumping, driving, Western, English, Mounted Patrol and the highest echelons of dressage were his domain.
Truly his accomplishments are too numerous to name.
Living in the far reaches of the Northeast in Central Maine, I’d never heard of Watchout until I got a Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH) of my own. Gaited horses are a novelty in Maine and not much is known about them. My TWH looked nothing like I thought a Walker should, so I searched on-line to learn more. Upon my computer screen came a photo of greatness. A beautiful, massive and muscle bound stallion. Astride him sat a grinning rider in a top hat and formal riding wear; the TWH stallion’s owner, Jennie Jackson.
Little did I realize that this photo would change my life. Not long after seeing this photo, I met Champagne Watchout in Tennessee. A group of us, attending the Road to the Horse, took a day trip to see Jennie for riding lessons. During my visit, Jennie rode Watchout after he had had an extended break. Not an ordinary ride, mind you, but high level dressage movements in the back yard!! Watching him move, one could not look away. Watchout had PRESENCE-that rare quality that goes beyond looks and talent. This quality animated his movements in such a way that cannot be described in words. To quote a TWH breeder, “It is all about the movement” and move beautifully, he did.
Five months ago, I flew to join Jennie for the Southern Equine Expo in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. We were not to know that this would be Watchout’s last public appearance. Jennie told me she took him to the Expo “because people like to see him” and how true this was. When she rode him in the Coliseum, the audience watched with rapt attention. One of my jobs during the Expo was to hand walk Watchout in the mornings after he’d spent the night stalled. He is the only stallion I have handled and his behavior was exemplary. As we took our morning strolls, people tending their horses would stop what they were doing and just stare as we passed. At the time, Watchout was twenty-four years old and still captivated people by simply walking by. I had the privilege of riding him during this visit and he was a “Cadillac”-smooth, responsive and very easy to ride. It was a true thrill and of all the horses I have ridden, he was by far the most superb.
I was stunned to hear of Watchout’s recent passing. A horse such as he comes along so rarely, it is hard to accept that he is gone. He will be greatly missed by those who knew him and the TWH community.
The next time I am in a city park, and I come across a statue of horse and rider, I will stop and ponder. I will reflect that I am one of the few to have met a real life horse of legend: Champagne Watchout.