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Cancer claims popular US hunter Expury

Tommi Clark and Exupery, Grand Hunter Champions at the 2012 Pennsylvania National Horse Show.

Tommi Clark and Exupery, Grand Hunter Champions at the 2012 Pennsylvania National Horse Show. © Al Cook

Champion US hunter Exupery has died of cancer at the age of 17.

With trainer Tommi Clark in the irons, Exupery was Grand Hunter Champion and High Performance Hunter Champion at the 2012 Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Clark also earned the title of Leading Hunter Rider there thanks to her success with Exupery, fittingly nicknamed “Super.”

The Hanoverian gelding (Escudo I-Waldglocke) was highly successful in California and consistently finished atop the year-end USHJA Zone 10 rankings as well as the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association (PCHA) rankings. Previous rider Keri Kampsen paired with him to win the Regular Working Hunter Championship at the 2008 National Horse Show in Syracuse, NY, and devoted owner Stephen Borders also competed him successfully in the amateur divisions.

Borders, of San Marcos, California, purchased Exupery at the 2001 Hanoverian Elite Auction when he was 4 years old. Bred in Germany by Helmut Repp, Exupery was being shown in the dressage section of the auction, but Borders saw his potential for success in the hunter ring.

“During the training time before the auction, I caught sight of him when someone was walking him over to lunge him,” Borders recalled. “I saw him on the lunge and was really impressed. I thought he had incredible quality of movement for a hunter.

“I could see he was having a hard time with the new surroundings at the auction, and he’d come down with a cold,” Borders said. “Later on, when he was feeling a little better, I came back. I talked someone into getting on him and trotting a cross-rail, and he jumped it incredibly. I had no idea what he was going to become, but I just knew he was special. Something called me from the very beginning.”

Borders put Exupery in jump training in Germany for a short while before bringing the horse back to the United States to begin his hunter career. He made an instant impression in the hunters with his spectacular jump and beautiful, ground-covering movement.

Outside the show ring, he earned legions of fans with his kind, engaging personality. He quickly connected with the people around him and was adept at training visitors to scratch his favorite spot on his neck.

“He was one of the sweetest horses you’ll ever meet,” Clark said. “If kids walked into the barn for the first time, not knowing anything about horses, he would convince them to scratch him. He made everyone feel special.”

Borders agreed, noting the gelding could win anyone over.

“Everyone loved the horse – the grooms, the braiders at the horse show, the trainers who watched him go,” he said. “He was a very affectionate horse and just loved people.”

Those who witnessed Exupery in the show ring were impressed at his powerful, stylish jump, and his willing personality carried over into competition.

“He could have jumped around a grand prix easily,” Clark said. “It didn’t matter if they set the high performance at 4′ or 4’6″ – he walked in the ring, and he really didn’t care. The higher the jumps, the higher score he would get. And he really enjoyed his job. His main objective was to please you.”

Clark recalled the Grand Hunter Championship at Harrisburg as a career highlight and was especially thrilled with Exupery’s win in the handy class there, clinching championship honors.

“The handy was not his strong point when I first got him,” Clark explained. “I was most proud of him for walking into that night class and jumping around so confidently.”

Borders said he was happy with how well Exupery adapted to showing at indoors after traveling all the way from California and being met with a different environment and different jumps.

“At the National Horse Show in 2008, he jumped spectacularly that entire show,” he remembered. “Then at Harrisburg with Tommi, he jumped the most unbelievable four rounds I’ve ever seen. He moved so beautifully and lightly despite his size, and then he just exploded off the ground.”

While he was affectionate with everyone, Exupery had a special connection with his owner.

“He really loved Steve,” Clark said. “It was amazing to watch when Steve would walk into the barn. He made everyone feel special and he loved everyone, but when Steve walked in, you could see how he lit up.”

Borders looks back on his first encounter with Exupery as a fortunate chance meeting, and while he is heartbroken at the horse’s passing, he feels privileged to have had the chance to ride him, to care for him, and to watch his career unfold.

“How did I get so lucky to be standing there at the auction and see him walking by?” Borders asked. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

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