This story is certainly no movie, but it could be. Neville Bardos, a 13-year-old, 16.1 hh chestnut gelding, is the epitome of equine perseverance. Several equines in history have overcome terrible odds, but this eventing gelding has faced more than his fair share. Having escaped death twice, the thoroughbred's grit was finally rewarded on Jan. 13, when he was named the United States Equestrian Federation’s (USEF) horse of the year for 2011.
Born in 1999, Neville was foaled at one of Australia's most prestigious racehorse stud facilities, Woodlands in NSW, but he "wasn’t much chop on the race track," says Boyd Martin
, who paid just $850 for the thoroughbred to save the failed horse from an appointment at the slaughter house.
Redirecting the gelding's discipline towards eventing, Neville's start on the event circuit back in 2002, was not an auspicious one. He dumped his rider – Silva Martin, at the second fence and it took 15 minutes to catch him so that he could finish the course. But in 2006, the gelding began to come into his own when he won the Coffs Harbour CIC**, and the Melbourne CCI** in Australia.
One year on, Neville was imported to the United States where in 2008, he placed 9th at Rolex Kentucky CCI****, and was shortlisted for the 2008 Bejing Olympics. In 2010, the Australian gelding improved on his previous Rolex competition, jumping five spots to 4th at the Rolex CCI****. An impressive feat for a horse once destined for death for having no jump.
But Neville's biggest test came in May 2011 when he was one of 11 horses housed in Martin's stable when fire broke out. Six horses perished in the fire and Neville was severely burned. Having been trapped in the burning barn for 45 minutes, the gelding was left with horrific injuries to his lungs and throat from smoke inhalation. When Martin led Neville out of the barn, the horse was gurgling and had burns across his body.
Neville's outlook for survival did not appear good, chances of him pulling through were marginal and his eventing career was deemed over.
The gelding was sent to Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center, where under the care of veterinarian Dr. Kevin Keane he underwent a series of Hyperbaric Chamber therapies. That he survived the damaging fire was as miraculous as Neville's will to live; on June 07, the horse was released from the facility with the expectation that he would be retired. But the Aussie thoroughbred had other ideas.
Three months after his brush with death, in Sep. 2011, Neville Bardos was competing again but not as one might think, at lower-level competitions. The gelding traveled with Martin to England and tackled one of the world's most prestigious and difficult eventing competitions – the tough CCI4* Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials
The grueling competition which attracts an elite international conglomerate of riders competing on one incredibly athletic horse, takes place over three days and across three disciplines – dressage, cross-country and show jumping. The total score from all three days, when combined, determine the winner.
The Burghley Horse Trials near Stamford, Lincolnshire, are classed by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) as one of the six leading three-day events in the world. Neville Bardos would be going up against greats, William Fox-Pitt and Parklane Hawk, Mary King and Kings Temptress and Zara Phillips (daughter of Captain Mark Phillips and Princess Anne) on High Kingdom.
Neville, ridden by the man who led him to safety – Boyd Martin, "rocketed around the cross-country course clean and fast and finished seventh," overall reported USEF
. The gelding indeed placed behind Fox-Pitt and King, but finished three places ahead of Zara Phillips.
So what's next for the miracle horse?
Neville, who is owned by 10 members of a syndicate bearing his name, looks set to be on the US eventing team for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Boyd Martin is now eyeing his first Olympic appearance after becoming the top finishing American at the world championships.
Boyd & Silva.com
describe the chestnut gelding with the big white blaze as "an enthusiastic character that is full of life [...and is...] named after a fast talking, hot headed, stand over gangster that lives in Melbourne." They added that Neville is also "a top class cribber," a negative vice in which horses gulp in air while biting off pieces of fence or other solid material when they gulp. Cribbing is addictive and is believed to be similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans.
Well, no horse is perfect, but allowances are more than likely to be made for Neville's vices, considering all he's achieved. Jointly crowned with Sjoerd, a Friesian whose year on the National circuit was one of insurmountable success, it is the first time ever, USEF has crowned two horses with its highest honor; "one from an International Discipline and one from a National Discipline," USEF said.