A fond farewell to one of the best cross-country horses in eventing history

Armada OT Burghley.jpg

Armada, one of the best cross-country horses in eventing history, has been put down at the age of 20.

Owned by Paul and Diana Ridgeon and ridden first by Andrew Nicholson and then by Oliver Townend, the chestnut Spanish Sport Horse completed 16 CCI5* events, taking second place at Badminton in 2014 with Oliver. Armada finished in the top 10 at CCI5* level six times and jumped clear across country with a very fast time on numerous occasions. In total, he earned 2,559 British Eventing points.

Bred in Spain by Ramon Beca, he came to Andrew’s yard as a five-year-old, and Andrew sold him to Paul Ridgeon. Armada won his second ever event – a novice class at Gatcombe – in September 2004. He finished second in the Intermediate Championships at Gatcombe’s Festival of British Eventing as a seven-year-old, and was third in the CCI4*-L classes at both Punchestown and Blenheim the following year, aged just eight. 

Armada and Andrew were eighth at Burghley in 2008, and achieved a host of other top placings at the highest level, but Andrew and Paul offered the ride to Oliver at the end of 2011.

“He had unbelievable power and an amazing length of stride, which made the cross-country, especially in his early days, feel effortlessly easy,” said Andrew. “You had to sit on him across country to be able to appreciate the power and the feeling you got.”

Oliver rode the son of the thoroughbred stallion Fines to eighth place on their first attempt at CCI5* level together at Luhmühlen in 2012, and were fourth at Burghley that autumn. Their biggest victory was in the CCI4*-S at Burnham Market in 2014.

As Armada became older, he became less careful in the showjumping arena, and had his prowess in that phase at a three-day event matched his brilliance across country, he would have achieved even more success at five-star level.

Oliver said: “He had a wild side; he could get excited very easily and his blood boiled quickly, but he was very quiet and gentle outside of a competition environment and at home. He was very sensitive, and almost timid until you put him on a cross-country course.

“He was a different class at cross-country. You couldn’t have built a track too big for him. Very few horses ever made the time in the Open Championships at Gatcombe then, and in 2013 he was 10 seconds inside and I was slowing down for the final half-minute. I remember him doing a five-stride combination in three strides there so easily. In his heyday, you could do anything on him – I’ve never ridden one like him across country.

“The nicest thing was that you never once had to squeeze, even round the biggest tracks. I never had to say ‘go’.

“And, with a lot of patience, we got his dressage up to being not far off the lead at CCI5* level. He had everything – he was almost verging on having too much talent for his sensitivity.”

Paul Ridgeon said: “Owning Armada was always exciting – you never quite knew what was going to happen! The highlight of his career was when he finished second in terrible conditions at Badminton, having made an enormous cross-country course look very easy. He became a very popular horse, probably because he was so thrilling to watch across country – I’ll never have a cross-country horse like him.

“We retired him back to Andrew’s place three years ago, and the decision to have him put down was taken last week. He had lost a lot of weight and had arthritis, and it was the kindest thing to do. I didn’t want him to suffer and it was the right time.”

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