Aachen is a historical place for showjumping and where many personal stories of triumph and defeat are written. As usual, every year, it holds the most difficult grand prix in the sport, the €1,000,000 Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen CSI 5*. It is a competition that hosts the very best horses and riders from all over the world, all gathered at the “Mecca” of showjumping in pursuit of unimaginable fortune, fame and glory.
Our story is not about the winner of the Grand Prix, in fact, it starts back in 2017 when Babalou 41 took a strategic break from the top of sport. After being out of competition for about 10 months, she made her return to the rings in 2018 under the saddle of a new, yet renowned rider, Darragh Kenny (IRL). This was all part of the strategic decision by her owner, Dr. Jack Snyder DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVS, and the care of the Two Swans Farm team consisting of Bibi Alvarado Snyder, Guga Abreu, who helped train her, and dedicated work by grooms and friends Johanna Newhouse and Aoife Gibbons.
Triumphant Return to the Rings
The 14-year-old chestnut Oldenburg mare (Balou du Rouet x Silvio I) was soon back to the winner’s circle, guided by Kenny, who is currently the sixteenth-ranked rider in the world. She made a triumphant return to the rings during the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), winning the $50,000 Hollow Creek Farm 1.50m National Grand Prix.
But the victorious comeback did not end there since the chestnut, who takes on “Princess” as her barn name, achieved three straight victories during the Kentucky Summer Series; the first being the $35,000 Hagyard Classic CSI 3*, then the $131,000 Hollow Creek Farm Grand Prix CSI 3* and one week later, the $131,000 Mary Rena Murphy Grand Prix CSI 3*. Soon after crossing the Atlantic Ocean, their momentum continued with yet another victory, this time in the €62,400 GCL speed class during the Longines Global Champions Tour of Saint Tropez CSI 5* in France. Babalou was back where she belonged, at the top of the sport and for good.
Darragh Kenny (IRL) & Babalou 41 flying high in the €1,000,000 Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen CSI 5*
Crowning Moment at Aachen
Their next stops would be LGCT of Cannes, Knokke Hippique and then Aachen, the latter being the place where “Kings and Queens” of the sport receive their crowns, perhaps the setting where the mare was destined to honor her name. She did so even before crossing the finish line of the grand prix, with a save that drew much amazement from the 40,000 spectators there. The duo went on to post two clear rounds and qualify for the jump-off, where they eventually finished fourth. The victories and performances had booked their tickets to the 2018 World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon, North Carolina, USA.
Darragh Kenny (IRL) & Babalou 41
World Equestrian Games Dreams Shattered
However, the fairytale story ended right before WEG as the mare suffered a colic, shattering the dreams of not only the Two Swans Farm’s team but also of her talented rider. It also meant going through medical procedure, that even when at the hands of the best professionals in their field, does not necessarily guarantee recovery, in some cases, it can lead to the death of the animal. Even if she made it, the recovery process would definitely take some time and there would still be uncertainty about her competitiveness at the highest level of the sport.
It was time for the mare to face the music, better saying, the operation table as a colic incision had to be performed in order to save her. She made it through the delicate procedure, and her owner, Dr. Jack Snyder, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVS, decided to apply revolutionary stem cell therapy, to not only make her stronger, but also speed up the healing process. It was a major success and the Oldenburg mare was miracuously being ridden just over 40 days later.
Darragh Kenny (IRL) & Babalou 41 flying towards a fourth-place finish in the 2018 €1,000,000 Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen CSI 5*
The Second Triumphant Comeback
Just as in the previous year, Darragh Kenny (IRL) and the team had the challenge of bringing her up to the highest level of the sport, but this time, there weren’t any wins, although several clear rounds and low scores were registered during both the Palm Beach Masters Series at Deeridge Farms and Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). This meant that progress was taking place and it was time to move on to their next challenge, once again in the “Horse Capital”, in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. Princess had had three victories there the previous year, before going on to compete at Aachen. Once again, they did not disappoint, not only registering a clear round during the week, but going on to win the feature class, the $134,000 Kentucky Spring Grand Prix CSI 3*.
After the summer series in Kentucky, the Irishman and Princess went to Spruce Meadows, where the jumps are big and high, a prelude to perhaps another pursuit of glory in Aachen. The duo faired more than well in Calgary and the following clear rounds during the 2019 Knokke Hippique Summer Circuit proved that they were once again ready to face the tough test in Germany.
Darragh Kenny (IRL) & Babalou 41 soaring towards a fifth-place finish in the 2019 €1,000,000 Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen CSI 5*
Another Shining Moment in Aachen
There was much expectation for another performance in Aachen. The Irishman and the 14-year-old pranced and danced their way around the course towards only an unlucky time-penalty in the €25,000 Prize of StädteRegion Aachen CSI 5*, certifying their participation in Sunday’s showdown. They would be the 10th combination to face the first-round 585-meter course designed by Frank Rothenberger (GER).
They did not only clear the first round course, but managed to qualify for the second round too, adding more drama to the tale. Kenny once again worked his magic and the mare responded in the second round, qualifying for the jump-off. One rail down once again kept Kenny from daring the mare to go faster at the end, but the fifth-place finish earned them a sea of admirers, as the only participants in the last two years to register four clear rounds in the sport’s most gruesome challenge. Truly a tale of talent, top expertise and teamwork that must be told!
Sources: Dr. Jack Snyder / Bibi Alvarado Snyder / Guga Abreu / FEI – Fédération Equestre Internationale
Text: Lo-Ami Souza
Photos: © Bibi Alvarado Snyder / Jenny Abrahamson for World of Showjumping / / Shannon Brinkman