Closing in on a decade spent competing, John and Judy Rumble’s 15-year-old Canadian Sport Horse gelding, Foxwood High (sired by Rio Grande W), had a standout eventing season in 2017.
The big bay known as “Woody” and his rider, Canadian Olympian Selena O’Hanlon of Kingston, ON, are just starting to reach their peak, with help from a celebrity supporting cast.
After winning the bronze medal for Canada in eventing alongside teammates, Jim Elder and Brian Herbinson, at the 1956 Stockholm Olympics, Woody’s owner, John Rumble emigrated to the United States for work and remained there for many years. But he always dreamed of returning to Canada and partnering with Elder to find an eventing horse with Olympic potential.
“Throughout my working life away from Canada, I’ve always wanted to come back, have my own farm, and get back into horses, because it meant so much to me,” explained Rumble. “So, Jimmy and I decided that we’d move ahead and see what we could do.”
A plan was kicked into motion. Rumble bought a farm just a few miles down the road from Elder in Schomberg, ON. Elder would train the horse in show jumping, while Rumble was to do the groundwork. All that they needed was the horse. However, given that Rumble is 6’2”, his requirement that the horse stand over 17hh slowed down their search considerably. After two years of looking, Rumble and Elder finally stumbled upon Woody in 2007.
“At five years old, he had hardly been broken in,” explained Rumble. “He was 17.2hh, leggy and light, but he didn’t have a big brisket, which bothered me. And a chap got on him to show us how he goes, and he jumped like he’d never jumped in his life. But the key point is, when they walked him out to this little ring and put him into a trot, I said, ‘That’s the horse, right there.’ And Jimmy came over and said, ‘John, that’s the horse, right there.’ He moves beautifully, with long strides. That sold both Jimmy and I.”
O’Hanlon joined the team in 2011, after Rumble saw her in competition and was impressed by her riding style. O’Hanlon has now been competing with Woody at the FEI level for seven years.
Leading up to 2017, O’Hanlon and Woody were producing impressive results, but were not consistently cracking the top three on the leaderboard. After finishing just shy of the top 10 by 1.5 points at the 2017 CCI 4* Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event (USA), Rumble knew that Woody’s dressage skills would have to undergo serious improvement if he were to remain a contender. And that’s when six-time Canadian Dressage Olympian, Christilot Hanson-Boylen, entered the picture. Her farm was close, so whenever Woody had a break – three days here, a week there – he went to Hanson-Boylen for training.
“When I saw Christilot working Woody, I was knocked out,” said Rumble. “We saw a side to Woody that we knew was potentially there – that he’s a great mover – but he’s never really been able to give us that kind of performance without a lot of guidance. It was obvious this was going to make a lot of difference, and, it did, dramatically.”
Woody’s results began to climb in competition. He and Selena placed third in the Plantation Field International in Unionville, PA, in September 2017, and the next month, their hard work culminated in a historic win at The Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International in Elkton, MD. O’Hanlon and Woody were the first Canadian pair to ever win the event, a result made possible by their stellar dressage score of 39.4.
“He improved his dressage penalty points by about eight points in the matter of a month,” explained Rumble. “He’d never hit 39.4. When you’re in 39.4, you’re in rare company.”
“Breaking into the 30s was such a huge goal, and Christilot’s been a big part of that,” said O’Hanlon. “She had some helpful tips for how to use the actual dressage ring for Woody specifically, because he’s such a big horse. I think another big part is that the horse was definitely on his way to improving already. It takes time for that musculature to be strong enough to be able to sustain that type of performance, elevation and suspension for an entire dressage test.”
To win at Fair Hill, O’Hanlon also developed Woody’s show jumping skills with the help of the legendary Millar family. The duo took lessons with Jonathan Millar (son of ‘Captain Canada’ Ian Millar) whenever he was available at the family’s farms in Perth, ON and Wellington, FL.
“I desperately did not want to hit a rail because the Millars, my groom Anne-Marie, and John, – who supports me in everything – have worked so hard to help Woody show jump clean,” said O’Hanlon of her Fair Hill performance. “I went in with a plan and actually stuck to it. I knew I was going to have some time faults after watching the horses before me go. Being a big horse, Woody’s got a great step and covers ground, but when you put him into a jumping ring, he has to really work at compressing to fit the number of strides and also keep his step quick.”
O’Hanlon and Woody jumped a clean round and only incurred three time penalties to secure first place. This win also helped Woody earn the title of United States Eventing Association (USEA) Advanced Horse of the Year, and become the runner-up for the overall USEA Horse of the Year title by a margin of just three points.
“Fair Hill sticks out in my mind, not because of the end result, but because we had personal bests in all three phases, which means we were doing our very best,” said O’Hanlon. “You can’t ask for any more than that from any horse and rider.”
Rumble, however, asked for one more thing from O’Hanlon: the blue ribbon.
“John is all about the ribbons,” explained O’Hanlon. “He trades me the ribbons for anything. At their home barn they have what I call the ‘Woody Shrine’, which is pictures of Woody, and then all around it, all the ribbons he’s ever won.”
With 2017’s ribbons securely mounted on the Rumbles’ wall, focus has turned to the 2018 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, which will be held May 2-6 in South Gloucestershire, GBR. The location holds special meaning for Rumble, who trained on those grounds for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, and the 1956 Stockholm Olympics with Elder. Indeed, 62 years later, a photo of the two friends still hangs on the walls of a local pub in South Gloucestershire.
“When Woody did so well this year with the help of Selena and Christilot, the first thing I thought was, ‘we have to go back to Badminton,’” said Rumble. “After all those years – I’m almost 85, and Jimmy is almost 84 – we’ve had this big break. That’s been my dream, to go back there with a great horse and at least give it a shot.”
And with a support team that reads like an all-star roster, it looks like Woody has a pretty good shot.