The horse that touches you like no other permanently melds your relationship into an amalgamation stronger than titanium. It was like that for Anne Gribbons and Metallic, her former Dutch Warmblood gelding (Uniform – Nepal, Juriaa) who died at the age of 31 in Sorrento, Florida, in early February. Gribbons was the USEF team coach and technical advisor from 2010-2012 and has trained and shown 16 of her own horses to the Grand Prix level, nine of which were U.S. Equestrian Team long listed. She is a licensed USEF Senior Judge and an FEI 5* judge. She and her husband David own Knoll Dressage in Chuluota, Florida, outside of Orlando. In 1995, she was a member of the U.S. Silver Medal Pan American Team on Metallic, and Robert Dover and Metallic were part of the Bronze Medal winning team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. That same year, Metallic was named the USDF Horse of the Year. “Everybody has a horse in their life that they will never forget,” Gribbons said. “He always performed for me when I wanted him to. We had a very special relationship like you hope to have with all your horses, but you don’t.”
Although his owner since 1997 Judith Bernier called him Tally, the horse was always Metallic to Gribbons. “Metallic,” she said. “It was a good name for him. He was gray. He was tough. He was just metallic in a way.
“He was an unbelievably strong personality,” she continued. “I have never seen a horse with such intelligence who could figure out everything instantly. He never, ever let me down in the ring, but at home he could blow me off. He learned it all very quickly and then thought, ‘Why practice. I’m perfect at this.’ He more or less thought I should get my act together and he would just go to the show and the awards.”
Gribbons found the bigger-than-life horse as a 2-year-old at a breeding farm in Holland, and although she was not there to buy a horse, it was love at first sight.
“I saw his face out the window of the stall and I just said, 'Oh. Can I see him?' And that was it,” she said. “They turned him out into a little paddock and he bucked and ran and showed how athletic he was. Little did I know how very arrogant he could be and how much he thought of himself. I was just taken aback by his presence and movement.”
She bought the horse and brought him back to the U.S., finding the young Metallic difficult to start, as he would buck off anyone who would try to back him and then run off. Finally, the riders told Gribbons that since he was her horse, she should ride him. He bucked her off too but she managed to hold onto him and get back on.
“I let him know how I felt about it and that was the last time he ever did that with a rider,” she said. “He was so intelligent that he didn't know it wasn't acceptable behavior because he always got loose and ran around. Once he realized that's not what we do, he was fine.”
Gribbons said that although he was stubborn and thought that training wasn’t very interesting, when he figured out it was necessary in order to participate in horse shows, he acquiesced.
“He thought he knew everything and he loved horse shows,” she said. “As soon as he got onto the show grounds he would start doing his own thing to be brilliant. He had enormous presence. He loved himself.”
Gribbons said the gelding was afraid of nothing. She remembered one qualifier for the Pan American Games when there were hurricane force winds in Florida. The palm trees were bent sideways and other horses were fearful.
“He never even looked,” she said. “He was totally focused in the ring. He was amazing. We had 75 horses in that class and he either won it or was second.”
Gribbons said when she and Charlotte Bredahl were competing in Europe, Brendhal would borrow Metallic for the prize giving.
“Her horse was certifiably nuts in the award ceremonies, so she would ride Metallic.” she said. “He loved awards. That was his favorite thing. “
Besides seeking the spotlight, Metallic was strong and stoic.
“He was a sound horse and a viable horse and stayed that way until the very end,” she said. “I think he was the kind of horse who knew how to take care of himself. Some horses do that. They protect themselves and they stay sound.”
Then, when Gribbons was training between the Pan American Games and the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, she discovered a tumor on the inside of her leg.
“I was afraid to deal with it because I knew that it could cause a long recovery,” she said. “I also didn’t know what it was, so it was scary. I delayed and delayed and hoped for the best. In the fall, when it started to come out like a goose egg, I realized I had to get operated on and I probably couldn’t go to the Olympics. Then, the leg started to go numb at times because of the pressure on the nerves when the tumor got too big. Then I became really afraid. I had nightmares about actually being on the team and having the leg just check out in the middle of the test. So, the closer we got to the qualifiers, the more nervous I became about such a scenario.”
Robert Dover had been helping her out before the Pan American Games and Jane Forbes Clark offered to lease the horse for Dover to ride in the Olympics. She held out until the last second, but finally leased the horse in late January. Dover and Metallic went on to win Team Bronze in the 1996 Olympic Games.
“He just had his own thoughts about life,” Dover said. ”He was the sweetest horse and I will go on record to say he was the best horse to go on a jog ever. You could chop off a leg and he would go, ‘I don’t feel that.’ He was not just stoic. He was the soundest put together machine so that every single part of him worked perfectly all the time. But his brain was the biggest thing.
“He was the horse that when you rode him you’d say, ‘Oh my God, I have the whole thing,’” he continued. “And then you’d go down the centerline and you’d be thinking, ‘I’m getting ready for my zig-zag,’ and he’d start a pirouette. And then you’d be getting ready for the pirouette and then he’d do the zig-zag. Or you’d be ready for your twos and you’d be doing ones because he was so smart. He was 50 steps ahead on every single thing we did.”
Gribbons agreed. “He was a little too smart for his own good,” she said. “He was never mad. Just superior. I don’t think I’ll ever know a horse with such a personality and he and I were a team. I am terribly sorry that I did not ride him myself in the Olympics but at least he got there and I did all the training. It’s bittersweet looking back for that reason. On the other hand, I am very lucky to have known such a horse in my lifetime. He was phenomenal.”