Farewell House Doctor: A Tribute to a Great Horse

This has been a very difficult week for us in West Grove.  The main tragedy has been the horrible fire at True Prospect Farm which has affected many in our community and beyond.  To add to all that, Phillip and I are saying goodbye to my wonderful “Doc”.

Doc’s story is of a small town boy making good.  Out of a homebred mare, Night House Rock by Inca Chief, Doc was delivered by my husband, Tim, who happened into the barn at the right moment: hence, Doc’s name, House Doctor. We didn’t sell or break Doc as a yearling because of a bad quarter crack. Julie our eldest daughter backed him and went on to school him when he was two. She immediately felt that he had lots of promise and advised that we keep him as a family sport horse rather than racing him. How right she was!

I first rode Doc when he was three. He was fabulous!  He had the most balanced, natural canter I’ve ever experienced. I was so impressed I asked Phillip if he wanted to take on such a young horse. He had more time then, and fortunately he said yes. The pair was an instant success. Phillip did all of Doc’s schooling and competed him himself with excellent results. Phillip was still riding for Australia at the time. Even though the 2000 Olympics were in Sydney, the Australians imported two Gardner horses from the US for the games. Doc was to be an alternate for our more experienced other home bred, Show of Heart.

In Australia Show of Heart had a mild injury in the last competition before the Games, and all of a sudden, Doc was team horse for Australia! At just eight, he was the youngest horse in the eventing competition. Three generations of Gardners watched him go clean cross-country thanks to Phillip, and to receive the gold medal!

Two years later he wasn’t picked for the Australian team going to the WEG, but was sent as an individual. Had the Aussies put him on their team they would have fared considerably better because Doc finished the competition fifth overall. I suspect that he would have finished even higher, but the cross-country had taken a tremendous toll on him: he had torn part of a hind hoof off and had done something else up front. We iced him the entire time we were allowed in the barns after cross-country and he passed the jog. Show jumping wasn’t his best, but considering everything, he did great!

When he returned from Spain we tried A-cell injections to help with what turned out to be a complicated deep flexor tendon injury.  Two years later he was sound enough to go back into work. He was very happy because he loved all the attention. Phillip wisely suggested that we limit competitions to horse trials (the long-format would have been too much), and Doc continued his winning ways.

Sadly though, even light competition became difficult, so he went briefly to a dear friend as a pleasure horse. Eventually we retired him completely and he has been turned out to herd ”his mares” here at Welcome Here.  He loved that job.

Then three weeks ago he developed laminitis and tested positive for Cushings Disease. We have treated him vigorously to no avail, and the pain can no longer be managed effectively. The time has come for him to rest. He was buried today on a hill overlooking the pasture where he lived. We‘ll all miss this special horse. He was so much a part of our lives for so long.

Photo: House Doctor and Phillip Dutton on their way to winning a team gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games. Charles Mann photo.