An ex-racehorse who wasn’t able to win in a 10-start career, the Australian-bred Kalinga Damo has come a long way since moving on to his second career of eventing.
In 2013, after Elisa Wallace’s dad had to turn down the ride on the gelding, Elisa got the mount. Even though he had successfully evented at some of the more advanced levels before she got him, the road to figure out Kalinga Damo, shown under the name Simply Priceless, wasn’t an easy one for her.
“He can kind of have two personalities so often times people will see the very docile, very puppy-dog like personality of “Johnny”. Then there’s the dragon part where he can get really anxious and he can grow by four feet,” said Wallace. “When he gets anxious and he goes to that place, that has been the hard part in getting him to trust me and to listen to me so anything that would cause him anxiety would send him there. When I first got him it could be thunder storms, it could be just the sound of the sand hitting the ground and he would lose his concentration. Dressage and show jumping, where I have to have him kind of focused and listening and be relaxed that kind of has been the hardest thing to overcome so I went about it through spending a lot of time with him and I ride him a lot bareback and we do stuff just in the halter. We try to do things just a little different in routine.”
Spending the time to figure out Simply Priceless seemed to pay off as they finished fifth in their first event together and third in their second. In their first internationally recognized event together, the pair finished 13th of 48 in a CIC2* event (one of the top levels of eventing) and that has started a string of results that has seen them rise up the levels together.
In five of their 10 outings at the CIC/CCI levels, the pair has finished in the top 10 but that doesn’t tell the whole story. They took on the Rolex Kentucky four-star event (the highest level of the sport) for the first time in 2015, finishing the fourth-highest of any off-track Thoroughbred at the event when placing 17th out of 74 horses. Wallace and Simply Priceless were granted a Land Rover Grant from the United States Equestrian Federation in July, ending Wallace’s long-awaited European debut as she headed over to the Blenheim CCI 3* event (the same level that eventing in the Olympics is held at). While the 29th place may not have looked as flashy as all her top 10 finishes on paper, it came in a field of 101 starters with many top international riders.
“Honestly I thought our first Rolex was the end of the rainbow type deal, you know? That’s always the goal,” said Wallace. “I thought it would be great if we could place in the top 20 and then we did, I was just kind of like ‘wow.’ Karen O’Connor always told me ‘you don’t have a four-star horse until the Monday after the event’ and I pulled him out of the stall and he looked great and I was like ‘oh, okay. I guess that’s not the end, that’s the beginning.’ I cried a lot at this Rolex, I think because I hit my goals of hitting the 40s in the dressage and then we had only one rail in show jump and we just keep progressing. [Our] biggest accomplishment is just the constant progression that we’re able to do.”
While many riders give their horses a break after big events, Wallace found out that doesn’t work for “Johnny.” After about 10 days, the gelding is ready for their next adventure and Wallace has to start working with him again. But that work doesn’t have to be of the riding sort with Johnny happy just to get attention even though he enjoys the work that comes with getting ridden.
WALLACE'S ROLEX KENTUCKY RIDE ON SIMPLY PRCELESS
Courtesy of Wallace Eventing
One thing that Johnny does to get attention that Wallace taught him when bonding with him after she took over the ride was the smile trick. It’s something that he likes to show off to visitors now because he knows that it leads to attention and treats.
“He’s pretty funny in that it’s a game so with strangers you can see that he won’t let them touch his face because he knows that if he can get them to make him smile, he can get a treat,” she said. “But with me, he knows that I can touch his face. It’s really funny because with a couple people he’s still like ‘no, you can’t touch my face, you have to make me do the trick so I can get a treat.’ He’s a very complicated, very intelligent horse and it’s been pretty fun unraveling the layers of his big fat onion.”
Later this year, Wallace and Johnny may be taking the trick international again. After their peformance at Rolex this year, the team is being considered for the Rio 2016 Olympics U.S. squad.
“It’s exciting, it’s amazing to even just be considered after Rolex for them to say ‘hey, we want to look at your horse.’ I’m like ‘wow, I never thought this would happen.’ He really is a horse that I knew we could go do things but all of this stuff is just extra, like marshmallows on top kind of thing,” she said.
While no full-blood Thoroughbreds were named to the U.S. team when they headed to the Pan American Games last year, in 2014 three Thoroughbreds were either part of the team or reserves on the team with two of them coming off the track.
If Wallace doesn’t head to the Olympics, she is hoping to make a trip back over to England to tackle the Burghley Horse Trials’ four-star division in early September.