Written by J. Drake
Big Ben wasn't just a horse who
made great athletic accomplishments, he was a horse who won the
hearts of people all over the world. He also overcame many physical
ailments over the course of his lifetime, which truly made him remarkable.
Originally born in nothern Belgium,
van Hooydonk Farm, on April 20, 1976, he was an unusually large
foal (17.3 hands) from a 15 hand mare. He was given the name "Winston"
after Winston Churchill who had been one of the most important and
influencial political leaders of the twentieth century. In 1983,
he was purchased by a farm in the Netherlands for a meager $2,000.
It was here that he was given the name "Big Ben" because
he "looked taller than a clock tower." Most people who
came to look at the tall now seven year old gelding passed him up
saying he was too big and too ugly. Ian Miller, a Canadian equestrian,
spotted Big Ben and purchased him for $45,000 on the spot after
being with him for just twenty minutes. Big Ben was then moved to
Millar Brooke Farm in Perth, Ontario, Canada in 1984.
Ian took Big Ben down to Florida
for the Winter that year along with his other string of show horses.
It was here that Ian started to find out that he had an extremely
talented horse on his hands. At first Big Ben was a very sensitive
horse who would shy away from a candy wrapper on the ground. It
was said that riding Ben was like riding an elephant with the tempermant
of skittish Thoroughbred. To work through these issues, Ian began
competing Ben at the preliminary level to focus on his training.
By the time that Spring arrived, Ben had started to respond to Ian
and the two were forming a team together.
In Big Ben's first grand prix
appearance, the pair placed second. A week later, they were entered
into the Grand Prix at Spruce Meadows in Alberta and won their first
of many grand prix titles. Later that year, Ian and Ben made it
into the Los Angelas Olympics where they helped contribute to Canada's
fourth place finish. in 1987, the pair went on to win the individual
and team gold at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis. The following
two years were also good years for Ian and Ben and in 1989, Ian
was voted to be Male Athlete of the Year, given the nick name of
"Captian Canada" and Ben was also now enjoying celebrity
In 1990, during the Winter season
in Florida, Ben began to show signs of his first bout of colic.
He was initially treated in the usual way for colic but it was later
decided that he needed to undergo surgery and Ian reluctantly agreed
to the procedure. The surgery went well but the question lingered
in the air "would he regain his form and be able to compete
again?" This question was soon answered just three months later
when Ben and Ian pulled out a win at Spruce Meadows which was followed
by an additional three more grand prix wins.
Big Ben's trouble with colic weren't
over though unfortunately and in 1991, he coliced again just ten
months after his first episode. A second surgery was performed on
the giant gelding at the University of Guelph in Ontario. After
this, no one thought that he would have a chance at competing again.
After-all, he was a giant of a horse and had already suffered from
one colic episode, let alone a second now.
When Ian shipped his string of
horses down to Florida for the Winter, Ben went along because Ian
thought the sunshine would be good for him and it would speed his
recovery by getting him out of the cold Canadian weather. Apparently
Ian was right about this because when Big Ben went back home to
Canada, the pair ended up winning the World Cup qualifiers in Calgary
and Otawa. Forty thousand fans were there to give him a standing
ovation at Spuce Meadows that year as it was unheard of for a horse
to return to that level of competition after surviving two colic
In responce to Big Ben's colic
episodes, the Millers also wanted to find answers to why they happened
in the first place. They sought advice from experts and made changes
to Big Ben's care to make sure it wouldn't happen again. Big Ben
was now seeing individual care given to him for nealy six hours
a day. This included hand walks, making sure he got enough water,
spacing his meals out to eight times a day, and even wearing a magnetic
blanket for a part of the day.
Despite the best of care, Big
Ben faced yet another run-in with bad luck. In 1992, the sixteen
year old Big Ben was on his way to Edmonton Northlands for the spring
competition when his trailer was involved in an accident. A driver
of an oncoming minivan fell asleep at the wheel and collided with
Big Ben's trailer head-on. The driver was killed instantly when
the minivan exploded. The trailer swerved and fell into a ditch
as it tipped over. One Horse died, two were badly injured, and another
was so traumatized that he would never step onto a trailer again.
Big Ben was rushed to a hospital where he received stitches to close
a huge gash over one of his eyes. He then went on to Calgary to
compete and ended up winning all three of his classes and took home
another victory at the $100,000 Shell Cup.
To finish up his 1992 showing
year, Ben took him victories in Tampa at the $100,000 American Invitational,
a first in the World Cup Qualifier League, won the Crown Royal Series
Finale in Toronto, and was a member of the ninth place Canadian
team at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona (which was just two months
after his addicent).
Big Ben enjoyed one more successful
year in show jumping at seventeen years of age in 1993. He took
home the title of Canadian National Showjumping Champion yet again
and also won the $100,000 Shell Cup again that year.
In 1994, Ian decided it was time
for the mighty gelding to enjoy retirement before the wear and tear
of competition started to catch up to his long-time partner of eleven
years. In honor of his final appearance, a Big Ben Retirement booth
was set up for fans to come say good-bye to Big Ben. Usually arrogant
and not very people friendly, Ben was seen to drop his head at the
booth for children to pet him and seemed to respond to all the attention
the people were giving him People would wait over an hour in line
to have their picture take with Big Ben. Big Ben memorabilia was
sold as well and at the end, the proceeds were divided up between
the Canadian Equestrian Team and the Canadian Theraputic Riding
Association. This was viewed as Ben's parting gift to the public
who adored him.
In 1999, Big Ben was given the
honor of being one of only two horses to ever be inducted in into
the Canadian Sports Legends Hall of Fame. Northern Dancer is the
only other horse. He was honored by having a stamp produced with
his image on it. Sadly, later that year, just five years after he
was retired and at the age of 23, Big Ben suffered another episode
of colic. After two veterinarians said nothing could be done to
ease the suffering caused by a third case of colic, he was euthanized
as a result of this final episode on Dec. 11, 1999. Big Ben was
laid to rest on a grassy knoll which overlooked the farm where he
had lived most of his life.
Big Ben's final resting place.
Owner: Ian Millar (Millar Brooke Farm)
Breed: Belgian Warmblood cross Thoroubred
Colour: Liver Chestnut
Markings: Blaze, socks on both hind legs
Height: 17.3 hh (180 cm)
2005 - a statue was errected in the likeness of Ian Miller and Big
Ben along the banks of the Tay River
Breyer also honored him by creating a model of the gallant red horse.
Won over $1.5 million in prize money
First horse to win 2 consecutive World Cup Final titles 1988 Gothenburg
and 1989 Tampa, Florida
Team and Individual Gold medals at the 1987 Pan Am Games, Indianapolis
Member of the 4th place Team at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles
2nd World Cup Final's in 1986 Gothenburg
5th World Cup Final's in 1987 Paris
Member of the 4th place Team at the Show Jumping World Championships,
Winner of Masters Grand Prix at Spruce Meadows in 1987 and 1991
Member of the 4th place Team at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul
Winner of Grand Prix of Stuttgart 1989
Winner of Grand Prix of Bordeaux 1989
Canadian National Show Jumping Champion 1988, 1991 and 1993
Won the Spruce Meadows Derby 6 times in eight years (the Chrysler
Classic in '86,'87 and '89 and the Shell Cup in '91,'92 and '93)
One of only two horses inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of