Remembering Teddy O’Connor

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For some reason this morning I woke up super early thinking of a pony I wrote about in 2008 for Young Rider magazine. He was a seriously-super sport pony and champion eventer — even the Olympics might not have been out of the question for this bold pony, ridden by eventing legend Karen O’Connor. In 2008, I pitched a story about Teddy to my editor at Young Rider magazine. She agreed that profiling Teddy would make a great story. But in the brief period of time that elapsed between having the idea and writing the story, the unthinkable happened: Teddy died tragically at his home in Virginia. I still wanted to write about the pony and his great life, so I turned my story into a tribute:

Teddy O'Connorl

What is it about a pony that makes him super? For the world-famous sport pony Theodore O’Connor, known as “Teddy,” (or “Theodorable” to those closest to him) it’s a long list: the heart that sent him soaring over jumps with style, his sweet face marked with a diamond-shaped star, the moments when the little chestnut left big horses in his dust, his athleticism and tough pony vigor, his incredible international accomplishments, and his charm. This star-quality pony (who was known to be a bit of a ham at times) brought smiles to the faces of everyone who watched him go.

Teddy was one of the most successful equines in the history of U.S. eventing, a discipline in which the horse and rider must compete in three disciplines: dressage, cross-country and show jumping.

Sadly, however, Teddy’s family and his fans are now mourning the loss of this amazing pony. On an unusually cool morning at David and Karen O’Connor’s farm in Virginia on Memorial Day weekend in 2008, Teddy spooked while being ridden. In an instant, he bolted and slipped causing a severe laceration to a hind leg. Not long afterwards a team of vets determined, sadly, that there was extremely little chance of a successful recovery. His rider and owners would have done anything to save the pony, but there was nothing anyone could do. Teddy was humanely euthanized. The news brought tears to his admirers all over the world who hoped to cheer him on later that year during the Olympics.

The Life of a Super Pony

Teddy was born in 1995, bred by P. Wynn Norman of Sportponies Unlimited in Ocala, FL. Norman breeds small, elegant and athletic horses by pairing smaller mares with thoroughbred stallions. In fact, Teddy is a great grandson of the champion race horse Bold Ruler and has other famous race horses like Count Fleet on his pedigree. His dam was a petite 13-hand mare named Chelsea’s Melody, who was one-half Thoroughbred, one-quarter Arabian and one-quarter Shetland pony. His sire was a racehorse, a 16.2 hand thoroughbred stallion named Theodore.

The foal Theodore O’Connor was named only partly after his father. The red colt was feisty and reminded the barn manager at the farm where he was born of the equally-fiery tennis player Jimmy Connor. To connect the two names she added an “O.” It was a coincidence that Teddy would later share a last name with his international partner, Karen O’Connor. But it also made them a perfect fit.

Teddy O'Connor as a Foal
Teddy O’Connor as a Foal. Photo courtesy Norman Wynn/www.sportponiesunlimited.com

Though feisty, Teddy was a sweet foal with a willing and enthusiastic personality. He grew to be 14.1 ¾ hands high, enabling him to retain his status as a pony (if he had been just quarter of an inch taller, he would have been considered a horse). Teddy’s show career started when he was three, when he went cross country with an 11-year old rider.

Teddy was never sold. Norman sent him to a show barn when he was five years old where he showed in hunters through the winter and jumpers the following summer under a professional. That fall, he started eventing and won his first competition. Over the next year he quickly moved up through the eventing levels.

He was brave over fences right from the start. “We took a fall once,” said Norman, who continued to maintain part ownership of the pony throughout his life. “We were schooling an in-and-out when Teddy was five when I had the first inkling he was very special. After our fall, he just dusted himself off and proceeded to pop through the jumps like nothing had happened, except he’d learned to wait, instead of just fly it!”

Once paired with Karen, Teddy and the world-class event rider made history. In 2007, she entered him in the Rolex Kentucky four-star three-day event. Teddy was the first pony to compete at this legendary event since its inception in 1978. The pair thrilled crowds during all three phases. Fans swarmed the cross country course following Teddy from jump to jump to catch a glimpse of him flashing around the course. With only a few time faults in cross county and one of the only two double clear stadium rounds they finished third overall and won the “best conditioned horse award.”

Following their unforgettable performance at Rolex, Karen and Teddy were named to the United States team to compete at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To anyone that doubted a pony didn’t belong at the PanAm games, Teddy proved them wrong. After finishing the dressage portion of the competition in third place, he completed the cross-country phase among the top contenders. With his incredible jumping ability, he finished the show jumping phase with only a single rail down. Fans were overjoyed when Teddy and Karen brought home the Individual Gold medal and also led the United States to the Team Gold Medal. When the awards were presented, Teddy galloped around the arena with pizzazz, not seeming to notice that he was the very smallest of his gold-medal teammates.

In 2008, Teddy and Karen had another incredible performance that earned them sixth place at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. Wearing their lucky number one, they again smoked the competition going clean cross country and jumping a nearly faultless round in the show jumping phase. Their final major accomplishment was being named to the United States Equestrian Federation’s Eventing short list for the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong.

No matter his size, Teddy was a huge champion in the hearts of all his fans.

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