Teddy, Set, Go!
Good things are said to come in small packages. And Theodore O'Connor proves it.
Teddy, also known as the Flying Pony and Super Pony, is the exciting new star of a tough equestrian sport called eventing. At 14.1 hands high -- a little more than 56 inches -- this mighty midget is a hair short of the height of a horse. But that hasn't stopped him from winning big -- really big.
Teddy thrilled the horse world by bagging an individual gold medal and a U.S. team gold in eventing at the Pan Am Games in Brazil in July. If he continues to perform at this level over the winter in Florida and into the spring, he and his rider, Karen O'Connor of The Plains, Virginia, could make the U.S. Olympic equestrian team next year and travel to Beijing, China.
Eventing is a demanding three-part test of horse (or pony, in Teddy's case) and rider.
• Part I is usually dressage (pronounced dress-SAZH). The goal is to make a difficult set of carefully controlled movements look simple. It requires precision, balance and grace.
• Part II is usually cross-country, which involves 25 to 40 jumps strung across a course of several miles. Cross-country showcases strength, endurance and smarts.
• Part III is show-jumping, which is done in a ring. This measures speed, nimbleness and accuracy.
In all three areas, Teddy makes up for his size with something that can't be measured in inches: a huge heart.
"It doesn't cross his mind that it can't be done," says O'Connor, even though Teddy is so small he sometimes can't see what's on the other side of a cross-country jump. As Teddy approaches a jump that might be four feet high and 6 1/2 feet wide, O'Connor's job is to keep him "wanting to be careful but also brave and confident."
Eventing takes a lot of training, which takes a lot of time. Many horses in the sport are teenagers. Teddy, a chestnut gelding, is 12.
Several trainers passed on a chance to work with Teddy because they thought of him as a kid's mount. O'Connor saw past his size to his potential. The result is a champion pairing that's the talk of the eventing circuit.
Teddy comes from a breeder who has been experimenting with a mix of thoroughbreds, Arabian horses and Shetland ponies. Although Teddy is worth $300,000 to $400,000, the group that owns him isn't looking to make money; it just wants to support his career.
O'Connor's husband, 2000 Olympic gold-medalist David O'Connor, compares Teddy to a wide receiver in football or "a 5-7 point guard" in basketball. Teddy beats much larger competition because he is so quick, intelligent and athletic, David O'Connor says.
His wife agrees. "Size is never going to stop Teddy," she says. "He feels like a giant out there."
-- M.J. McAteer