by Nancy Johnson
Hannah Jungling recalls being a young “barn rat” 21 years ago on the day Bijou Noir, a petite black filly, was born at a stable in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Bijou’s dam, Fantasia, was a Thoroughbred standing about 15.3 hands, while her sire was the renowned eventing Trakehner stallion Amethyst, who was almost 17 hands. Despite her parentage, at maturity Bijou could still measure in as a pony. “She may be only 14.2, but don’t tell her that!” Hannah says with a laugh.
It is something of a rarity for anyone to know a horse from the day it is born through maturity and into its senior years. That is the case with Hannah and Bijou, although there are some missing pieces in their history. Bijou is now living in retirement at Hannah’s farm in Aiken, but it took some detective work to get her there.
Hannah says she will always be grateful to Cindy Burke, the owner of the farm where Bijou was born, for her first opportunity to ride and compete a quality event horse. That horse was Bijou’s mother Fantasia.
“I rode her in three Young Riders Championships in Area 4 and won with her at Prelim and Intermediate before she retired,” she remembers. When it was time to start training Bijou, it was no surprise that Hannah was all in. She broke the filly and competed her up to the Preliminary Level while schooling through Advanced. “She was an absolute pocket rocket and a beautiful mover,” she says.
But then Hannah suffered a serious riding accident and went through a very tough period. During that time, Bijou, then 10, was sent out East to be sold. “I completely lost track of her for five years,” Hannah explains. “It was so hard on me because she was my absolute heart horse; just so special to me in so many ways.”
Hannah searched for Bijou Noir religiously on the internet. “On the first of every month, I would check all the national databases – USEA, FEI, USEF, and so on – for any record of her, but it appeared as if no one was competing her for years,” Hannah notes. But then, she finally found the mare’s name listed as having competed successfully in some horse trials with a woman named Amy Brown in Virginia. Hannah contacted Amy through Facebook and the two quickly formed a friendship. “I sent her lots of photos of Bijou, from her baby pictures all the way through my competing her,” Hannah says.
By the time Hannah and Amy first connected, Amy was having fun with Bijou, occasionally competing her at Novice level but not campaigning her seriously. Bijou had passed through a couple of hands before Amy got her, and it didn’t completely surprise Hannah that no one had competed her before that. “She could be a bit of a handful,” Hannah says. “In fact, she was a real spitfire! When she was growing up, she took a lot of pride in dumping me at least weekly. She was just so athletic and quick that you’d be on the ground before you knew it.”
Amy and Hannah continued to communicate regularly for years. “I literally told her every bit about the first 10 years of this mare’s life,” Hannah says. As their relationship grew, Hannah told Amy that Bijou could always have a home with her, even if she was only suitable as a lawn ornament.
Then, just over a year and a half ago, Hannah got an unexpected call from Amy. Amy’s parents had sold their farm where Bijou was living in semi-retirement. She needed a home. At the time, Hannah and her husband Bryce were making plans to move from Iowa to Aiken. Instead of shipping Bijou from the East Coast to Iowa and then back again, the mare was sent to stay temporarily with a friend of Hannah’s in Aiken.
Hannah admits she cried when she and Bijou were finally reunited. “I called out to her and she galloped across the pasture to me,” she says. Bijou quickly became the queen of the Junglings’ farm. “She’s utterly wild and feral in the field,” Hannah says. “She lives out and starts every galloping stampede in the field. She’s still very affectionate with people; she will just stand and snuggle with you for as long as you let her.”
At age 21, Bijou occasionally takes Bryce, who is a beginner rider, for a little walk-trot ride in Hitchcock Woods. “She just takes such good care of him. Sometimes I can’t even believe she’s the same mare!” Hannah says. “That’s her only job now – just being happy. She’s here to be adored and spoiled rotten. I will always live up to my promise to give her a great retirement.”
On top of realizing her dream of getting Bijou back to retire, Hannah is thrilled to share some additional good news. In February the Junglings are expecting three foals from Bijou, who were conceived through embryo transfer at the Equine Fertility Institute at Performance Equine Clinic in Aiken. All three surrogate mares carrying the foals are on Hannah’s property. “Having a baby from Bijou has been my dream since the day I knew we were getting her back. Performance Equine was just brilliant in getting us not one, not two, but three embryos implanted with two more in the freezer,” Hannah says.
The sire of these foals is Smaragaid Cliff, a 14.2 hand stallion who is the current leading Connemara sire for both the USEF and the USDF. One of the foals has been sold in utero. When the foals are born in the spring, Hannah plans to pick her favorite of the other two to keep for herself and will offer the third for sale. “I have no idea what to expect as far as size,” Hannah says. “Bijou is small, but certainly has size in her genes. And regardless, she jumped around 4 feet like it was a joke.”
The Secret Lives of Horses is a regular feature in The Aiken Horse newspaper, telling the story of a retired horse in the Aiken area, 20 years or older. Do you have an older horse that needs his or her story told? Email us!. Secret Lives is sponsored by Triple Crown Nutrition, providing nutrition beyond compare.