Secret Lives of Horses: Long Live Jubilee

by Pam Gleason

Jubilee, 33 years old, is a retired polo pony and former racehorse who was born in New Zealand. Today she lives in the “old horse” field on my farm outside of Aiken, which she shares with three other over-20 Thoroughbreds. Although she played polo into her 20s, she retired sound with legs that are remarkably clean. She is still energetic enough to canter around with her friends, and she still has enough mischief in her to nudge open the gate and escape if I forget to fasten the latch. She loves to go visit other horses on the farm, especially to flirt with my 7-year-old, 17.2 hand grey Thoroughbred, Bullwinkle. He likes her too: they sniff noses over the fence and squeal, and Jubilee tosses her long mane like a filly. For Jubilee, age is only a number.

Jubilee was born in New Zealand on September 18, 1990. Her dam was a New Zealand racehorse named Itchy Palm and her sire was the imported British stallion Gay Apollo. Her breeder, listed as Miss L J Coburn, gave her bay filly the uncomfortable name of Itchy All Over – but we will just keep calling her Jubilee. Jubilee’s parents were not very good racehorses. Gay Apollo does not seem to have won many races, and Itchy Palm ran six times in three years but did not pick up a single check. Jubilee took after her parents: she raced twice in 1996, and she was unplaced both times. The last comment on her final race was “No hope.” (For information on how to discover more about your Australian or New Zealand Horse: Identifying a Horse from Down Under.)

And so Jubilee’s owner gave up on her as a racehorse, and one way or another, the horse ended up on the polo field. There her talents instantly became apparent. She might not have been a stakes-winner, but she was extremely quick and could produce bursts of sudden acceleration when necessary. She had lightning reflexes, and she was highly sensitive and smart, one of those horses who figures out the game, and seems capable of playing all by herself.

By the end of the decade, Jubilee had made her way to Australia and was playing in the prestigious Ellerstina program near Melbourne – this was owned by the Australian billionaire media mogul Kerry Packer. At the time, Tiger Kneece, who is currently the manager of Aiken Polo Club, was playing for a team called Mirage, captained by Jonathan and Phoebe Ingram. The Ingrams were amateur players who lived in Massachusetts. Jonathan was originally from Australia, and during the fall of 1999, Jonathan and Tiger went to Melbourne to play. They were in the market for horses, and Tiger had been playing Jubilee, and he loved her, and recommended her as a horse for Phoebe.  When Phoebe came down to Australia, she tried the horse, and agreed to buy her. Then Jubilee and two other recently-purchased Australian horses made the long trip back to the United States.

“She was a lot of horse for me at that point in time,” said Phoebe. “So Tiger played her more than I did in the beginning. But after a few seasons, I had her and she was fabulous. She was my best horse. We called her ‘the cat’ because she was so athletic and lateral and easy. You could get in and out of any play. You could do anything on her: She was just amazing.”

But Jubilee always had a strong personality, and was not the kind of horse who necessarily liked to be told what to do. At the beginning of the season when she was fresh, she could buck, and buck you off. She was so quick, she could just disappear out from under you. She took great offense at riders who got in the least bit unbalanced and she did not suffer fools gladly. 

“You know, she would tell you if you she didn’t like what you were doing,” continued Phoebe. “She would tell you if she thought you were wrong. When I was schooling her, she would shake her head and say, No, you haven’t got this right. She did have an attitude. But when she got into a game, she was all business and she was brilliant.”

Jubilee played with Phoebe in Florida and Massachusetts, and around 2004, she started playing with Phoebe’s son Alex. Alex attended Saint Andrews School in Boca Raton, Florida, and he would have her down in Florida to play during the winters. In the summers, Jubilee came back to Massachusetts to play at Myopia Polo Club in Hamilton, on Boston’s North Shore. Alex, like Phoebe, loved the horse and counted on her for his best chukkers.

In 2008, the Ingrams got out of polo. Jubilee came to Aiken where she was turned out with Jill Diaz at her farm, Estancia La Victoria. Jill had been the polo manager at Mirage for many years and she knew Jubilee well. The horse, now 18, was still sound, healthy and playable, but Phoebe was hesitant to try to sell her because she wanted to ensure her best horse had a good future. However, Jubilee seemed wasted out in the field doing nothing, and so Jill had her in work, and was hoping to find someone to take her on.

In 2010, I was playing polo at Aiken Polo Club and my best horse, also 20 years old, pulled a muscle and had to retire at the beginning of what would have been his final season. Jill suggested that I take Jubilee instead, and I did, and ended up playing her for most of that spring. She was fast, quick and light, and we got along perfectly. I found her to be the consummate professional, a horse that knew the rules of the game at least as well as I did. I remember once arguing with her about whether or not I really had to take a shot on the more difficult near side. I said no, and she said yes, and her opinion prevailed. She was strikingly dignified, never making a fuss about anything, never misbehaving on the ground or moving a foot when I hosed her off after a ride.

I played her a little bit in the fall, and then decided it was time for her to retire. After such a long and successful career, I wanted her to go out on top and in good health. I could have given her back to Jill Diaz, but instead, I decided to keep her at my farm and spoil her. She was close friends with one of my other retired polo ponies and she was no trouble at all. 

That was 13 years ago. Jubilee has now spent more time with me than with anyone else in her life. She has already outlived three younger companions in the old horse field, and her pasture mates today are at least 10 years her junior.  Today, her back has a pronounced sway, and she seems smaller than when she was in her prime. Her coat is sprinkled with grey, and this spring she unexpectedly developed a streak of pure white hair in her mane. I have to soak all her feed and she eats alfalfa pellet mash instead of hay because her teeth are not wonderful. She does not see very well in the dark, and sometimes she appears to be lost in another world for long moments. She is a very old horse. 

But there are also times when she forgets that – on that first cool day of fall, or a warm spring-like spell in the middle of a gloomy winter week. On those days, I have seen her enjoy outbursts of exuberance, cantering in the field, stopping and snorting with her head held high and with a certain light and clarity in her eyes. Does she remember when she was young and sleek, leaving the other horses in her dust? Does she dream of the fields she galloped across, the many places she has been, the horses and the people of her youth? In her mind, is she still that fabulous horse, the cat-like queen of the polo field? I like to think so. I know that she still is that horse to me.  

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.