Secret Lives of Horses: Shamwari’s Next Act

by Nancy Johnson

At 21, Shamwari 4 has the appearance of a much younger horse. Even with as much dirt as he can possibly cake onto his face, the dark brown gelding projects a certain air as he observes us approaching his private paddock. Then he comes up with an overstep that would make any Grand Prix dressage horse jealous. 

Known to his friends as “Shammy” the horse’s full name is from the African Shona language, a word which translates into English as “my friend.” Shammy is an imported German Sport Horse who was started by the legendary German eventer Peter Thomsen. Another elite eventing rider, Ludwig Svennerstal, then purchased him and the pair went on to represent Sweden at numerous FEI events, including the 2012 London Olympics, at which the Swedish team finished fourth. To American eventing enthusiasts, however, Shamwari is best known for his performances under the American Olympian (and Aiken winter resident) Boyd Martin. 

Boyd Martin explains how the stars lined up for Shammy to come into his life. 

“After the London Olympics I was kind of short of an experienced, really competitive horse for the upcoming World Championships,” he says. Through some connections he heard that Shamwari was for sale. “Ludwig had ridden him at the Olympics, and it was obvious that he was a top-quality horse, but I was a bit nervous because in London he had a bit of an injury to his right front leg.” 

Boyd and his veterinarian flew to Sweden to examine the horse. “We about went over him from head to toe with a magnifying glass before making the final decision to buy him,” Boyd says with a laugh. “Ironically, through the remainder of his career, the only leg that we never had any trouble with was his right front leg!”

Fourteen owners banded together, forming the Shamwari Syndicate to purchase the horse with the goal of Boyd representing the United States with him at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France in 2014. In January of that year, Shammy arrived just in time for Boyd’s winter retreat to Aiken and the pair got used to one another at the Advanced level at events such as Pine Top in Thomson, Georgia and the Carolina International at the Carolina Horse Park in Raeford, North Carolina. “All was going great until I snapped my leg in half in March,” Boyd recalls with a grimace, remembering his accident. Boyd’s friend and mentor, Phillip Dutton, then stepped in to continue Shammy’s training, competing him successfully a few times while Boyd was recovering.

Boyd was back in the saddle in time to compete in the very challenging Luhmühlen CCI4* in Germany a few months later. “He was absolutely fantastic!” Boyd remembers. They finished third with many of the syndicate members cheering them on. Their performance in Luhmühlen sealed Boyd and Shammy’s selection to the U.S. team for the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in the fall of 2014.

“He was brilliant at the WEG. It was the hardest course I’ve ever seen, plus it was an absolute monsoon – it rained for about a week prior,” Boyd says. As the last horse to go cross country for the U.S. team, Shammy went clear. But the brutal conditions at WEG took their toll, leaving Shammy with a slight injury.

After some time recovering, Boyd and Shammy competed successfully in the United States. In 2016, the pair contested Rolex, ending up twelfth due to some costly rails in stadium.  

Shammy and Boyd headed back to tackle the Luhmühlen CCI4* in 2018. After dressage and cross country, they were in the lead and a huge win was within reach. Although he had gone clear on cross country, Shammy suffered a hock tendon injury on course. “We decided to withdraw him before stadium. It was just heartbreaking for me as well as all his owners.”

They returned home to Windurra, the farm in Cochranville, Pennsylvania owned by Boyd and his wife Silva Martin. Then there was a retirement party for Shamwari. “We set up a round pen so he could be right by the house, and everyone could have a beer with Shammy,” Boyd says. “He was always a lovely horse to be around, very laid back. Just a real professional horse. And he always had a look about him; he would strut around and pause for people to admire him.

“The syndicate members were all in agreement that Shammy should retire. They had had a wonderful ride with him on the journey and knew it was time for him to call it quits. We all liked the horse so much and he tried so hard for us; it was just the correct thing to do,” he says.

As members of the Shamwari Syndicate, George and Gretchen Wintersteen were always huge fans of Shammy’s and attended almost all of his competitions. When Boyd mentioned that he was looking for a place for Shammy to live out his retirement, they quickly offered to take him. 

“I couldn’t want anything better for him than to live the life of luxury with Gretchen and George. They were very gracious to offer him a home at their beautiful farm in Aiken – it’s an absolute palace and he will live like a king for the rest of his life.”

“We love having him here. Shammy is just the most polite horse,” Gretchen says. “A lot of really great horses are quirky, but not him. He stands in the crossties, is easy to clip, and just has perfect manners.” He prefers to be turned out alone and loves just hanging out in the paddock. But Gretchen smiles as she notes that he hates to get wet and pouts if made to come out of his shed when it is raining.

Gretchen started riding Shammy a couple of years ago when it seemed his hock injury would not be an issue for light work. “It looks quite gnarly, but it doesn’t seem to bother him,” she explains. “I consider him retired, but Shammy still likes to have a little something to do.” 

Last winter Shammy even made his hunting debut with Aiken Hounds. “We hunted in the back the first time out of caution as I was pretty sure he had never seen hounds,” Gretchen says laughing. “But he was perfect, and I look forward to taking him out again.” Gretchen occasionally takes Shammy for hacks around the horse district, too. “He especially loves hacking in Hitchcock Woods,” she notes. 

Gretchen is even toying with the idea of doing some dressage with Shammy in the future –  throughout his career he always scored very well in dressage. She remembers watching his test at Great Meadow (Virginia). “I wish I had a video of him – it was like he didn’t touch the ground!”

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.