In Irish, US and UK top sporthorse pedigrees, Clover Hill’s name crops up with amazing frequency. The level of influence that he has had on the quality of the ISH is the equivalent to that of a Cor de la Bryère or Ladykiller in WB breeding; his blood flows in almost all of the great showjumpers of his era, and continues to be reflected in the success of subsequent generations of showjumpers and eventers. Like Cor himself, Clover Hill’s career began in relative obscurity and later attracted no little controversy in certain quarters …..
In his lifetime, Clover Hill sired 1,730 registered foals. He was born in 1973, bred by Stan Page in Co. Galway, and was bought by Philip Heenan to stand at his Ringroe Stud in Co. Tipperary (of whom, more later - Philip’s a fascinating part of the story!). Against the opposition of the purists, Clover Hill was put on the Irish Draught stallion register by Dick Jennings, whom Nicholas O’Hare, in his book on Clover Hill, describes as “the last of the old time stallion inspectors”. Dick made the courageous and far-sighted decision to register the stallion, in spite of the fact that he was half TB. Some Irish breeders resolutely refused to use him as a result, even when his progeny started to record success after success – he was not a pureblood Irish Draught. Sporthorse breeding owes a great deal to characters like Dick Jennings, who are prepared to back their judgement against general opinion; and sometimes, as in the case of Clover Hill, they are vindicated a hundred times over!
Clover Hill spent the remaining 22 years of his life at Ringroe Stud, and the stories of his owner, Philip Heenan, are legion.
Once the stallion’s fame spread, every day during the season there would be a queue of trailers outside the entrance to the stud bearing mares waiting to be covered. Philip, who was also the local “gas man”, was a gentle but unpredictable character. If he didn’t like the look of the owner, or he just wasn’t feeling like putting himself out on that particular day, he would turn mares away. But although not everyone was privileged to make it through the gates, he was famous for his saying, “Never speak ill of another man’s stallions”, and those who knew him can testify that they never once heard him run down or bad-mouth another stallion. There are some stallion owners today who might gain from following his example!
A story told by someone who was taken to visit Philip as a young child by his father remembers that they found him sitting in Clover Hill’s stable with two robins perching on his shoulder; he could call wild birds to him, and they would flock over to land on his hand or his shoulder. The qualities of calmness and gentleness that allowed him to attract wildlife obviously extended to his horses, and you can see from the body language of man and horse in one of the very few photos that still exist of Philip and Clover Hill (sadly not good enough quality to reproduce here) that the two had an incredibly strong attachment.
Clover Hill’s achievements as a sire were outstanding; he ranked 4th in the 2001-2002 WBFSH showjumping rankings, with 39 offspring jumping at International levels. He was a big horse, standing at 17hh, and seeming from his photos to have inherited rather more of his ID dam’s physical qualities than his TB sire’s, with a large crested neck, short-coupled and deep body, and pronounced, rounded hindquarters.
As so often is the case, it’s almost impossible to identify everything that contributed to the making of a Super Sire … (and if breeders were infallibly able to pick that magic ingredient, we’d have far more elite stallions out there) … but there are clues in Clover Hill’s pedigree. Either his breeder struck lucky or – and this would be typical of many of the old style Irish breeders – he knew just what he was doing, and had spotted a likely cross.
For digging back into Clover Hill’s pedigree immediately produces some stars. On his damside, the ID stallion Tara is double bred to Woodranger, and has produced two of the most famous Irish sires in recent history, not only Clover Hill, but also appearing as the damsire of the RID stallion Seacrest who bred the internationally successful showjumper Cruising. Woodranger has had a strong influence on ID pedigrees, and has a reputation for being an excellent damsire. Tara’s line goes back to one of the four foundation sires of the RID, Young Arthur.
Clover Hill’s sire was the racehorse Golden Beaker – who doesn’t appear to have had much success on the track, but who sired some talented jumpers. His real interest lies in his pedigree. His sire, Arctic Storm, was an impressive steeplechaser who won the Irish 2000 Guineas and the Champion Stakes, and amongst his offspring was Arctic Que. Arctic Que produced several international eventers and showjumpers, and (we come full circle here), had a daughter called Arctic Lass, the dam of Knockboy – who sired Seacrest.
Arctic Storm’s sire was the TB Arctic Star, foaled in 1942, and once more having an impressive record as far as the achievements of his offspring went. Apart from Arctic Storm he sired Arctic Slave whose son, Titus Oates, won two Gold Cups and the King George Chase. Another son, Sable Skinflint, was approved by the Holsteiner Verband and stood in Germany, his offspring winning over 200,000 DM in sporthorse competitions in the 1960s.
Considering that many of these stallions would probably not have covered more than 50 to 100 mares in their lifetimes, this record begins to look deeply impressive.
On his dam side, Golden Beaker goes back to Precipitation, one of the greatest TB performance sires of all time, his most famous offspring being the great Furioso. His own record was impressive: as a three-year old he won the King Edward VII Stakes, the Hyperion Stakes and the Jockey Club Stakes. Aged 4, he added the Ascot Gold Cup to his winnings.
Clover Hill died in 1997, but his legacy very much lives on through his children and grandchildren in the worlds of international showjumping and eventing.