One of my most prized Breyer models as a short stirrup kid was that of Big Ben, the world champion show jumper out of Canada. I watched rerun after rerun of Ian Millar aboard the chestnut warmblood in the Olympics, soaring over jumps in the name of Canada. Ian Millar was a legend, and remains so today with 10 Olympics under his belt and two silver medals, back to back World Cup titles, innumerable Grand Prix titles and Derby wins, and a gold medal from the Pan American Games.
And take it from us, Captain Canada is certainly not slowing down. When Team Absorbine® was invited to spend the day at Millar Brooke Farm in Perth, Ontario, we were beyond excited to meet a living legend and hear all about the glory days from the source. We heard some stories, but Ian is a man on the move, always looking towards the future and all the potential his farm holds.
First thing was first, Ian insisted we meet his current mount, and we happily obliged. Leading us to one of the immaculate grooming areas at Millar Brooke, Ian thrust his arms wide in salutation of a tall bay gelding with a crooked white stripe, singing in his best Italian accent: “Vittorio!” Vittorio 8 greeted us all with nostrils flared, inspecting for treats. He only found Ian’s coffee cup, which he would have been more than pleased with. “Sorry Vittorio, no caffeine for horses in this barn,” Ian lamented to his horse. Instead he showered Vittorio with pats, wither scratches, and an overlooked carrot that was hiding in his back pocket.
It was clear these two were good buddies. Ian purchased Vittorio 8 in 2016 as an Olympic prospect, and his hopes for the eight-year-old Hanoverian are great. They’ve been working together diligently over the last year and Ian is very pleased with Vittorio’s accomplishments, building upon the top international placings he already held before Ian took the reins.
Alongside Vittorio was Kim Porter, Ian’s trusted show groom. We caught her brushing Hooflex® on Vittorio’s feet, spiffing him up for a morning workout. “Vittorio has so much personality, he’s a fun one to take care of” she said, smiling at the goofy gelding playing with his cross ties. Ian trusts Kim to keep the horses of Millar Brooke Farm looking their very best for the show ring, and we’re proud Kim trusts Absorbine® products to help her do that!
Peeking around the barn, it was thrilling to see so many fit, sleek horses all in one place. No doubt, they are living well at this 600-acre paradise in Perth. There was a flurry of activity, as students from all over the world readied their horses for the day’s work, popping in out of meticulous tack rooms and freshly bedded stalls. “Good morning Sir!” they would greet Ian in passing, Ian admiring their work with a big smile, but also an intense attention to detail. “How about dropping those irons a hole? Too short!” He called out to a student from South Africa who was out for a hack. “You know what they say,” he said turning to us with a sly look, “there’s your way, there’s my way, and then there’s the Millar Brooke way!”
Sitting down with Ian alongside the jumping field where the students were warming up (irons perfectly adjusted), we had a chance to talk. He reminisced on his days with Big Ben, mused on how the show circuit has changed over the years, and how his training methods have adjusted accordingly. He noted the things that had stayed the same, also, and stressed the importance of quality and consistency in the way things are done at his farm, especially when it comes to horse care.
“We as the riders, trainers, and grooms become the voice of the horse,” he explained. “Hopefully, we can listen to what a horse is trying to tell us when we ride him and study him, and use that knowledge to keep him at his best. There need to be protocols in place that are religiously applied in order to accomplish this. That’s what we like about Absorbine® products: the quality and consistency. It’s the essence of any good product, and you can always depend on that quality to produce results.” Well, you could say we were flattered; it was awfully great to hear Ian could put his trust in our products that way!
“Why don’t we go get Vittorio?” Ian suggested with a big smile; he was ready to ride. Kim led the prepped mount out from the barn, applying a final mist of UltraShield® EX. Vittorio was ready to play, pleased to see his rider again. Ian swung his long leg over with ease, and we chased after him as he forged onward towards the jumping field. Ian rides four to five horses a day; he seems to never run out of steam.
Observing Ian take Vittorio over jump after jump was standing in the midst of a true athlete in his element, but more than that, it was witnessing pure joy. Ian marveled at Vittorio’s range and power as if he were riding him for the first time, laughing as they took combinations and flew over an oxer. “How lucky are we that we get to come out here and do this every day?! It’s incredible!” He seemed just as in awe as we were, if not more.
That’s the image I’ll forever hold of world champion Ian Millar, the most decorated equestrian in Canadian history: just out for a joy ride on his bay horse, giddy at the thrill of approaching another jump.