A freak and gory accident in August, 2017, left Holly Jacks-Smither’s event horse Favonious Nite without a left eye, but that didn’t faze the powerful, determined gelding. Six weeks later, the pair went on to win the training division at Grandview Fall Horse Trials in Oro, ON. After stepping up to preliminary in 2018, they capped off the season by dominating the new 1.05 CCI Introductory division at the inaugural Foshay International in New Brunswick, then returned to Grandview to claim a preliminary victory.
Holly, 33, recalls Favy’s incident, which happened while showing at Lane’s End Horse Trials in Bobcaygeon. “He was tied to the trailer with a piece of binder twine and a shank and we all watched him pull back slowly. I went to catch him and his eye was missing. The snap had come back and hit him in the face,” she says. “People are always like, ‘Was the eyeball hanging out?’ No, it exploded. It was like stringy pieces of eyeball. It was gushing blood. I knew right away there was no saving the eye.”
The bay Dutch Warmblood was imported as a weanling from Germany as a dressage prospect by Genevieve Trimble and sent at age three to Holly for training. It became quickly apparent the athletic Favy and his owner weren’t going make the best match, so he was put up for sale. A vetting revealed his ankles were beset with osteochrondritis dissecans (OCD), a developmental disease affecting joint cartilage and bone. Yet Favy had never been lame. After removal of OCD fragments and a stint with a hunter trainer, Favy returned to Holly’s barn in the winter of 2017. “I said, ‘Give me six months with him and if he events, I’ll find an owner to buy him.’”
With Favy quickly progressing from pre-entry to training level, Holly called Mark and Jayne Marquis, owners of many of her mounts over the years. The Marquises partnered on Favy with Holly under the agreement that if he didn’t qualify for the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, he would go to one of their twin daughters, Eva or Ella, both Holly’s students.
A mere month later, Holly and Favy found themselves on a three-hour emergency trek from Bobcaygeon to the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph. Here, surgeons removed what was left of the horse’s eye. Back home at Holly’s barn in Hillsburgh the next morning, after-care consisted of administering anti-inflammatories and antibiotics, plus packing the wound and rebandaging every three days.
After three weeks, Holly hopped aboard and Favy hasn’t stopped since. For 2019, feeling she would have had to rush the now nine-year-old gelding to the three-star level to qualify for the Pan Ams, Holly handed the reins to Eva in April. “We did it right bringing him back and we took our time. I didn’t want to scare him.” (She did land a reserve spot on the team with her nine-year-old Warmblood Candy King.)
Eva, 16, and Favy are off to a good start together with a third place at training level in their first event earlier this year at Grandview. Her sights are on next year’s North American Youth Championships CCI** where she wants to better her 2017 outing which saw her retire on cross-country with Hollywood (also co-owned by Holly and the Marquis family.)
Overall, however, she wants to “grow with him, create a great partnership and take things slow.” She adds, “I wouldn’t want to have something go wrong that would set us back. At first, I was a bit nervous about riding him, but now I don’t even notice he only has one eye. I ride him like I would any other horse. I think if I thought about it too much it would make me nervous, which he might be able to sense, so I don’t think about it at all when I am riding, because I want to give him as much confidence as I can.”
Holly praises her student, saying she’s learning to be “firm but fair” with Favy, whom Eva herself calls “very brave” and often bossy, especially on cross-country where he’s quite forward. “Sometimes he tries to take over and make decisions for the two of us and I have to correct him and make sure he listens to me,” says Eva.
Favy’s daily management requires only a few small changes. Unless in his stall, he wears a fly mask to protect his good eye. Handlers must remember to let him know when they’re on his left side so as not to startle him. Riding requires a few tweaks; for example, because Favy can’t see where the rail is located, his rider has to actually stop him when leg yielding to the left. Holly, who still trains him a few times a week, says he also needs extra space when jumping with his non-eye side leading on a right-to-left angle. “So if I think I see my angled line, I count to three and then I turn.” Because Favy also tends to tilt his head to see, he’s treated to regular chiropractic treatment for a stiff neck.
Holly is certain Favy’s “super cheeky” nature helped him cope with his eye loss. “We always joke he’s so cocky about life, he walks around the barn like, ‘I don’t need an eye. I don’t need either eye.’”