Beth Underhill still feels some low-grade aches from a concussion she suffered during the World Cup show-jumping event at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair last week.
But now, her heart is aching, too.
On Wednesday, Monopoly, the horse that made Underhill an international contender, died at her farm near Schomberg, Ont. He was 32, a senior citizen in the horse world.
“He’s been part of my life for almost half my life,” Underhill said. “It’s a long time to have such a strong character involved in all aspects of your career, and then into his retirement. We were lucky to have had him as long as we did.”
Underhill was an up-and-coming young rider working for Terrance Millar at his Cheltenham stables when she met Monopoly, a jet-black New Zealand-bred horse with a checkered past, known for stopping in front of jumps instead of soaring over them. That meant of course, that rider often flew off.
In the show ring with Underhill astride, Monopoly won more than $1-million. The year after they became a team, they helped Canada win the Nations Cup at the Royal winter fair.
His favourite spot was Spruce Meadows in Calgary, where he helped Underhill win two Canadian championships, and finish second in the $800,000 duMaurier International Grand Prix, at the time the richest show-jumping event in the world. He never finished worse than third in five Shell Cup Derbys.
Monopoly also helped her win silver medals at the 1991 Pan American Games in Cuba and he took her to the Olympics in Barcelona, too, where she finished 14th individually.
Monopoly won his final Grand Prix at age 20, and he retired at age 22 to live his life in retirement at Underhill’s farm.
The first year she retired him, she took him with her to shows, because he wasn’t happy about being left at home. Gradually, he retired with grace, and his special stall – the penthouse suite of the barn - became his refuge. Underhill never shut the stall door on Monopoly. A rope kept him inside, but the extra freedom allowed him to watch the bustle of Underhill’s busy barn.
A soft touch, Underhill rescues animals. She has adopted two potbellied pigs, two Jack Russell terriers and a goat, as well as Monopoly. She couldn’t part with Monopoly either and gave him a home for the rest of his life. “He’d been my first team horse and really set me on my career path,” she said. “I always appreciated him for that. He was part of the family. He knew it.”
Tops in the show ring, Monopoly demanded to be tops in retirement. He had an interesting interaction with Underhill as well as her menagerie.
“He’d wrestle with the dogs and he’d push the pigs around,” Underhill said. He tussles with other horses going by. He was primal. He made his presence known. He was strong-willed.
He’d come across as a tough guy, Underhill said. When she’d go up to him, he’d pin his ears back and push her. But it would be in jest. It would be a game. Underhill was supposed to push him back. When she did, he’d come back to her, with his ears up, content with the world.
“It was like he always had to make sure that you knew he was top dog,” she said.
As he grew older, Monopoly stuck closer to his stall, maybe spending only half an hour at a time in the paddock. In the past two years, he had more difficulty getting up sometimes, and Underhill wondered if she should euthanize him.
But Monopoly still loved to go outside, he trotted soundly, he loved to eat, and he seemed happy. Underhill’s staff kept a close eye on him, always.
On Wednesday, he was returning from his paddock, when he started to weave. “He nickered,” Underhill said. “It was funny. It was just like he knew and it was his time.”
He died with his two caretakers by his side. Underhill couldn’t have wished for a more peaceful exit for her star.
“He’s going to be greatly missed,” she said.