The Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) has been where dreams come true for riders of all levels for more than 60 years, and that was never more true than in 1990, when Todd Minikus and the off-the-track Thoroughbred Thrilling arrived at WIHS for the first time.
Minikus, who grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, may be one of the sport’s top stars now, but in 1990, his success had just started. He was scraping by, making a living by grooming, and riding in grand prix classes whenever he could. When a tragic trailering accident took the life of his promising jumper, Thriller, a friend told him about a half-brother to the horse located in Canada. Minikus drove there and bought Thrilling (Winterwar—Miss Chiclero, Chiclero) for $1,000.
Minikus and Thrilling formed a winning partnership quickly and won four grand prix classes in the Midwest in 1989. During the 1990 season, they racked up win after win in the Midwest, earning the Midwest Grand Prix Association Horse of the Year title.
“He was a very good horse,” Minikus said. “He kind of put me in business. He won enough that I could buy a pick-up truck, then he won enough money that I could buy a horse trailer, and that’s how I got in business for myself.”
When summer turned into fall, Minikus decided it was time to drive that truck and trailer east and make his debut at the prestigious indoor shows. “That was the first year I had a grand prix horse to qualify for indoors with,” he said. “I figured it would be a good time to take that step.” He showed up at the Capital Centre in Landover, MD, for WIHS as the underdog, with top combinations from all over the U.S. and around the world converging on the show. In the previous decade, winners of the President’s Cup Grand Prix had included such famous names as Joe Fargis and Touch of Class, Michael Matz and Jet Run, and Melanie Smith and Calypso. First Lady Barbara Bush was the honorary chairman of the show that year.
Minikus didn’t let the immensity of the occasion concern him. “I was pretty confident with my horse,” he said. He and Thrilling won the first open jumper class, and every open jumper class after that. They finished the week with a remarkable win in the President’s Cup Grand Prix. “I do remember him rubbing the first jump in the jump-off, but then he was unbelievable after that,” Minikus recalled. The outsider from the Midwest on an off-the-track Thoroughbred had defeated all the stars.
“The President’s Cup is one of the most prestigious grand prix classes in America. It definitely was an honor to win it,” Minikus said. “At that point in time, the Europeans were coming to the show for the Nations Cup, so it was quite a big deal to beat all them and win it. When we made it to indoors, Thrilling just happened to be on his game and put me on the map. He was good in any environment. He was just a pure winner.” Minikus was also awarded the Ennis Jenkins Award as Leading Rider.
Minikus returned to WIHS in 1995 with another Thoroughbred out of the same mare as Thrilling, named Thrills. That year, they jumped on the U.S. team for the Nations Cup and tied for the win in the Puissance class with Ian Millar on Play It Again after they both cleared 7-foot-4.
Thrilling continued to compete with Minikus until 1994, when he was retired. He lived out his years at a farm in Kentucky and was buried at the Kentucky Horse Park after his death. Minikus became a frequent face at WIHS, now held in downtown Washington, D.C., at the Capital One Arena, for decades and won the President’s Cup again in 2009 riding Callie Seaman’s Alaska. He has ridden on many U.S. Nations Cup teams, helped the U.S. win team bronze at the 2007 Pan American Games, and has won more than 130 grand prix classes.
Who will win the $136,300 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Washington presented by Events DC for the President’s Cup, this year and make their name known? Every year WIHS gives riders of all ages the opportunity to achieve their dreams just like Minikus did. From the grand prix to the top junior riders competing in the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund WIHS Equitation Finals to horse-crazy children getting a pony ride on Kids’ Day, WIHS makes wishes become reality.
If you can’t make it to WIHS to watch, you can see full livestream coverage of the horse show at www.wihs.org.
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