Another phenomenally talented ex-racehorse, Good Mixture swapped careers several times before finding his niche in three-day eventing and helping the U.S. earn the 1972 Olympic team silver medal and the 1974 World Championship team gold as well as the individual silver medal. Born in 1962 and raised on a remote wheat farm in eastern Oregon, the 16.1-hand dark bay gelding by Mixture and out of Romaha earned less than $400 in 12 starts on the racetrack. He was eventually sold to Geraldine (Gerry) Pearson for only $500.
Gerry’s riding background was primarily in show jumping. “I had been nominated for the show-jumping team when I was in college,” she says, “but they didn’t take women at that time.” She bought “Mixture” because he had good conformation and “a pleasant demeanor about him—and the price was certainly right!” She brought him home to her family farm, where she herded cattle with him and took him trail-riding in the mountains. When she taught him to jump, she remembers, “I noticed that when we approached a fence, I would feel this distinct but subtle shift to the rear end as he dropped back onto his haunches before takeoff. Any of the really good ones that I’ve jumped did that.”
Gerry showed Mixture as a Green Hunter and Ladies Hunter for two years “and did very decently with him.” But one of his talents she most appreciated was his sure-footedness outside the ring. “He was very strong going up and down hills. I have a very steep hill down through the woods on our farm.” Unlike other horses, who might get panicky when they slipped going down, she says, “He would put a foot down and slide for maybe 5 feet, then put the other one down—and he never panicked. He was totally confident.” She partly attributes this to his upbringing in farm country. “They only let horses graze on the land that is not suitable for wheat, so the horses were on very rough ground all the time. They learned how to rebalance themselves and get the job done.”
In 1971, Gerry took Mixture to the farm of 1964 and ’68 Olympic eventing team silver medalist Kevin Freeman, a longtime family friend, to play around over his schooling fences. Kevin remembers, “I wasn’t all that impressed to begin with, but she let me ride him and he was just sensational.” After he jumped over several big fences, Gerry remembers asking, “‘Well, Kevin, what do we do with him?’ And he said, ‘Well, either take him to the ’72 Olympics or the Maryland Hunt Cup.’”
The two decided to aim for the Olympics, only a little over a year away. They started him at the Preliminary level and quickly moved up to Intermediate. Together they traveled to California to compete Mixture in horse trials twice at Pebble Beach and once at Ram Tap. With Gerry grooming and Kevin riding, they won all three events. They finished the season by driving the horse across the country to compete in the Fair Hill Three-Day Event in Maryland, which he won handily. Good Mixture was consequently named the U.S. Combined Training Association (now U.S. Eventing Association) Horse of the Year and qualified to travel with the U.S. team to England the following year for several months in preparation for the Munich Games.
The time spent in England solidified Kevin’s partnership with Mixture in a way he’d never enjoyed before. Because he worked full-time for his family’s farm-manufacturing company in Oregon, he’d represented the U.S. team primarily as a catch rider, riding his Olympic mounts only briefly before the Games. Despite his very short introduction to the sport, Mixture flourished with Kevin in the saddle and earned a spot on the Munich team.
At the time, the endurance phase of three-day events played such a strong role in the final results that a mediocre dressage test could be overcome with a fast, clear round on cross country. This suited Good Mixture perfectly. “He was always a little difficult in dressage,” says Kevin. “He got a little tense. And he didn’t have a lot of time to get experience. He was also a terribly spooky horse. He would shy you right out of your socks. But when you aimed him at a jump, he’d go right down and jump it. He was the best cross-country horse I’ve ever ridden.”
Mixture’s confidence on cross country was extraordinary, says Gerry. “He never stopped at a fence in schooling or any other time. I asked one of the team members some years later why he thought that was and he said, ‘because he’s never had a rider who didn’t know what they were doing. He’s never had a negative experience over a fence in his life.’”
The traditional three-day-event format, which included steeplechase and roads-and-tracks phases, was also an advantage for Thoroughbreds like Good Mixture, says Kevin. “After the steeplechase, sometimes the warmbloods were not any good for the rest of the competition. But that’s what the Thoroughbreds were designed for—to jump that fast and recover.”
In the lead-up to the Munich Olympics, Kevin did worry about one thing: “His right eye was a little bit cloudy. I didn’t want to say anything because I wanted to ride in the Olympics.” He thought Mixture’s spookiness might have been related to the eye condition. “He always shied to the left.”
The eye turned out to be no problem in Munich. Mixture and Kevin were the 58th horse-and-rider combination to start on cross country and the first to finish without jumping penalties. “The course was big,” remembers Kevin. “They had some innovative-type jumps we hadn’t had before, like combinations into water—remember, at that time, the water was 3½–feet deep in places. They had another difficult jump, where you had to come up a hill, go over a ditch onto a platform of probably 15 feet, then over a vertical that dropped on landing. That caused a lot of problems. But Mixture jumped the ditch and found a distance. He was just a cat. He jumped all the fences beautifully.” The pair’s brilliant round moved them up from 21st place after dressage to third place. A rail in show jumping the next day dropped them to fifth, still the highest-placed Americans and strong enough to help their team earn the silver medal.
After the Olympics, Gerry decided to sell Mixture. She explains, “I had enough horses here and I certainly didn’t need something that was Olympic caliber to ride around and chase cows on.” A group of eventing supporters led by Neil Ayer bought him for the U.S. team. Kevin was offered the ride on him again for the 1974 World Championships, but his job and family obligations finally convinced him to retire from international competition. So his Olympic teammate Mike Plumb got the ride.
Good Mixture’s cross-country round at the World Championships in Burghley, England, was another memorable performance. “Mike rode him beautifully,” says Kevin. “Everybody said, ‘I’ve never seen a better cross-country round ever.’” Mike and Mixture finished second behind teammates Bruce Davidson and Irish Cap. “Had [team coach] Jack Le Goff not told me to go the slow route,” says Mike, “I would have gone the fast route and I think we would have been first.”
Looking back over his decades of representing the U.S. in Olympics and World Championships on numerous outstanding horses, Mike still says that Good Mixture “was the best cross-country horse I ever rode. He could jump from any distance. He had all the scope and he was quick and fast. He was a Maserati on the cross country.”
After Good Mixture retired from competition, the team sent him home to Kevin in Oregon, where he served as a schoolmaster into his 20s. By then, says Kevin, “He didn’t see out of that one eye hardly at all.” As always, that didn’t stop the great horse. “We just kept riding him and he was happy as a clam.”
Practical Horseman would like to thank The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program and the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame for providing background research for this two-part series.
This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Practical Horseman.