During a press conference on November 6, Germany’s Michael Jung seemed to infer that the retirement of his Olympic gold medal-winning mount, La Biosthetique – Sam FBW, was imminent. Jung recently clarified to Horse & Hound that Sam, 17, will no longer contest team competitions, but will aim to compete at Badminton in 2018. But now is as good a time as any to reflect on the singular accomplishments of La Biosthetique – Sam, a horse that, according to EquiRatings‘ Sam Watson, is, by the numbers, the greatest eventing champion the world has ever seen. 

This article was originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of NOELLE FLOYD/style Magazine. If you’d like to receive a hard copy of the Fall 2017 issue of NOELLE FLOYD/style Magazine, visit this link. 

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Michael Jung and La Biosthetique – Sam FBW made their senior team debut for Germany in 2009 at the Fontainebleau European Championships. They produced a masterful pathfinding round for the team on a day when no other Germans completed the cross country, comfortably crossing the finish with room to spare as one of only three pairs to make the optimum time. Michael and Sam won the individual bronze medal. It was the start of something special.

Sam appeared at the FEI World Breeding Championships for Young Horses in Le Lion-d’Angers as both a 6- and 7-year-old, and twice he finished second. By the end of his 8-year-old season, he had finished in the top five in every international competition he had contested, with the exception of the first two starts of his career. He was clinical and consistent, a cross country horse first and foremost, but a trier and an improver in the dressage and jumping phases.

As a 9-year-old, Sam stepped up from a consistent and promising youngster to a serious horse that could take on the big leagues. He won his first CCI4* on home soil at Luhmühlen. His dressage score of 47.0 would be the last time in his career he would ever score below 70% (45 penalties) in the first phase. He finished on his dressage score, something he would do again and again in the most incredible circumstances.

The stories of equine heroes Frankel, American Pharoah and Valegro fill many a bookshelf, while Kauto Star’s record fifth King George victory set a new record of 16 Grade 1 wins, which only the incredible Hurricane Fly has managed to pass. Five equine superstars. If you asked anyone to dream up a horse that could emulate their achievements, they couldn’t. The superstar of eventing can stand tall in this company.

“By the end of 2012, Sam had more than made a case to statistically be named the best event horse we had ever seen.”

In 2010, Sam won his first senior championship at the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky. He led from start to finish on a score of 33.0 and never added a single penalty. He made five international appearances that year, never out of the top three, scored below 40 on every occasion in the dressage, and his worst finishing score was 42.0. To put that into context, the average winning score of the last 48 four-stars is 44.9 penalties.

Since the beginning of 2010, Sam has contested 33 internationals. He averages 35.6 in the dressage phase, with his worst score in that period being 41.5. He has scored in the 20s on three occasions. His average finishing score of 39.0 is the truly awe-inspiring statistic. EquiRatings has analyzed all international results since 2010. If we look at just three- and four-star results, of 1,926 horses with five or more runs, the second-best average finishing score belongs to the 2014 World Champion Opgun Louvo. His average of 43.1 is still more than four penalties behind Sam.

In 2011, Sam added the European individual gold medal to his resume, and the following year, he became the first horse to ever hold all three senior titles simultaneously when he won the 2012 London Olympic Games. In all three victories, he never added a single penalty in either jumping phase, and his dressage score (and also finishing score) averaged 35.6. Now he wasn’t just posting the most phenomenal scores we had ever seen—he had also won the three major championships and set an awe-inspiring record in doing so.

By the end of 2012, Sam had more than made a case to statistically be named the best event horse we had ever seen and championed as an equine superstar worthy of any hall of fame. Then, in 2013, the final fence on the last day cost him the Badminton title and the great horse was beaten in a major event. He came out again that season at Aachen, but again he was beaten; this time it was third place. The following year in 2014 was a gentle one; he didn’t even contest a long-format event. Aachen was his biggest event that year, and again, he finished in third place.

Meanwhile, German dominance continued with Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo becoming World Champions in Normandy. Michael Jung had the reigning European Champion in his stable in Halunke FBW, who won at Malmo in 2013. He also had a wonder mare called fischerRocana FST, who took the individual silver medal at WEG in 2014. The following year in 2015, he would crown another European Champion in record style at Blair Castle with the 8-year-old fischerTakinou.

Where was Sam? He was contesting four-stars, but he wasn’t winning. He finished third to his stablemate Rocana at Kentucky CCI4* in the spring of 2015, and then third again on his home soil at the Luhmühlen CCI4*. The triple-crown victor of 2012 was still admired, still consistent, but it had been three years since he had won a long-format event.

“In true Sam form, the next 12 months brought not only one of the greatest comebacks we have ever seen, but cemented this horse as a true legend, a champion that could fight back.”

Fans thought maybe it was time to retire him. But in true Sam form, the next 12 months brought not only one of the greatest comebacks we have ever seen, but cemented this horse as a true legend, a champion that could fight back.

It started at Burghley in 2015, where he won what is often deemed as physically the biggest and most grueling event in the world. The win gave Michael Jung the first leg of the Rolex Grand Slam, which had only ever been won once previously. He sent Rocana back to Kentucky to secure the second leg at the beginning of 2016, and then it was down to one horse to finish the job. Sam had tried and failed at Badminton before; it is the world’s most prestigious event, and now, it had even more riding on it. But it is that pressure that makes this partnership. Michael and Sam didn’t just win it. They finished on 34.4 to smash the record finishing score in a year when only 42.7% of the field managed to jump clear around the cross country course.

His third major win in 12 months came at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He became the third horse in history to win back-to-back individual gold medals, and he is the only horse to finish on his dressage score at the Olympics—not just once in London, but now twice. In 57 international appearances, he has completed on every occasion bar three, when Michael strategically withdrew him each time before contesting a four-star. No cross country faults, 24 international wins, six of them at four-star.

We will always be in awe of the records, the sequences, the averages. The quantity and exceptional quality, however, with which Sam has delivered is almost certainly something that no other horse could fathom. Away from the numbers, we can also look to a champion who blew us all away, a champion who briefly came under threat of being outshone by stars within his own yard, but who fought back. A champion who had to dig to where no one thought he could or would.

A champion that we can call the greatest event horse that has ever lived.

-Photography by Erin Gilmore.