Animals Heroes

Big Ben, A Quiet Hero

by Olivia from Victoria

“He knew when someone was ill or weak or handicapped and he’d treat them totally different,” said Millar.
The Champion (
The Champion (

I have chosen to write about a Canadian show jumping horse named Big Ben. Some of you may think it’s silly to write about a horse, but I can really relate to how these majestic animals touch people’s lives. Big Ben inspired many people and connected with them on a very personal level.

On April 20th, 1976, a sorrel colt was born at a barn in Belgium. He was alarmingly tall (he eventually grew to 17.3 hands high), considering his dam was 15 hands, and his sire 16 hands. He was named Winston, after Winston Churchill.

Fast forward 7 years, and a friend of the acclaimed show jumper Ian Millar was introducing him to the horse. He was now living at a barn in the Netherlands, who purchased him for $2,000. They named him “Big Ben” because he “looked taller than a clock tower”. This horse was previously passed up for being “too big and ugly”. But Millar knew he was the right horse for him.

Born to Jump (
Born to Jump (

$45,000 later, Big Ben was his. Just 10 months after Millar brought the massive warmblood home, they competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games together. They were part of the 4th-placed team. The perfect pairing continued on to take many, many 1st places at prestigious events, as well as plenty of other placings.

Unfortunately, in March 1990, he colicked, requiring surgery. Though it was doubtful that he could continue to compete, just 3 months later he won a Grand Prix. In January of 1991, he suffered from colic again. After his second colic surgery, he recovered, but no one expected another comeback. To prove them all wrong, 3 months later, Ben won 2 World Cup qualifiers.

Happy Horse (*PAXuxLzDU4VlLoMQgLHTHMsWNb4p/bigben.jpg)
Happy Horse (*PAXuxLzDU4VlLoMQgLHTHMsWNb4p/bigben.jpg)

It would seem that at this point, Big Ben had been through enough. Yet in the spring of 1992, he was in a trailer that was hit by a driver who fell asleep behind the wheel. The driver of the car and a mare in the trailer were killed. Ben ended up with just an injury over his eye. He was taken to an equine clinic for stitches. Mere weeks later, Big Ben won the 3 classes he entered at Spruce Meadows.

In 1994, Big Ben travelled across Canada on his retirement tour. Though he was usually a feisty gelding, he knew when someone was disadvantaged, and treated them differently. Ian Millar remembers a time when Ben was excited after a competition, and was introduced to a physically handicapped girl. As soon as he got near the girl, he became calm. He even let her ride him. As soon as he was away from her, he started trying to bite and kick his handlers. The gentle spirit he showed to such people wowed his fans when they met him on his retirement tour. By the end of his career, Ben had won over 50 Grand Prix titles, as well as multiple international championships. He was a tough one to beat, with his power and determination.

People said they felt like he was speaking to him. He stole their hearts. Sadly, at the age of 23, Big Ben had to be euthanized, after a 3rd, particularly nasty run-in with colic. He was buried at Millar Brooke Farm in Perth, Ontario, where he lived out most of his life. He is missed greatly.

Page created on 10/22/2011 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 10/22/2011 12:00:00 AM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Big Ben Park Project
Big Ben - The Canadian Encyclopedia