An unforgettable Adventure

Adventure De Kannan is one of the most successful Hickstead horses of recent times. Victoria Goff looks back at the remarkable career of the one-eyed wonder horse


Will any horse ever come close to matching Adventure De Kannan’s achievements at Hickstead? In nearly six decades since the All England Jumping Course first opened, no other horse has won so many different international classes, nor shown such incredible versatility in ticking off wins in our most famous classes, one by one. 

His partnership with Ireland’s Trevor Breen has been remarkable. They were a joyous combination to watch in action in the International Arena, whether jumping in Grands Prix, going clear round the Derby or racing at speed against the clock. Their vast collection of Hickstead titles marks Adventure De Kannan out as special, but the fact he has repeatedly bounced back from adversity to be so successful sets him apart in a league of his own.   

Ahead of the Al Shira’aa Derby on Sunday afternoon, Adventure De Kannan will be officially retired from international competition. He’s 17 this year, and his owner Karen Swann and Trevor both agree he doesn’t owe them anything, that there’s nothing left for him to prove. For one last time, we’ll have a chance to see ‘Addy’ take to the spotlight in the arena where he made his name.

Addy’s background isn’t typical for an international showjumper, to say the least. The Kannan-sired gelding was originally destined to be an eventer, with Karen competing him up to two-star level and showjumping up to 1.20m back in Ireland. Trevor, who was then based in Co Tipperary, began training the pair. When Karen had an accident, Trevor took over the ride, and he continued to compete him when she went on to have children. He took to the horse straight away. “I remember saying to someone at the time that Addy was a horse I had to keep the ride on,” he says.

They developed their partnership slowly, competing in national classes when the horse was an eight-year-old. They made their international debut at Hickstead in 2009, when Addy was nine years old. It was the British Speed Derby, and they made it a winning debut – a sign of even bigger and better things to come, perhaps. From there, there was no stopping them. After Hickstead they won a big class at Cavan, then won an incredible five Grands Prix in a row.

They made their Hickstead Derby debut the following year, finishing 16th with 12 faults, and in 2011 they were seventh with eight faults. Slowly they were getting closer to winning Hickstead’s most iconic class, but they had to wait a few more years yet before they finally got there. In the meantime, the Hickstead results kept coming – in 2012 the pair won the MS Amlin Eventing Grand Prix, the All England Grand Prix at the national show that September, plus they picked up a third placing in the Derby itself.

In 2013, Adventure De Kannan went through his biggest challenge when he underwent an operation to take out his right eye. He’d been plagued with problems in that eye for several years, and vets felt his eyesight was probably around 25% of what it should be. Eventually, Trevor and Karen decided to have the eye removed, theorizing that if he continued to showjump afterwards then that would be all well and good, and if he didn’t he could go off and enjoy retirement, having already achieved so much.

Fortunately, Addy recovered quickly and was soon back in work. To begin with, Trevor tried riding him a little differently, trying to maximise the horse’s ability to see fences from his remaining eye. But soon he worked out that the best approach was to ride Addy the same way he’d always been ridden, and the pair were soon back jumping at the top level.

Adventure De Kannan obviously still relished jumping at Hickstead. A few months after the eye operation, the pair returned to the All England Jumping Course with the aim of claiming the Derby title for the first time. But it was not to be – they were clear through the most tricky stage of the course but knocked down the Open Ditch at fence 13, leaving them in equal second place with four faults, behind eventual winners Phillip Miller and Caritiar Z. Trevor, who had lost his mother just a week before the Derby Meeting, described it as the ‘worst second place I’ve ever had’.

The following year, preparations didn’t go any more straightforwardly, with Addy tweaking a hind suspensory on the Spanish Sunshine Tour, leaving his Derby chances in doubt. After careful rehabilitation and regular trips to the equine spa, Addy was fit and ready for his fifth Derby attempt. But still things didn’t go smoothly – first, they had an unprecedented 12 faults in the Derby Trial, meaning they only just qualified for Sunday’s Derby. Then, the day before the class, Addy was kicked in the collecting ring, meaning his groom Fran Callan had to stay up all night applying ice in the hope the horse was sound to jump the next day.

Fortunately, her hard work paid off and Addy was able to take his place in the Derby line up. With the previous year’s winner Phillip Miller leading with a four-fault round, Trevor and Addy simply had to jump a clear round to take the title. But this time, it was the first part of the Devil’s Dyke that caught them out, meaning Trevor and Phillip had to jump-off against the clock. What ensued was the closest jump-off in Derby history, with both combinations picking up four-faults but Trevor finishing two-hundreds of a second quicker to claim the win.  

Not content with winning the Derby, they returned to the showground a month later for the Longines Royal International Horse Show, and duly won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, beating a number of top national riders in the process. “He’s a phenomenal horse – he loves this place and this arena,” said Trevor at the time.

Only the Longines King George V Gold Cup eluded them, a class that is only open to international riders who are chosen for the Nations Cup squad at the show. They came closest to winning in 2013 when picking up just four faults, but in the end Addy and Trevor didn’t get the chance to lift the famous gold trophy. Nor would the horse be able to have his name added to the Boomerang Trophy for a second time, despite being one of the most consistent Derby horses in recent years. In 2015, he finished seventh with eight faults, the year Trevor secured back-to-back victories with his other ride, Loughnatousa WB. Last summer, the pair finished out of the Derby placings for the first time in six years.

Yet Addy’s achievements will forever stand out in Hickstead’s history books, as the only horse to win the Speed Derby, the Eventing Grand Prix, the All England Grand Prix, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup and the Derby. Not only has he recovered from injury and setbacks, and claimed so many major titles, he’s also an inspiration to owners of one-eyed horses round the world. People saw his Derby win, witnessed him conquering that notoriously difficult track, and realised that having one eye was no barrier to a horse’s ability or success.

The year after their Derby win, Hickstead commissioned a special photoshoot with top equine photographer Matthew Seed. The images showcased the unique bond shared between Trevor and Addy, and the horse’s inherent beauty, despite his disability. The one-eyed wonder horse, a Hickstead legend, forever immortalised in a series of photographs.

Now we must say a final farewell to a horse who gave us so many magical moments, who beat the odds – and the opposition – time and time again. Thank you, Addy – it’s been one hell of an Adventure. 

This article first appeared in June 2017. Adventure De Kannan is pictured at the retirement ceremony on Sunday 25 June 2017. 


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