Heaven on Earth
The oldest horse at Widden Stud passed away last week leaving tears and fond memories for all who shared his life and his story is so worth telling.
He never won a stakes race and he had no fancy breeding, but Kiwi bred gelding Saint Dragon Hill played a key role in the lives of many horses that did as a nanny at Widden Stud.
Dragon arrived at the farm in 2010 as a spritely 22 year-old and gave service in retirement for another 12 years before his passing last week at age 34, but as Matt Comerford explained, this was no ordinary horse.
“He wasn’t just a paddock ornament we looked after, he was the best nanny we ever had and every good horse we sold or raised off the farm during his time here would have in some way been in the care of Dragon,” Comerford explained.
“His owner Terri Chan loved Dragon and would travel from Hong Kong and visit him twice a year every year (apart from the last couple with Covid).
“She would sit in the paddock and feed him carrots and would literally spend all her holidays in Australia with Dragon.”
So what sort of horse inspires this kind of love and devotion? Terri Chan takes up the story.
Dragon came to Hong Kong from New Zealand as a subscription griffin in 1991, purchased by a famous traditional Chinese doctor, Chung-Wai Leung. He proved sound and reliable, competing over seven seasons up until 1998 and won four races and placed 12 times from 41 starts.
At age 10, he retired from racing and as often happens with horses in Hong Kong that aren’t exported to their country of origin, he became a school horse at a leisure riding centre run by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
“I met Dragon in 2003 and he was a school horse for beginners like me,” said Terri Chan.
“When I first learned to ride him, he would instantly recognize I was just a beginner and would stand in the paddock quietly, but day by day we built a relationship.
“I found that he was good and calm in the stable, so I always stayed inside his box and looked out from the window with him together and I always bring many, many carrots to him as snack.
“All the instructors, riders and grooms know that I call him “my son” and they also call me “Dragon’s mom” or “carrot monster”… and so I became his livery owner at the stables.”
Dragon learned new skills at the riding school and jumped low level competitions successfully for years before his aches and pains started to get the better of him.
“When ridden by an experienced rider he jumped up to 90cm, but only 70cm when I was riding him and he often won prizes,” Terri Chan recalled.
“He had some back and foot pains that brought about his retirement from racing and I would arrange Equine Massage, called Cranio Sacral Therapy, for him on a weekly basis which he enjoyed a lot.”
By 2009, Dragon’s back problem had worsened and Terri Chan decided her horse needed a better life so she sought permission to find an export retirement option for him.
She found help through Adrian Chow, who is now an assistant trainer in Hong Kong, but was previously the groom of Dragon when he was in the riding school. Adrian introduced his bloodstock agent friend, Dennis Loh to Terri and he suggested Widden Stud as the solution to her quest to find the perfect home for Dragon.
“I lodged the application for his retirement and thought surely the Hong Kong Jockey Club could not refuse when he was going to such a reputable stud as Widden, but at that time I didn’t know anything about Widden, I just had to believe in Adrian and Dennis,” Terri revealed.
After 10 years at the riding school, Dragon entered quarantine in preparation for his flight to Australia and in March 2010, Terri received a message that Dragon had arrived safely at Widden Stud.
Terri immediately booked her flight to Australia to visit Dragon, but had no idea what to expect and had feared he may escape from a paddock given his 20 previous years of life living in a stable in a city environment.
“I went to visit him at Easter and it was my first trip to Australia,” said Terri, who bounded off the plane and drove straight to Denman.
“I passed many farms and studs and saw horses and cows everywhere and finally arrived at Widden… and there he was in a large paddock.
“Then the staff at Widden welcome me and tell me this is only the arrival yard and Dragon will move to an even larger paddock and I just can’t believe it!
“He was cantering on the grass and I had never seen him so free and happy.”
Terri returned to Hong Kong, but was back again in August for a second visit to Widden Stud, ”This time the staff told me Dragon is now a nanny and lives with 11 baby horses!
“When I saw him running with the baby horses, I was so very happy that it made me cry. The yearling manager told me Dragon behaved very, very well as he never kicked the babies. I was a little surprised as he did not get along very well with other horses when he was in Hong Kong.
“This was the start of Dragon’s 12-years long nanny life at Widden and his back and leg problem all went away.”
Terri visited Dragon at Widden more than 20 times over the years up until 2020 and every visit was treasured time with her much loved ‘son’, “I was so impressed by the nice and experienced staff and of course the good weather and environment.
“I understand now that Dragon would never escape as his life at Widden was so good! Every visit, I bought carrots from Denman or Scone for him, but he actually enjoyed the food at Widden more.
“Grain is too expensive for the riding school in Hong Kong, but Dragon ate it every day at Widden and he loved the grass. In Hong Kong, the only time horses are fed grass is when they are sick, so it made me so happy to see him eating all the foods he loved best.”
Dragon has been a life changing horse for Terri Chan, ”Dragon was my son and he shared all my happiest and saddest times, just like a family member and all my friends and colleagues know Dragon.
“In Hong Kong, horses are so expensive and untouchable. Unlike Australia, no one owns a horse at home and most of the Hong Kong people can only watch horses on TV when they are racing. Being the owner of a horse, especially Dragon who lived at such a famous stud…. It makes me feel so good!
“Unfortunately, due to Covid and the strict quarantine policy in Hong Kong, I could not visit Dragon during this time and my last visit was January 2020, but Widden have always kept me informed of his news and I know he has been very, very happy at Widden.
“I am so happy to share my experience with you. Although sad, I know I will meet Dragon in the rainbow one day…. Dragon has done great!”