by Michael E. Hoffman
We lost a dear friend, Solo Lord, this week. We have known each other since he was two. There was an immediate friendship and connection. We did a lot of first together, and when we were both home you knew the other was there. He was an international traveler, visiting the Cheltenham Festival in the spring of 2002. He loved to fox hunt but was just as happy doing grid work and flat work, too.
The late Bay Cockburn and Gordie Keyes introduced us in Olney, Md. He was tall and skinny with a devilish glean in his eye and a scar around his right ankle. And you knew right off there was something special about him. He was tough but a quick learner and a graceful athlete. He took to field sports immediately, and nothing was beyond his reach.
Solo Lord passed in his retirement field in Leesburg, Va. He was 26, born April 22, 1992, a son of Assault Landing out of Lady Demon, by Solo Performance, in Maryland. Gordie Keyes bought him at the Fasig-Tipton Sales as a two-year old for $1,200. Bay Cockburn broke him with Solo dumping him five times before he agreed to go under saddle.
I fox hunted him for the first time at three with Loudoun Hunt. He loved the hunt field, and it did not matter where he was in the field. Solo could be up front, in the middle, or in the back. Joe Cassidy (former huntsman of Mr Stewart’s Cheshire Hunt, Loudoun Hunt, and Radnor Hunt) and I hunted hounds off him at Loudoun Hunt when I was MFH and Joe came down to teach me how to hunt hounds. Solo knew where hounds were drawing, even if I did not. He would turn and face them only for me to hear them later.
He came into our barn in 1995, and in the summer of 1996 Mary Hazzard put us in touch with F. Bruce Miller when I had a dream to ride in the Maryland Hunt Cup. Bruce asked if we had a horse, and my wife, Janell, piped up, “Oh, yes!” We had raced him that spring, and he would bascule three feet over the hurdles. Solo could jump.
Bruce asked for five years to get us to the Maryland Hunt Cup. The next few years were full of lots of firsts. Solo would hunt in Virginia in the autumn, get a break in December and then go to Bruce in January. We would drive up to Unionville, Pa., every weekend, ride sets, and then fox hunt with Cheshire. Solo loved the three-railers around the Cheshire hunt country with a particular favorite the Brooklawn double. Bruce had the field with a bunch of jockeys behind him scrubbing into every fence. Solo and I learned together how to ride in company with Chip and Blythe Miller and Sean Clancy.
We rode lots of point-to-points in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, making an appearance at the Virginia Gold Cup in 1997 for the Paul Mellon and finishing second. Our first ride under rules was 1998 at My Lady’s Manor. We were popped out of the tack at fence five only to go back to the Grand National the following week for a second. Solo loved that last stretch at the Grand National as you turned toward home with five fences bunched together. Bruce calls it the toughest timber finish anywhere.
By 1999, Bruce believed we were ready to give the Maryland Hunt Cup its first try. I had forgotten my silks and was wearing Janell’s purple shirt. Our under-girth broke as riders were put up in the saddle. Anne Moran lent me her extra girth. We finished sixth out of eight starters, having sat third through three miles. Welter Weight won.
That fall we won the Virginia Field Hunter Championship together at Fairfax Hunt. The following spring of 2000, we returned to the Hunt Cup in a field of six and finished fourth. Solo jumped into second at the water jump but the hill took too much out of him. There is a great Janet Hitchen photo of Solo’s knees up by his ears and Jack Fisher’s feet above the saddle on Emerald Action over the water jump.
The next year, 2001, Bruce had Solo at another level of fitness. As we rode out to the course to fence one, Solo looked out over Tufton Avenue at fence three. He was relaxed and at ease. Solo was home on his favorite course and we knew it. Earlier in the day, Joe Cassidy told us to run our race and let Solo go out front at the start like he would and make the field come to me. At 17 hands with a long galloping stride we sprinted to the front and at one point were 75 lengths in the lead and never gave up the lead even as Welter Weight tried to make his customary sprint after 16. We finished 12 lengths on front in 8:38:60, which stands as the sixth-fastest time in the Maryland Hunt Cup’s 124-year history.
Solo Lord was my friend, partner, and a once-in-a-lifetime horse. Thank you for the great times. You will be missed.