Remarkable Horses in Canada: Big Ben
By Margaret Evans
In the July/August 2017 issue of Canadian Horse Journal, we celebrated Canada’s 150th anniversary with stories of 20 exceptional horses that have reflected our values and fired our national pride. One of those horses was Big Ben.
Few horses are such household names as Big Ben, Ian Millar’s legendary show jumper. Born in 1976 at the van Hooydonk Farm in Kalmthout in northern Belgium, the liver chestnut Warmblood with a blaze and two white hind socks grew to be a giant of a horse at 17.3 hands. Millar acquired the horse as a seven-year-old and he was imported to Canada in 1983 where he was permanently stabled at Millar Brooke Farm in Perth, Ontario.
Big Ben retired in 1994, and fans had the opportunity to say a fond goodbye to the chestnut superstar at horse shows across Canada throughout the year, including here at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, Ontario, in November. Photo: Clix Photography
Over the next decade, Big Ben would jump his way into the hearts of hundreds of thousands of fans and become a luminary in the show jumping world. Millar and Big Ben won over 40 grand prix titles and took the World Cup championship two years in a row, in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1988 and in Tampa, Florida in 1989. Also in 1989, he won the grand prix in Bordeaux, France, and the grand prix in Stuttgart, Germany. Those successes ranked Millar as number one show jumper in the world. In 1987 and 1991 the duo won the du Maurier International, the world’s richest grand prix event at the time.
Big Ben represented Canada in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Olympic Games. At the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis, the pair brought home both individual and team gold medals. Throughout his decade long jumping career, Big Ben earned over $1.5 million. But life had its challenges and Big Ben survived two colic surgeries. And in 1992, he survived a head-on trailer collision with a car in which two other horses died, a third had injuries so serious he couldn’t be ridden again, and a fourth refused to ever enter a trailer again.
Big Ben with Ian Millar, his wife Lynn, and Olympic rower Silken Laumann at the Royal Winter Fair in 1992. Photo: Clix Photography
Big Ben was retired to pasture at Millar Brooke Farm in 1994. But on December 11, 1999, at age 23, he suffered a third bout of colic, which was untreatable. He was humanely euthanized and is buried on a knoll overlooking the farm.
Tributes poured in. Canada Post celebrated him with his own postage stamp and he was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, then joined Canadian racehorse Northern Dancer as the only other horse to be inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
Main image: Big Ben with Ian Millar at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Clix Photography