“He was terribly frightened,” says Kim Walnes who purchased The Gray Goose in Ireland as a six year-old. The Irish bred gelding was rigid, and learned to buck and bolt at the same time. That unfriendly combination led to many spills early on for Walnes. Although she didn’t have access to trainers or lessons, she says she used common sense and always went back to the basics.
The highly self-aware gelding eventually began to trust Walnes. He developed confidence in himself and found his passion – cross-country jumping. “It made his heart sing,” she says.
In 1979, they finished the Intermediate level cross-country course in Lexington as the only pair to make the time. “People started to take notice,” Walnes says. Ultimately, that performance earned them an invitation to train with the United States Equestrian Team, and compete in Europe the next year.
Gray and Walnes continued to capture amazing victories. In 1981, they came in second – only behind 3-time Olympic medalist James Wofford at Rolex. The next year, they clinched the coveted Rolex Trophy and the win.
In 1982, The Gray Goose carried Walnes to an individual and team bronze medal at the Luhmuhlen World Championships. In 1984, the pair placed third at the Olympic Selection Trials held at the Kentucky Three-day Event and were the reserves for the US Team at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. In 1985, they placed second at Boekelo helping the US Team to a first place finish, and they were third at Rolex.
The Gray Goose also galloped his way into hearts across America on the big screen. Gray and Walnes doubled for the horse and rider in the movie Sylvester. The cross country scenes were taken at the 1984 Rolex Three Day Event. “People still come up to me today and tell me they started riding because of that movie.”
Walnes says The Gray Goose taught her many things, but the most important was, “listen to your horse – do what is in your heart and what your gut tells you.”
The Gray Goose died June 7, 2000 at the age of 30. He was cremated and his ashes were buried at the Kentucky Horse Park in 2001.
Walnes enjoys continued success today as a horse trainer and riding instructor at Groveland Farms in Pennsylvania. She now rides dressage and competes a relative of The Gray Goose that she bred, named Gideon Goodheart.
She says they also have a special relationship, it’s just different.