U.S. Olympic Eventer Biko Dies at 30

Three-day eventing legend Biko, the 17.3-hand former Olympic mount of U.S. equestrian Karen O’Conner, has been euthanized. He was 30.

The Irish Thoroughbred gelding was an “ambassador for the sport of eventing” and a “stalwart of the U.S. team” in the 1990s, the United States Eventing Association (USEA) said. After earning a silver medal with O'Connor at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, Biko received the USEA’s penultimate “Horse of the Century” award for the 20th century. In 2006 he was inducted into the USEA Hall of Fame.

The Irish-born horse with his famous and flashy white blaze was named for South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, said William Micklem, coach, breeder of elite sport horses, and author of "The Complete Horse Riding Manual." Micklem, of Enniskerry, Ireland, bought and named Biko as a 3-year-old and trained him for two years before selling him to the late Dick and Vita Thompson for O’Connor to ride.

“Biko was a truly magnificent horse because he had such fine qualities all around, which is really unusual,” Micklem told The Horse. “He was beautiful; he had exceptional strides, jump, and gallop, with fantastic technique and scope. He could have been a racehorse, like his brother Jumbeau, or he could have been a show jumper. He turned out to be an impressive eventing horse, which is no surprise. He had no fear of jump heights or water, and he had gallop to spare.”

Biko’s one “weakness,” however, was a distrust in humans, said Micklem. “It took him a long time to develop a partnership with a person,” he said. “It’s why I wanted him to go to Karen. I knew she would give him the time and patience he needed, and she did.”

His flashiness made him a fan favorite, Micklem said. “He was as famous as Karen is,” he said. When the silver-medal Olympic eventing team riders were invited to the White House by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996, Chelsea Clinton wanted to meet O’Connor first, because she was such a fan of Biko, he said.

Biko was retired in 1999 after sustaining a tendon injury at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in Stamford, U.K. He died Jan. 29 at O'Connor's farm in The Plains, Va.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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