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Switzerland's favourite horse retires on a high note

(www.fotomedia.net)

Calvaro, the Swiss showjumping legend and the nation's favourite horse, is retiring after a long and successful career.

He will say farewell to the public on Sunday at the Credit Suisse Grand Prix in Zurich, Switzerland's premier showjumping event and scene of one of his greatest triumphs in 1998.

Calvaro is considered to be the most successful Swiss showjumping horse of all time. His strong character and dazzling jumping ability have earned him a place in the nation's hearts.

In partnership with his Neudorf-based rider, Willy Mellinger, Calvaro has won two Olympic medals - silver in Atlanta in 1996 and gold in the team event in Sydney in 2000 - and four world championship medals.

But having reached the grand old age of 16, the white gelding is hanging up his stirrups and saying goodbye to the circuit after a highly successful career.

"White Myth"

Martin Born, a journalist who has written a book about Calvaro, called "Calvaro, the White Myth", says the nickname not only honours Calvaro's colour, but also his great talent and appeal to the public.

"He's an absolute exception, a beautiful horse and his style of jumping is absolutely special; he seems to fly or just to stand still in the air and that's why people just have to look when Calvaro is jumping," Born told swissinfo.

Calvaro was bred in Holstein in Germany, an area well known for raising horses.

The gelding is one metre 85 centimetres tall - which is large for a showjumping horse - but his height is what makes his jumping so impressive.

He had just started to make a name for himself when he was discovered by the Swiss rider, Willy Mellinger.

The result was an extraordinarily fruitful partnership, with Calvaro becoming the most successful Swiss showjumping horse ever: his winnings total almost SFr2 million ($1.5 million).

Ambassador

Calvaro went on to become an ambassador for the sport and a favourite with the public.

He was a regular on adverts, promoting his own brand of horse accessories and even had a plane named after him.

Born says that Calvaro made showjumping more popular in Switzerland and his retirement marks the end of a memorable era in the sport.

"Calvaro's success encouraged people to buy horses, so Switzerland had quite a lot of good horses, especially in Sydney where the team won a gold medal," said Born.

"And now the interest has receded a little bit, it's not the same. I think Willy Mellinger won't be the same in the future because he had the horse of a lifetime and every horse he has now is just not as good," he added.

Retirement

A knee injury sustained at the world cup final in Gothenburg in Sweden in April 2001 is the principle reason behind Calvaro's retirement; although at 16 years old, he is already a good age for a show jumping horse.

According to Born, it has not yet been decided where he'll retire to. He may live with Mellinger or go back to Holstein. Another possibility is that he'll live with his owner, the industrialist Hans Liebherr.

Born says whatever happens, Calvaro will have finished his career on a high, like all great champions. But Gothenburg was a bittersweet experience for the horse.

"Perhaps he would have had three more years without this injury, which they didn't even notice when it happened," Born told swissinfo.

"It was the world cup final and he finished first in the last jump, so he retired with a victory. But on this last round, he got an injured knee and he never recovered from this."

Calvaro makes his farewell appearance at the Credit Suisse Grand Prix showjumping event, which he won with Willy Mellinger in 1998 - the only Swiss pairing to do so in the competition's 16-year history.

swissinfo, Isobel Johnson

Key facts

Calvaro is a 16-year-old white gelding, measuring 1.85m.
In partnership with his rider, Willy Melliger, Calvaro has won two Olympic medals - silver in Atlanta in 1996 and gold in the team event at Sydney in 2000 - and four world championship medals.
Calvaro will be officially retiring at the Credit Suisse Grand Prix in Zurich on Sunday.

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