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Out of Africa—into our hearts…

Many people have already heard tales about the storied past of the big bay gelding (SA) Studcor Donatello from his purchase in South Africa by owner Anne Judd to his lengthy travels to finally arrive here in the United States. But now this exciting horse is undertaking yet another journey—this one finds him heading to a new barn and a new owner.

“It is really hard to let go of him—he is family,” said Anne Judd through tears of simultaneous joy and sadness following the J.D. Massey Five-Gaited Grand Championship. ‘Telly,’ as he is affectionately known, earned the coveted title after having also won the Stallion/Gelding qualifier earlier in the week with new trainer Lewis Eckard aboard.

“I bought him to sell. That was the intent from day one,” says Judd. “But the more we both went through, the closer we became. It makes it really tough, but I am happy to know he is going to a new home with great people who will really love him.”

After the show, Judd agreed to sell her beloved twelve-year-old gelding to Doug and Lou Anne Harris and their daughter Talley. Drowning Creek Farm trainer Lewis Eckard, who had been working the horse for about six weeks, is honored to have the him in his barn. “You can come visit him anytime,” Eckard said to Judd while she tearfully hugged Talley Harris at the barn after the stake.

Judd purchased the handsome gelding prior to the 2000 South African National Championships in Bloemfontein, then cheered him on wildly from the rail as he earned the Reserve Grand Championship honors with trainer Willie Beukes in the irons. But getting him home to the United States would prove to be a monumental task.

Due to quarantine restrictions and entrance requirements, the horse was denied permanent entrance to the United States when he first arrived at the quarantine facility in New York back in January of 2001. Judd was faced with a difficult choice—she must put the horse down or send him elsewhere. Since the horse was obviously healthy, she chose to send him to Great Britain.

In April, after having to first spend 90 days in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s quarantine facility, Donatello (and his owner) flew via Fed Ex to London! The horse remained at the beautiful farm known as Monnington Court, owned by John Bulmer and Angela Conner. During his stay, Donatello was worked by Monnington’s resident trainer, Lionel Ferreira, while awaiting his return trip to the United States.

The second attempt to have him admitted was successful and finally, on the Wednesday night of Louisville in 2001, Donatello arrived at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds where he was greeted by his elated owner, Anne Judd. She took Donatello home to Florida and began working him lightly. By October he was ready to take to a show for a ‘test run.' Judd chose the Challenge of Champions show in West Palm Beach for Donatello's first public outing.

“I was worried how he would react to an indoor arena. They don’t have those in South Africa. I just thought it would be a nice big outdoor ring without many horses crowding him and it would be a good place to test the waters,” recalls Judd. They left the show with the Five-Gaited Open and Championship titles.

2002 was due to be an exciting year, although it started on a sad note. In January Judd’s good friend Willie Beukes, the young man who had so expertly trained Donatello in South Africa, was tragically killed at just 30 years of age. But Judd was determined to carry on with the horse they both loved. The pair claimed the championships at both Gasparilla and Tampa Charity, then went on to mount a tough challenge to the Alde-Mar Farm entry Callaway’s Banner Headline at Pro-Am. Two more wins came at Dixie Cup in May. Ironically, Eckard and Judd would battle it out at the Carolina Classic, with Eckard earning the blue in the qualifier with the Saddle Creek entry Assets and Attitude. But Judd and Telly put it all together for the big stake and took home the tricolor, with Eckard graciously settling for the reserve honors.

“Gina (Lail) was helping Lewis [Eckard] in the class, but also laughing on the rail telling me to holler at my mom to get off of her horse!” recalls Judd’s daughter Christy O’Donnell. “She loved him even then. I know she is really excited about having him in their barn now.”

Last season ended with Anne exhibiting the horse at Louisville, competing in both the Ladies Gelding class and the coveted Five-Gaited Grand Championship. Judd had been a little disappointed by Donatello’s hesitant performance in the Ladies qualifier and had to decide if she should show him back.

“I have always wanted to show in the big stake, and I knew he was certainly stake-horse material, but it was a tough decision,” recalls Judd. “But everyone around me said I should do it. My daughter put it well. She said to me, ‘You might not ever have another one that belongs in that class, so go for it’. She was right. It was the thrill of a lifetime!”

Judd sent the horse to Eckard at the end of February. “He felt he could market him and I just knew that he was his kind of horse, so I gave them a shot. It appears I made a good decision,” says Judd.

Donatello will remain in training with Lewis Eckard at Drowning Creek. It is certain that his career here in the United States is just getting started—this outstanding horse is obviously just looking for his next challenge. Best of luck to the Harris family and the team at Drowning Creek with their new star.

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