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Range Rover Covered Ground With Power and Excitement

by Bob Funkhouser

The first part of 2008 saw the loss of several great horses, both past and present show ring stars. On April 20, the five-times World’s Champion CH Range Rover was humanely put down at High Hickory Farm by his longtime vet, Dr. Scott Bennett. The grand gelding was 22.

Bred by Mr. and Mrs. J. Haury of Woodstock, Ga., Range Rover was owned by Michael McIntosh, Kenneth Weaver and finally Alice Burgess before being purchased by Elizabeth Deknatel as a Christmas present for her then teenage son, Gabe. Range Rover’s career began with Terry Stephenson who had been second with him at River Ridge, third at Rock Creek and won at Dayton, all in the junior five-gaited division.

The powerful gelding then went to Ray Pittman’s and that’s where Billy Greenwell purchased Range Rover for Alice Burgess.

"I heard about him from Dad [Carol Greenwell] who had heard about him from Redd Crabtree. I called Redd and he said he was the nicest horse in the country for the money," recalled Greenwell.

"He ended up being one of my favorites, if not my very favorite horse of all time that I worked. He never had a bad day. You couldn’t ask for a better horse to work. That first year I had him we probably showed him a dozen times and when he would win and I would go up to get the presentation picture and he would stop and snort."

Greenwell had great success with CH Range Rover. They won the Five-Gaited Championships at UPHA Chapter 5, St. Louis National and the Illinois State Fair for a few consecutive years. They also won the stallion/gelding class and reserve grand championship at Midwest Charity.

"I don’t think Alice [Burgess] had a board bill for almost two years with the prize money he won at Illinois State Fair and St. Louis," added Greenwell.

In December of 1992, Elizabeth Deknatel and trainer John Conatser selected Range Rover as her son, Gabe’s, junior exhibitor horse. It was an ambitious project but she had the right trainer and rider for it.

"I liked the horse because he had gameness and ways of a stake horse and never dropped an ear. He was the best moving horse off both ends that I’ve ever trained," said John Conatser. "You had to work him like a pleasure horse, just quiet and steady. We would also put him in a bitting rig in the curb bit and he would work himself up and down the wall of the arena. That was something we got from Billy [Greenwell]. He would fly trotting to one end; stop, snort, turnaround and go to the other end and do the same thing, over and over."

Gabe and Range Rover debuted in 1993 but that first trip didn’t go so well as the high-powered gelding was extremely nervous.

"This horse was a little afraid of Gabe when they first started," explained Conatser. "About six weeks before Louisville, I had Gabe come every day and he would get on him and trail ride for nearly an hour before we started work. Once we got him to relax underneath Gabe, it was all over. We went to Shelbyville and won there and then went to Louisville and won both classes. The rest, as they say, was history."

It was a juvenile combination not to be forgotten. CH Range Rover indeed possessed stake horse ways, but with junior exhibitor manners once he learned to relax. That first year at Louisville, they defeated some of the greats of the day as Cindy Sherman and CH Blue Chipper were reserve, Lee Ann Tipton and CH Swept Away were third, Bradley Zimmer and CH A Touch Of Champagne for fourth, Kristen Meyers and Forever Famous were fifth and Jeff Priebe aboard Town Rose were sixth. They went on to finish the year undefeated at St. Louis and the Kentucky Fall Classic.

When Deknatel and CH Range Rover hit the ring in 1994, for the most part they were like a fine tuned engine – an Indy car engine at that. The year began with four victories at Bonnie Blue and Rock Creek. At Louisville, they gathered their third world title, winning the 15-17 qualifier and then were third back in the championship behind Lindsay Lavery aboard CH Specialty Item and Cindy Sherman and Forever Famous in reserve.

They closed out 1994 winning the Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited 15-17 class at the American Royal before taking reserve grand champion honors behind Ashley Richardson and Swept Away.

Their final junior exhibitor season would be 1995 and there were wins at Rock Creek and Lexington before taking on the best of the best in Freedom Hall. CH Range Rover and Deknatel left Freedom Hall for the last time, winning one division of the 15-17 qualifier and then the World’s Champion Of Champions title. Erin Boggs was catch riding CH Callaway’s Hot Copy for Dr. Gene Scott to take reserve grand champion honors, Kate Wightman and Banter were third and Andrea Nelson aboard My Korbel were fourth.

"Range Rover was a Christmas surprise for me from my mom. He was the only horse I ever got like that," said Deknatel. "He didn’t have a mean bone in his body but was so incredibly game. He was pretty small, but contained so much energy that he never looked small. And, he was the same every time he came out.

"It took some time for me to be able to ride him. I would get on him and walk around trail riding for 45 minutes before we ever started working.

"It was a great couple of years as a junior exhibitor team. We weren’t dominant but for those few years there was an incredible level of competition going against Lindsay Lavery, Jeff Priebe and Cindy Sherman. It seemed like we would take turns winning and we all had large fan clubs so it made it pretty exciting. The crowd was always into it."

CH Range Rover was retired to the good life and green pastures of High Hickory Farm and was cared for throughout his retirement by the Deknatel family.

"Working with Range Rover cemented a relationship between John [Conatser] and Gabe [Deknatel] that has continued for 20 years," added Elizabeth Deknatel. "In retirement, Range Rover was wonderful in the pasture and as happy as he had been as a show horse. In fact, he would get ticked when he had to come inside. He certainly lived a good life and we’ll miss him dearly."

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