Death of Bonfire at 30: Olympic Dressage Champion Horse and Anky van Grunsven Cracked German Dominance of Sport

A 30-year-old gelding died in The Netherlands today. The world didn’t stopbut those of us who have been around a while shed a tear.

A statue of Anky van Grunsven’s Bonfire stands by the road in Erp, the town where she lives in The Netherlands.

That old horse was named Bonfire and for many, he was the horse that lit a fire in us, and the fire was called dressage.

The sport that many thought was boring and pedantic looked exciting and artistic when Bonfire did it. The solid bay Oldenburg was the first to lift himself up in a way that spoke to the audience. You found yourself cheering for him. You wondered if the judges thought he was too brash.

On his back was a young Dutch woman with a wide smile. Dressage riders were supposed to be serious and grim, but she smiled. A lot. As she should have, because she was winning. A lot.

A few of their accomplishments:

  • Olympic Games in Barcelona, ??Atlanta and Sydney, 3 team three silver medals
  • Barcelona Olympics individual fourth plate
  • Atlanta Olympics individual silver
  • Sydney Olympics individual gold
  • WEG The Hague 1994 and Rome 1998 team gold
  • WEG The Hague 1994 freestyle silver
  • European champions four times
  • World Cup champions five times

Together, Bonfire and Anky cracked the dominance of Germany in dressage. Together, they launched Anky’s career as a dressage icon.

According to statements from Anky on the Horsus Dutch website, Bonfire was suffering from Cushings disease. “Lately, he got laminitis,” she wrote. “It looked like he got better but when his condition worsened, it was decided to euthanize Bonfire.”

“My heart is broken. Bonfire died,” was her brief statement on Twitter this afternoon. And we believe her.




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