Carla isn’t the type of horse to spook easily. In fact, when a branch came crashing down about 15 feet behind her, the Dutch Warmblood mare calmly looked in the direction of the sound, let out an unimpressed sigh and went back to nibbling the grass.
“I think she’s very smart, and she’s very aware,” said Jaime Auletto, who rides 10-year-old Carla to tricolor ribbons galore in the amateur-owner hunter, 18-35, division. “When you’re riding her, too, you can just tell she’s physically aware when something’s happening. Like if the donkeys are loud, she’ll turn her head a little, but she’s not ever going to stop doing what she’s doing,” she said.
And lately, what Carla’s been doing is winning left and right. Last fall, she was champion and grand champion at the Pennsylvania National in the low amateur-owners. She moved up to the 3’6” amateur-owner, 18-35, division in December and was circuit champion at HITS Ocala (Fla.) and then champion at Devon (Pa.). Carla was also grand amateur-owner champion at Lake Placid (N.Y.) and placed third in the $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at I Love New York.
After showing just 13 times in 2017, Carla and Auletto are currently second in the national USEF amateur-owner hunter, 18-35, standings.
But this most impressive mare hasn’t gotten bigheaded with her success. Most top amateur hunters live in a professional trainer’s barn with grooms attending to their every need. But Carla lives at the Auletto family farm in Tabernacle, N.J., where Jaime and her mother, Suzanne, care for her.
Here’s a look at life with Carla:
• She’s a member of the family. Suzanne became the proud owner of Carla about 1½ years ago. “She’s worked out so well for both of us,” said Suzanne, who used to show herself but now rides for pleasure. “I wanted Jaime to show her, but she had to double so that I could ride her, too. That’s the tough part—you know, you get a lot of these show horses that I really wouldn’t want to get on and enter the ring, but she’s just a sweetheart.”
• She’s a world traveler. “Apparently, she did some jumpers in Sweden,” said Jaime. “I know that only because her previous owner reached out to me.”
The Auletto family didn’t meet Carla overseas, though—they were introduced to her in Florida by Jaime’s trainer, Emil Spadone of Redfield Farm. “She was already over here, and he had her and knew her,” said Jaime. “It’s kind of nice that way. He gets to know the horses [first].”
• She’s confident. “It’s funny, because I think she likes to compete. She’s a beautiful horse,” said Jaime.
But does Carla know she’s beautiful? “I think so,” said Jaime with a smile. “But she’s not cocky. You know, like some geldings puff up and they’re so cocky—she’s not like that. She’s more like, ‘I can do this. This is what you want me to do? OK. No problem.'”
• She likes to work. “I’ve done two derbies this year. I don’t want to say it was like a fluke I got into it, but that wasn’t really my goal or that wasn’t a plan,” said Jaime. “But at the shows I was at, it worked out where I thought it was a good opportunity to try. So, I hadn’t really practiced jumping bigger or anything like that, and it’s just so funny because she’s just so workmanlike. She does it like everything else that she does. ‘It’s a little bit higher? OK.’ You don’t do anything different, or there’s no change really in her personality or her ride or anything like that. She just takes everything very much in stride.”
• She’s relaxed—but she likes routine. “Carla’s not a stressed out horse at a horse show, “said Jaime. “It doesn’t get to her.
“When we go to the horse shows, she’s friendly with my jumper mare, but not really,” she added. “Most of the time, she keeps to herself. She minds her own business. She’s pretty workmanlike—if she’s trying to work, she’s working, but when it’s time for her to be in the field…”
Then in the field is where Carla wants to be! “We have a morning routine [at home] of who goes where and the timing of it,” explained Jaime. “If we don’t do it, she gets a little… Well, she doesn’t do anything bad, but that’s not really herself. Normally she’s way more mellow.”
• She’s not a chowhound. “[Our other horse] salivates,” said Jaime. “It just starts dripping out of her mouth! But with [Carla], she’s much more polite.”
As for treats? “We do a lot of carrots and apples,” said Jaime. “Around the barn, I always have a little horse niblet—and don’t get me wrong, she’s not going to turn one down, but I think she really likes her carrots and apples at the horse show.”
• She doesn’t mind bath time. “She’s good. She stands there, she lets me do her head,” said Jaime. “She’s not bad to clip. I used to have a lot of younger horses. You know when they’re young and they’re just climbing all over you? She doesn’t do that. She just kind of likes it as bonding time.”
• Carla aims to please. “There’s not really that whole learning curve [like with other horses],” said Jaime. “She’s much more serious about it.. I’ve had a lot of young geldings, and you know how they always have something that they’re testing or proving, she’s not really like that. She knows what she’s doing and doesn’t really take a lot to get her to be in the right mood.”
• But she doesn’t like having her picture taken! “She is not a ham, I will say that,” said Jaime. “Like you should see some of the pictures we’ve taken after shows. I’m like, ‘Could you just put one ear up? One ear?’ ”
• Carla’s best friend is a donkey named Paco. “He loves her, too—he thinks she’s pretty cool,” said Jaime. “They don’t go out together—he’s just next to her, and that way, he’s her friend at home.”
When the other horses are vying for Paco’s attention, Carla quietly makes sure she’s not forgotten with a little nibble. “That was a just little love nip,” said Jaime’s mom Suzanne. “They’re flirting!”