Ask schooling rider Danielle Menker which one of Scott Stewart’s horses are her favorite, and she’ll tell you about 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood Private Life (Verdi TN—Pinot Rosso, Voltaire), owned by Betsee Parker. “I wish we had a whole barn of horses like him!” she said.
And it’s easy to see why the gelding is a barn favorite. His affable personality makes him a groom’s dream, and since Stewart started working with Private Life two years ago the gelding has amassed a ton of accolades in that short amount of time.
In 2017, Stewart piloted Private Life to second place in the WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular (Florida). And who clinched first place? Stewart on his other ride, Catch Me. He followed that up with championships at Devon (Pennsylvania) and the four indoor horse shows—Capital Challenge (Maryland), Pennsylvania National, Washington International (District of Columbia) and the CP National (Kentucky). More recently, Stewart was the 2018 high performance conformation hunter champion and grand hunter champion with Private Life at Devon.
We caught up with Menker along with assistant trainer Samantha Darling at the Upperville Colt and Horse Show (Virginia) to talk about Private Life and see what makes a champion behind his stall door.
• Though Stewart typically does his own shopping in Europe, he actually found Private Life Stateside. Young professional Morgan Ward spotted the gelding at a Dutch auction and imported him as a 4-year-old. Stewart went over to Ward’s place to take “Capello” for a spin and ended up purchasing him.
• Capello stood quietly for his photo shoot, looking up occasionally from the grass to peek at passing horses. “He’s so basic and easy,” said Darling. “I mean, every horse should be like him.”
• Talk about show ring ready! Menker schools Capello for Stewart at home and on show days, and his pre-class routine is as simple as it comes. “He comes out of the barn, and he just shows,” she said. “Like this morning the second day of showing, I walked two laps, and then I just went on a walk over to the jumper side.”
So what do they do to spice up Capello’s laid-back personality? Menker takes him out in the fields and on trails and rarely rides him in the ring to keep things fresh. “Sleep and eat are his favorite activities,” she said.
• He knows when it’s game time and perks up just enough in the show ring. “He knows his job,” said Menker. “He’s just perfect!”
• Stewart’s horses enjoy carrots as rewards, but Capello seems to have a more adventurous palate. “He’ll eat anything,” Menker said with a laugh.
• Capello’s show schedule isn’t packed, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t working. He gets ridden and turned out every day to help him stay fit.
• It’s no secret that Capello is somewhat of a celebrity in the horse world, but what human celebrity does he embody? “I think he would be more like Ryan Reynolds. Beautiful and always the heartthrob. Always well put together,” said Menker.
And he puts his stunning good looks to good use. He’s won nearly every model he’s entered since starting the conformation divisions and has been second three times. So even if he doesn’t top an over fences round, he often gets moved up in the line-up.
• While Stewart is always on the hunt for his next conformation star, initially he didn’t think Capello was going to fit the bill.
“I thought he was correct,” Stewart said. “As a 4-year-old turning 5 he was pretty under developed. He was skinny. I didn’t expect him to mature into really what he is now. All the parts were there. He didn’t look terrible when I bought him, but he’d just been imported and probably castrated not long before. He just blossomed when he got a little older.”
• Capello is consistent and comes to work with the same attitude every day. “He’s quietly the king [of the barn]. You wouldn’t think it, his personality is so stoic, and he’s so quiet, but he’s a machine,” explained Menker. “He could show with Scott, and then you could put like, a little kid on him; he’s just a dream.”
• Always a gentleman, Capello doesn’t have grouchy days. “It’s almost like he’s a puppy; he’s always happy; he’s always eager to please; he never puts a foot wrong,” said Menker.
“[Private Life] is a little bit of a noodge; he’ll push you around a little bit,” countered Darling.
• Menker remembers when she first started working for Stewart: “He got a 93 at Washington [International], and it was amazing. He was just breathtaking,” she said.