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June 1, 2010

Three Days Three Ways Interviews Kristin Schmolze

Kristin Schmolze and Cavaldi overcame injury to finish 20th at Rolex Kentucky this year. Photo by Kat Netzler.

In 2005, Kristin Schmolze and Cavaldi placed 12th at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, an impressive finish for this pair of four-star novices. Schmolze was on top of the world—she’d won the U.S. Eventing Association’s Young Rider of the Year award in 2003 and seemed to be going from strength to strength.

But, as we know with horses, what goes up must come down. Schmolze fell off at Rolex Kentucky in 2007 and then Cavaldi suffered a broken coffin bone and Kristin broke her collarbone in 2008, which put them out of competition for the next year.

This spring, after putting in the time to come back sound and strong, Kristin and Cavaldi (Joey to his friends) showed Rolex Kentucky they weren’t done with it yet. Good thing that with horses, what goes down will also come back up!

Q. How did you and Cavaldi both end up with broken bones?

A. That was in 2008 and basically it happened at one of the first jump schools at the end of January. We landed off a fence, and Joey broke a bone in his hind foot. It was crazy; a bad step basically. He had the entire season off. He didn't come back until September, and I wasn't the first one on him. In July I took a fall off a sales horse and broke my collarbone. We broke first bones together! My first, his first, and hopefully our last.

I was out for surgery, and it took longer to heal than expected. Unfortunately, in the same year my father passed away. It was a bad year; a tough year all around. Last year there was a lot to work on and a lot of change. Not just injury but a lot to deal with personally. In hindsight, it's great the way things happen. We didn't compete at Kentucky and took more time to get fit and get back into it and get everything back in order. We needed that year. It paid off because I feel better this year with my riding. We're coming out stronger this year.

Q. How do you treat a broken coffin bone?

A. Joey broke the wing of his coffin bone, and we lucked out that it had nothing to do with the joint, which could have had major complications. He was on stall rest and wore a special shoe with a hospital plate on the bottom that screwed into the shoe. It acts as a cast for the foot. There are extra clips on the shoe so the hoof can't expand, and there's not a lot of movement in the hoof wall.

He stayed in that for most of the year. Honestly, that's all you can do: Stabilize the foot and keep him as quiet as possible. He was in the stall from February until August. We padded his walls so if he kicked it was cushioned.

It's tough because there isn't anything you can do except wait. It doesn't heal like other bones. It's a more fibrous material; it's not as solid. We worried that we couldn't keep him quiet enough. But for a horse that does not like to be locked up, he was very good. Now he'll live in a special shoe to keep that foot stable; it's like a bar shoe.

Q. Tell me how Rolex went for you this year.

A. I was very pleased with Joey. It took a little while to get back there where we were really feeling comfortable. It was overall a good performance, though I was disappointed with dressage. He's quite hot, and it can be hard on the day to get the test done. It's a little more frustrating in that he's going the best he's ever gone on the flat, but when it comes to the actual test he won't give it to you. It's frustrating knowing he could do more. Besides that, he jumped the best he's ever jumped cross-country and show jumping. It's worth every frustrating dressage ride to take him cross-country! There's so much work to get all of it done, but when it goes like that it's a really good time.

Q. What was it was like to drive in the gates at the Kentucky Horse Park?

A. It felt really good to have that horse back there and have him come back. That moment of driving in was getting Joey back competing again. With an injury like that it's touch and go. And he's a little older, so it's harder to come back. We literally started from scratch fitness-wise. So it definitely was a fantastic feeling driving in. But I realized it earlier when I was just getting back on and competing again. I felt really lucky that we healed so well and were able to come back. I've been feeling that all last year. The pinnacle of it was driving into Kentucky. I'm feeling a little bit lucky.

Q. What is Cavaldi like?

A. Joey is one of the smartest animals I've ever met. He might actually think he's as smart as us. He's a very intelligent horse, very aware and always knows what's going on. He thinks about everything; he doesn't just react.

He is a bit stubborn. He's the king of the farm, and he knows it, and every other horse knows it. He has a lot of personality and is a lot of fun. Sometimes he acts like a pony. He wants to be the center of attention, and he'll make a point that if someone is new on the farm and they haven't walked over to say hello, he'll make a fuss until they do. He'll eat about anything he sees you eat. He never used to be big for treats, but if he sees you eating it he wants it. He's shared Chinese food, broccoli, hummus and pita chips.

Q. You were a very accomplished young rider. What is the transition like to go from Markham Trophy winner to riding as a professional at an international level?

A. It is one of the toughest, I will tell you that. It’s not easy. It's a learning process and a good time to grow as a rider and person and horseman. Once you get out of the young rider ranks, you need to make a career and life for yourself. One of the toughest things is to really make a decision and go in a certain direction. I found that hard. I knew I loved riding and competing, but you can't just ride and compete!

You need a plan and a business. It's a huge transition. Competing was my main goal, but I do like to teach and really enjoy working with young horses. Once I decided that and started working towards those goals it was easier. I decided not to pursue college and pursue horses and dive right in. I don't regret it at all, but it's a lot of responsibility to jump into that. It took me some time. I used to joke that my first Rolex in 2005 was my graduation. It would have been the year I graduated from college, so it kind of was. I was just out of Young Riders, and it was time to make it on my own.

Q. What's the track now?

A. I haven't definitely decided quite yet what's next for Joey. He's 15 this year. I would like to be choosy with what I do next. He's given me tremendous experience, and I'm hoping he can still compete for a few more seasons. We got to compete overseas at [the Burghley CCI**** (England)]. I would love to try to go to the [Badminton CCI**** (England)] on him. Just being able to compete there would be amazing. I would like my first experience trying to get around Badminton to be on that horse. When you're trying to come down to those fences, you want a horse like that!

He’s a huge confidence builder. He's a great jumper; he's so good on cross-country, and he has matured and become easier to ride. In the past he wasn’t easy even though he's so sharp. I feel like he's really gotten to a different level. He just skipped around Kentucky; I never had to pull on him. It was such a good feeling. That's the place you want to be with your horse if you want to take on Badminton or Burghley.

Q. What's the difference between Rolex, Badminton and Burghley?

A. They're all very different courses. When I went to Burghley, I was warned about the terrain, and you felt it when you were out there. You're constantly up and down hills, and it's exhausting. It's big, very max heights and widths, but so is Kentucky. It's not necessarily harder but it's different. It takes a lot out of them. They're some good hills at Kentucky but not quite as constant as Burghley. I had never felt such a change in my horse from the beginning to the end of a course. It does that to all the horses.

I have gotten to watch Badminton once, and it's not as hilly, but it's Badminton for sure. It's a tough course. I think another added factor, especially for someone who hasn't done a lot of international competing, is that nerves come into play and atmosphere from start to finish. There's something to be said for competing on your home ground. There's a comfort level. It's definitely a big deal.

Q. What's most important to you as a rider in your philosophy?

A. I would say the relationship you have with your horse is important, especially as you go up the levels and get to advanced and the four-star level. I have a very strong relationship with them and like to get them young, if not from the beginning, so I’m developing a relationship right from the start. It's a huge factor and another reason I like to work with young horses.

A lot has to do with the foundation as well. It's nice to have opportunity to start from the beginning and build the foundation the way you like it. I tend to be one that takes my time a little bit; I like to make sure the basics and the aids are really there. I'd rather take my time at a level before pushing to move them up. That's just me and the way I ride; it's not right or wrong, but it's the way I've done it with all the horses I've had. I like the way that works for my horses and me.

Q. What's most important in life?

A. Family is very important to me, and I try harder every year to try to find some time to get away and see them. It's hard to find time with business and horses and everything! It's always a little bit of a struggle balancing your time. You need to be here every day, and even a day off is practically impossible. But you have to make it happen, or you start to burn out. Taking care of yourself is key to moving forward and being successful. It's a demanding business and career.

Q. What makes it so demanding?

A. There aren’t many hours you're not at the barn with the horses. There's always a lot to be done to keep things running and keep them in top form. It can be mentally and physically exhausting. Even if you finish early and have some time, you're just fried. It takes a lot out of a person.

But the nice thing about it is: How can I ask for anything more? I work with horses, and I work outside as my job. Even though it's so demanding, it's worth it, even on those toughest days.

Q. What's so worth it?

A. When hard work pays off whether it’s a young horse or competition horses or teaching students and having them move forward, catch on and do well. All those little moments make it completely worth it. It's great to go out and win, but there are a lot of other little moments that keep you going and give you things to work towards. It's gotta be one of the best feelings when you're working on something with a horse and then they get it. 

Q. Anything you want to add?

A. Thank you to my sponsors! They've been very supportive, and I can't do it without some help. Running S Equine Vet—Dr. Staller gets us to Kentucky. County Saddlery has been with me for quite a few years giving me wonderful saddles to ride in and keeping my horses very happy. Five Star Tack signed on last year, and they're a wonderful company with beautiful bridles and breastplates that keeps us looking sharp. I recently signed on with Horse First supplements, an Irish company. They offer a range of supplements that cover everything from joints to electrolytes to hoof supplements and vitamins. They're really thinking about the horse and there aren't additives, and they all work. You actually see a difference, and that's always nice to be able to say!

Courtney Young conducts in-depth interviews with the elite of the equestrian world on her blog Three Days Three Ways. Check it out for a behind-the-scenes look into three-day eventing.