When Caillou 24 approached the in-gate with rider Karl Cook for the $100,000 Horsetaxi Grand Prix on March 8 at the Desert International Horse Park (California), groom Jenni Giannini stayed by his side until the last possible second. After he crossed the finish line, she was waiting to escort him out the exit. The process repeated for the jump-off, in which Caillou 24 posted a time no one could catch, and in his victory photo, he stands proudly with his muzzle just inches above Giannini’s left shoulder, nuzzling her outstretched fingers.
“I’m his emotional support person,” said Giannini. “We decided that with his personality, it would be best for him to have one person for everything. He really thrives on consistency.”
While the rest of the Pomponio Ranch staff care for multiple horses, Giannini’s job is Caillou. In addition to feeding, cleaning and grooming, she travels with him, hangs out with him in the turnout, and even hacks the 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Casall—Carefree, San Patrignano Corrado) owned by Signe Ostby.
By all measures, the program is working. Sunday’s win was one of several impressive victories in the past six months. He was champion of the $100,000 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Sacramento (California) in 2019 and also made podium finishes in the $210,000 American Gold Cup CSI4*-W (New York), the $75,000 American Gold Cup Qualifier, and the $36,500 CaptiveOne FEI Grand Prix Qualifier at Del Mar (California).
We sat down with Giannini at the Desert International Horse Park to get the full scoop on the handsome gray superstar.
• While most grooms hand walk their horses to the ring to meet their riders, you’ll more often see Giannini riding Caillou 24. “Hand walking isn’t his strong suit,” she said. “We figured out that riding him to the ring makes him happier and keeps him more relaxed. Same thing with coming back.”
What would happen if Giannini hand walked him? “I do sometimes if the ring is close by, but he can be explosive and gets very animated and excited,” she said. “He’ll buck and play. Sometimes he’ll walk very quietly, but he’s never asleep. You never want to think that he’s asleep. He can go from 0 to 60 really quickly.”
• When he was younger, his antics may have come from nerves or insecurity. “Now it comes from a very confident place,” said Giannini with a laugh. “Now it’s cockiness. People often think he’s a stallion because he walks around puffed up.”
Giannini played a role in helping the gelding find his self-assured swagger. “When I’m standing at the gate, I’m always telling him, ‘You can do this; you’re going to do super.’ I always talk to him before he goes in,” she said.
• Rolling is the key to his heart! Giannini takes him out for a thorough roll every day. Before a big class, he goes out to roll, then he gets his bath and braids, and then he’s ready to go.
• Caillou 24 has an affinity for green Life Savers mints, and he gets them after each round at the show, plus extras if he behaves for the jog.
• Pomponio Ranch has a horse treadmill and a horse spa, but Caillou 24 isn’t a gym and spa kind of guy. “He won’t go anywhere near any of them,” said Giannini. “It’s a hard no.”
Instead of the treadmill he gets turnouts and walks on the longe line, and instead of the spa he gets wrapped with ice packs.
• Despite his idiosyncrasies, in a lot of ways he’s pretty simple. Giannini says he’s easy to groom, bathe, braid and clip. He’s also a good traveler and isn’t picky about whom he’s stabled next to. He does, however, wear a red ribbon in his tail at horse shows because he doesn’t like other horses galloping up behind him.
• He gets a little bit of bling braided into his mane for every class, just for fun. Sometimes Giannini will match it to Cook’s show jacket.
• Back at the barn, Caillou 24 isn’t much of a cuddler. “He’s sweet; he’s not grumpy or anything, but he just does his own thing in his stall,” said Giannini.
However, once he’s at the ring it’s a different story. “He always puts his nose on my shoulder at the ring,” said Giannini. “He’s constantly nuzzling me. I think it’s a security thing.”
• He may have missed his calling as a trail horse. “He loves hacking out away from the horse show, and he doesn’t mind being the only horse in the field,” said Giannini. “Once you get away from the busyness of the horse show, he is super chill. It is my favorite time to ride him.”
• Speaking of riding, what is it like to ride a world-class show jumper at the top of his game? “He has a ton of power,” said Giannini. “Even when he’s cruising slow, you can feel there is a huge locomotion behind you. You know you are sitting on a rocket ship. But he’s comfortable and smooth, and Karl and Eric [Navet] have done a fantastic job with him. He’s super well-broke and well-schooled, so he’s a pleasure to ride.”
• Caillou 24 may need Giannini as his emotional support person, but she’s pretty attached to him too. “I think the world of him,” she said. “It’s been really fun to figure out how to best work with him, and I think we’ve gotten there now.”