Chacco Star is one of the most recognizable and successful equitation horses in the country, and he knows it.
“He’s very confident in himself,” said rider Carlee McCutcheon, 18, Aubrey, Texas. “He is very aware of how good he is. I just try to stay out of his way as much as I can and follow his rules!”
The 15-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Chacco-Blue—Carieny Z, Caretano Z), owned by Kennedy McCaulley, had a stellar 2023 indoors season with McCutcheon. They won both the 2023 ASPCA Maclay Final at the National Horse Show (Kentucky) and the 2023 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final at the Pennsylvania National, earning McCutcheon the Wilson Dennehy Equitation Trophy as the rider with the highest placing at both the Medal and Maclay.
“[Winning Medal Finals] with ‘Chacco’ was so special to me,” McCutcheon said. “Qualifying for an equitation final or ribboning at one is always a goal of mine, but winning one is truly a dream come true.”
The pair also won the WEF Equitation Championship (Florida), tied for the R.W. “Ronnie” Mutch Equitation Championship at Devon (Pennsylvania), were reserve champions at the 2023 Platinum Performance USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Final—East (New Jersey), were second in the USHJA Gladstone Equitation Classic—East (Michigan) and finished third in the Washington International Horse Show Equitation Final (Maryland).
Although Chacco has become a star in the equitation world, he spent his younger years in the jumper ring. Born in Germany, Chacco competed successfully through the CSI3* level with French show jumper Noemie Gal before being imported to the U.S. in 2018 by equitation trainers Ken and Emily Smith of Ashland Farm. The McCaulley family purchased him in 2020, and sisters Kennedy and Lauren McCaulley showed him in 2020 and 2021, respectively, qualifying for major equitation finals.
McCutcheon began riding Chacco during the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida), and a winning partnership was born. Her trainers, Max Amaya and TJ O’Mara of Stonehenge Stables, and grooms Jose Aranda and Kris Ende-Amaya help keep Chacco feeling his best on the road and at home in Wellington, Florida, and Colts Neck, New Jersey.
“I love everything about Chacco,” McCutcheon said, who showed him for the last time at the Maclay. “I think he gives me a lot of confidence, especially in the equitation ring. Riding a horse that gives you a lot of confidence can go a long way. I’m always confident that he’s a show horse, and that he truly wants to win.”
We went behind the stall door to get to know the horse who inspires confidence in one of the country’s best equitation riders.
• Chacco has a sweet tooth, but he likes to supplement it with something spicy.
“Food is the way to his heart,” McCutcheon said with a laugh. “I’m always sharing my food with him; he will eat anything. His favorite horse treats are the Kelcie’s horse cookies, and he loves glazed donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts. I always buy him strawberry Pop Tarts too, and he also likes Doritos and Takis potato chips. He’ll eat anything!”
All that food is the best way to earn his affection.
“I’m definitely his best friend because I love to spoil him with cookies,” she said.
• For the most part, Chacco is a fairly neat guy, but there’s one place he has the tendency to get a little messy: eating.
• After being on the road at shows, Chacco enjoys his downtime in the paddock. “He enjoys himself out there in his field,” McCutcheon said. “It’s good for him after showing to have some time to himself.”
• He has very particular music tastes.
His favorite artist? Pit Bull. McCutcheon often puts her music on shuffle to go through Pit Bull’s playlist for him.
“Chacco is very happy when I do that,” she said. “It definitely helps get him in the right frame of mind to ride or compete!”
• Chacco has many redeeming qualities that make him particularly suitable and successful as an equitation horse.
“Chacco has a big stride, he’s very easy-going, he has a perfect soft mouth, and he’s so elastic and adjustable,” O’Mara said. “He’s one of the nicest horses that I’ve ever sat on. For bigger classes, I get on him in the morning, and I have a specific routine that I do with him to get him ready for the day.”
• He’s an accidental Houdini.
A couple weeks ago at the WIHS Equitation Finals, Chacco’s stall door was left open accidently, and he wandered out to find some grass to eat.
“He didn’t do anything bad; he just walked right out and found the grass,” McCutcheon said. “He’s always looking for more food! We caught him pretty fast and put him back.”
• McCutcheon has ridden many horses in her lifetime—her family is well-known on the American Quarter Horse Association and reining circuits as well as in the hunter/jumper world. But she believes Chacco is so successful because of his past experiences in Europe, which included some cross-country jumping. As a result, anything unusual Maclay course designer Bobby Murphy comes up doesn’t faze the big bay.
“He’s so brave, and he’s jumped some of the spookiest jumps a horse can jump,” McCutcheon said. “So I think that has given him and myself an advantage because he’s seen a lot of things.”