When Mary and Laura Chapot’s jumper Chandon Blue sees someone walking past his stall, he picks his head up and begs for attention.
“He’s an animated horse,” Laura said with a laugh. “He always tells you how he feels and what he wants.”
The 17-year old bay Oldenburg gelding (Chacco-Blue—Bluebell, Landcapitol) spent time under the saddle of Daniel Bluman and Cian O’Connor, among others, and the Chapots bought “Charlie” in 2017.
During this year’s Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, Charlie and Laura have had a series of top-10 placings, including a win Jan. 22 in the $50,000 Marshall & Sterling/Great American Insurance Group National Grand Prix. Charlie is one of the barn favorites at Chado Farms, which is based in Neshanic Station, New Jersey, and winters in Wellington.
We went behind the stall door with Charlie, Laura and his groom Catherine Olsen to find out more about his personality, his best moves and the favorite treat he inherited from another of the Chapots’ best-known horses.
• Even in a barn full of big personalities, Charlie’s stands out.
“His personality and heart are the biggest things about him,” Laura said.
“In general, I like horses with a lot of personality; Charlie garners the most attention out of all of my horses though!” she added. “He appreciates that more than any other horse. He’s very kind to work around—he’s simple and does not bite or kick.”
• As brave as he is in the ring, Charlie is a teddy bear in the barn.
“He’s very kind, and he loves being groomed and curried,” she said. “Charlie always wants to be in your lap. He’s also constantly ‘talking’ to whoever walks by. By talking, I mean the way he looks at you tells you what he wants. Even when you’re walking him to the ring, Charlie begs for attention from other spectators!”
• One of his idiosyncrasies is that he always has to have his mouth on something: He loves to chew on the reins, play with toys, anything.
“The last time we gave Charlie a toy in his stall, he destroyed it in five seconds. We obviously need to find some indestructible toys for him,” she said, laughing. “The night he won the WEF grand prix, we had four of our girls at the ring with him—they had to take turns entertaining him. He wants to be pet, fed, chew the reins, etc., while he’s waiting. He can’t just sit there at the ring, close his eyes, and wait patiently like all the other horses.”
• His other idiosyncrasy is his trademark schooling ring “dance.”
Lots of horses like to buck and play after their fences. Charlie likes to play, but he’s got an entirely different set of moves.
“Charlie doesn’t land from the jump and buck—instead, he lands and then leaps in the air and flicks his legs forward. He doesn’t know what lead to be on and he shuffles all of his legs at once. As his rider, you’re not in any danger—his legs just go in every direction,” Laura said, laughing again. “He’s excited—he has so much energy that he needs to explode. Instead of bucking, he does his dance.”
And when he jumps well, he knows it and shows it, she added.
“Charlie loves his job—you can tell he’s so proud when he does well in a class by his expression afterwards,” she said.
• Charlie is a horse who prefers the buzz of horse show life to relaxing at home.
“He’s so enthusiastic to show; it’s entertaining for him. Honestly, he gets depressed when he’s not showing because he’s not getting all the attention all day,” Laura said. “I don’t show in a lot of practice classes with him either, which keeps him fresh for the important classes. Because of that, Charlie always knows it’s important when he goes to the ring.”
The Chapots stable on the show grounds at WEF so their horses get used to the buzz and atmosphere at the show. When they are at their New Jersey home in the summer, the competition horses all get individual turnout (while the babies run and play in a herd in a big, hilly pasture—”It’s a great way for them to build a bit of muscle before we start riding and training on them,” Laura said) but at the show grounds, Charlie gets handwalked and ridden, usually lightly if it’s the day before a big class.
• At 17, Charlie gets saved for specific classes, and the Chapots are thoughtful about what work they do with him.
“I don’t jump Charlie unless he’s showing. I try to keep it simple and keep him fresh for the important classes,” Laura said. “My father, Frank Chapot, schooled into me that the horse comes first, and the rider comes second. I’d love to practice all day, every day on every horse I have (as I’m sure most riders would), but that’s not at all the best choice for the horses. I don’t like to pound on my horses; I want them to love what they do and be sound enough to do so.”
She stuck with smaller two- and three-star grand prix classes for Charlie during WEF. This summer, she hopes to enter him in the big classes at Lake Placid and HITS Saugerties (New York) and maybe do the grand prix at Devon (Pennsylvania).
“With him being a little bit older, I always want Charlie to keep enjoying his job and not be too stressed,” she said. “Charlie has a lot of ability, but we have to remember that he’s had injuries in the past. I want to be careful and preserve him so he can show comfortably for as long as possible.”
• As much as Charlie loves the buzz of the show grounds, the Chapots make sure he gets down time, too.
“I like to allow all of my horses to have rest time throughout the day,” Laura said. “I think it’s very important that they have quiet time; I don’t like being after them every single minute of the day. Nowadays, barns don’t always have time to give their horses a minute to relax. Everything is more fast-paced than it used to be, and everyone is on different schedules.
“At Chado Farms, we do most of the barn work in the morning so it’s quiet and peaceful in the afternoon,” she continued. “It’s amazing to see how many of my horses lay down and rest in the afternoon. The horses need their alone time and space to just be and have some peace.”
And when the winter season ends, all the horses go home to New Jersey and get a break before legging back up for the big summer shows.
“When we finish in Florida, I take all of my horses home and try not to let them see a saddle for a month after WEF,” Laura said. “They get a nice break to be horses and turn out before we gear up for the summer shows.”
• Charlie knows his people and appreciates them all.
His previous groom, Dana DePasqualle, might be his very favorite person, Laura said.
“They were both very attached to one another,” she said. “She moved on to become a vet tech, but Charlie still knows her when she comes to visit.”
Charlie is also always happy to see his current groom, Catherine Olsen, and recognizes his chiropractors when they visit.
“Charlie even knows when his chiropractors, Wendy Coren and Dave Lundquist, are there to work on him, and he perks up when he sees them,” Laura said. “He becomes very attached to all of the people who take care of him.”
• Charlie has a very famous horse to credit for his favorite treat.
“He’ll take pretty much any kind of treat, but he really likes Twizzlers,” Laura said. “We started that years ago with my horse, Gem Twist, and of course we had to try it with Charlie. He is a big fan!”