If Natalie Jayne felt the pressure of partnering with equitation ring standout Charisma last January, her trainer Andre Dignelli thinks she handled the weight of expectation well.
“Charisma’s been a mainstay top equitation horse for quite a while now, and I think that everybody thought he would be a very good fit for her,” said Dignelli, trainer and owner of Heritage Farm, based in Katonah, New York, and Wellington, Florida. “We’ve had him a long time, and he’s special to us, and it was important that he have an advanced rider that could continue his winning.”
Charisma (Stakkato—Cassini I), owned by Heritage Farm Inc., finished second with Taylor St. Jacques in the 2016 ASPCA Maclay Final in Lexington, Kentucky. The following year, they won the Dover Saddlery/U.S. Hunter Seat Medal Final at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show and the R.W. Mutch Equitation Championship at the Devon Horse Show (Pennsylvania). They were also second at the Platinum Performance USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Final—East (New Jersey) and fourth in the $268,550 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship (Kentucky) in 2017.
He finished third with Addison Piper in the 2019 USHJA Hunterdon Cup Equitation Classic—East, held at the USEF Junior Hunter National Championships—East in Devon, Pennsylvania. And this spring with Jayne, 18, Charisma won the WEF Equitation Championship on March 26 at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida.
Dignelli found the 14-year-old warmblood gelding six years ago at the breeding, training and sales operation Stal Hendrix in the Netherlands.
“Tori Colvin was with me when I tried him, and she rode him,” Dignelli said. “He was 8 years old and a stallion, showing in the 1.35-1.40-meter jumpers. I went there being told that there was a special horse we were going to try, and I remember calling home and saying, ‘I just had the best trial of an equitation horse or hunter that I’ve ever had.’ I basically had already convinced myself that I was going to buy him.”
Go behind the stall door to get to know Charisma.
- Charisma complements Jayne’s style of riding.
“I like to ride in a hunter-way, and he goes like a hunter, so I think it’s a very good match that way,” said Jayne, of Elgin, Illinois. “He’s soft, and he doesn’t require you to be strong with him.”
- It took a while for Charisma to claim Jayne as his person. Special treats were the key to his heart.
“In the beginning, I would go in his stall, and he would kind of be like, ‘Don’t get near me. This is my space,’ ” she said. “He’s warmed up to me now. I’ve given him a lot of treats, and he kind of knows that I’m his person now.
“I have a special brand of treats for Charisma [the Manna Pro Bite-Size Horse Nuggets, peppermint flavored] and those are the ones I keep for him,” she added. “He won’t eat peppermints; he won’t eat apples. Sometimes he’ll eat carrots; it depends on the day. I have a jar in my show bag that’s specifically for him because I know he’ll eat it. He’s picky that way and knows what he likes.”
- Charisma has the “it” factor.
“He is a beautiful-looking horse,” Dignelli said. “He’s probably 17 hands, and he looks expensive; he keeps himself well. He’s round, and he has a beautiful head and neck, so he has a lot of sex appeal, and he always did. Probably being a stallion up until he was 8 years old helped his body development.”
Charisma was a predominantly left-leaded horse in the early days of his career.
“[Taylor] managed that really well,” Dignelli said. “Now, later in his life, he’s even better at his job.”
- Dignelli wishes he could have a stable full of Charismas.
“He was good from Day 1, and every time I call Emil Hendrix [of Stal Hendrix], I’m like, ‘Do you have another one of these?’ ” If I had a stable full of Charismas, my life would just be easier. I’ve even toyed with the idea of, would it be interesting to clone him?”
- Charisma recovered from a major health scare in 2019.
“After one competition, we vaccinated him, and then he got a fever for a few days, and then he had pneumonia,” Dignelli said. “We thought that he was going to not make it, and we sent him to a disease specialist. Now it feels like such gift that he’s still at the top of his game, and we still get to have him and bring him to these championships.”
- Charisma is a barn favorite whose home routine focuses on the right level of fitness to keep the seasoned professional sound and happy.
“He’s my pet, and I’ll ride him 15 minutes every day,” Dignelli said. “By nature, he would probably get too heavy if I wasn’t careful with his conditioning. We don’t jump him much—we pick an event, and I start building [the jumps up], and then I taper it off, and that’s worked really well for him. He’s an older horse, [so] we’re always at some level of fitness. It’s never like, out in a field doing nothing. He’s good on the trails, just good and a joy to be around.”
- Charisma is a business-like fellow who expects his coworkers to stick to the schedule.
“I think he knows he’s special,” Dignelli said. “He’s the first horse we ride every day. His routine is first one out, and then he gets the paddock. He’s all about business, and I think he deserves a routine. We treat him like a king, and rightfully so.”
- Charisma is only high maintenance when it comes to his beauty routine.
“We always joke around that he has very sensitive skin, and we call him follicle-y challenged,” Dignelli said. “Everything rubs him. We often ride him with no noseband. There are times when his mane is rubbed out, so we’re always trying to figure out care products. We have it perfect now: full mane, full tail.”
- There is one person Charisma really likes: his groom Luis Mandujano.
“Luis appreciates and understands who this horse is and that he’s important to all of us, and you can see that [Charisma] is very important to him,” Dignelli said. “The joy you could see in his face when [Charisma] won the other night—that’s what it’s all about: that moment and that bond of loving the horse.”