Claus 63 is a handsome horse. And he knows it.
Dressed in an orange stable rug, complete with fuzzy collar—an outfit the staff at Sharon White’s Last Frontier Farm have jokingly deemed his “smoking jacket”—the bay gelding eats up the attention that comes with participating in the Chronicle’s Behind The Stall Door series.
After all, what’s not to like about all eyes being on him? And when there’s extra sugar involved? That’s a huge win in his book.
White got the 11-year-old Holsteiner (Catoo—Tina II, Levisto), bred by Klaus-Peter Wiepert, when he was 6 through Dirk Schrade. Their first event was at training level in 2019, and she’s steadily moved him up to the four-star level. “Claus” has amassed an impressive win tally this year. It started with a blue at the Virginia Horse Trials International CCI3*-S last November and continued into the winter season with a pair of wins in Ocala, Florida, at intermediate and advanced-intermediate. In April he won the CCI4*-S at the Ocala International Festival of Eventing, followed by an advanced victory at Millbrook (New York).
In August, Claus and White were named to the U.S. Eventing Team for the 2023 Pan American Games, to be held Oct. 27-29 in Santiago, Chile. They recently attended the mandatory outing at the Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy Farm, where they practiced four-star dressage and show jumping before getting in an intermediate cross-country run. Today, Monday, Oct. 16, the team horses will head to Pennsylvania for a final gallop. They’ll head to the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill from there to perform their dressage test one more time at 11 a.m. Wednesday, before the jog-up. Then they head south to Miami, where the horses will catch their flight to Chile.
We caught up with Claus at home in Summit Point, West Virginia, before he starts his trip to South America.
• As evidenced by his enthusiasm to participate in this series, Claus is a ham. As long as all of the attention is on him, he’s very content.
“He’s a bit of a princess,” said groom Kate Servais.
As an upper-level event horse, the Bemer blanket, a red-light laser on his back, and standing on a Theraplate, are part of his daily routine, and he looks forward to those treatments immensely.
“Yesterday when I went to go laser him, he was patiently waiting, looking at me with his head tilted, and he was like, ‘I know you’re going to do something for me,’ ” said Servais.
• Treats are an integral part of Claus’ day. He enjoys a good banana, but his real weakness is sugar. If he hears the crinkle of a peppermint wrapper, he’ll stop everything he’s doing for the sweet treat.
“You could cut through a lot of emotion in him—and he can be very emotional sometimes—with some sugar,” White said.
“Whenever you walk up to him, the first thing he does is check the pockets. Any pockets. All four of them,” Servais added.
• He has a slight obsession with his Succeed paste, which he receives daily to promote a healthy gut.
“He’ll bite onto the tube and wait for you,” Servais said. “He won’t go to his breakfast. He’ll go to the tube first. He’ll try to suck it out.”
• He loves a good nap.
“He takes the cutest little naps in the sun,” said Lea Adams-Blackmore, White’s assistant trainer. “He sticks his head out the back [window of his stall], and he just falls asleep in the window. The window is fully holding him up. It’s really cute. The sun is just beating down on him.”
• He’s got an eagle eye for anything out of place, and he’ll be the first to tell you there’s a lead rope on the ground that doesn’t belong there.
“I was hacking him today before [White’s] lesson, and there was a barrel that blew into the cross-country field, and he was like, ‘Who put this here? I’m not sure if anyone knows that this is not supposed to be here, and someone needs to take care of this,’ ” Adams-Blackmore said.
• Claus was a little unsure of things when he first arrived stateside. Things like standing in the crossties or having his feet done were ordeals, but with time, patience and some sugar, he settled into his routine.
“You have to give them the time,” White said. “You can’t be impatient. The first time we went to do his feet, and he was like, ‘Absolutely not,’ I was like, ‘Really? Surely you’ve had this done before.’ And there’s options, but the only option that works is to be patient. So then if you’re patient, and you’re quiet, and you’re repetitive, and they realize nothing is a big deal, then you can do absolutely anything with them because they trust you.
“He is the perfect example of that because he is an emotional horse, and he is high maintenance, and he is very quick to get worried,” she continued. “He’s very aware of everything, which means he’s very aware of everyone that’s handling him, like their attitudes.”
• Claus is an excellent at reading people’s emotions, and if you’re having an off day, he’s the first to notice.
“If you’re impatient and in a hurry, you stand no chance with him, absolutely none,” White said. “He will tell you. He’ll be like, ‘I don’t think so.’ You won’t be able to make him do a thing. … He’s a good judge of what’s going on around him, for sure. As his rider I can tell you that, for sure, he always tells me where I’m at.
“That’s a beautiful thing, because if you get that on your side, you’re set,” she added.
• He’s on night turnout, and he’s always thrilled when it’s time to go out.
“He’s always very excited to go out,” Servais said. “He usually has energy. He’ll go out and have a little trot around. ‘Guys, look at that! This is all new!’ ”
He’s particularly enthusiastic when he gets turned out for the first time after being away at an event.
“He’ll go away from the gate [and toss his head] like, ‘I’m free!’ ” Adams-Blackmore said.
But don’t rush him when you’re trying to catch him.
“If you go out in the field, and you go at him, he’s going to be like [what?]” Adams-Blackmore said. “But if you go out there and give him a second to see that you’re out there, then he comes up to you. He’ll come trotting up to us sometimes. You can’t go at him. Give him the space.”
• Claus is always ready to do his job.
“He’s always ready,” said White. “For sure. READY. Too ready sometimes: ‘All right, buddy take a breath.’ ‘I DON’T WANT TO! I don’t need to. I don’t want to. This is all ridiculous.’ ”
“I feel like at shows he’s like a kid at an amusement park,” Adams-Blackmore said. “ ‘I want to go on this one right now! I do not want to wait my turn! We’re going to go on this one right now!’ ‘No, there’s a line.’ ‘No! Right now!’ ”
“He doesn’t believe in the line, that’s for sure,” White added.
• He’s an excellent barometer for when fall temperatures are coming. It might still be hot outside, but he’s going to start growing his winter coat.
“He gets all the drafty hair on his legs, and he gets big fluffy ears,” Servais said. “He looks like a teddy bear.”