Before those blue ribbons, before that fourth nail-biting, dear-God-how-do-I-breathe round at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina) and before that glistening gold medal, Virginie Casterman knew: Clinta was one of a kind.
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “unicorn” in two ways: “a mythical, usually white animal generally depicted with the body and head of a horse with long flowing mane and tail and a single often spiraled horn in the middle of the forehead,” and as “something unusual, rare or unique.”
Looking at the list: White? Check. Horse with a flowing mane and tail? Check. Unusual, rare and unique? Check, check, check. And what McLain Ward’s mare lacks in the mythical spike she makes up for in fabled scope and heart.
“Since we got her in February, I call her my unicorn,” said Casterman “This horse isn’t like any other horse. She’s different. She’s just better. She’s very special. You have to be proud to take care of her because she’s unbelievable.”
She exploded onto the scene when she took the top check in the $382,800 Longines Masters Of New York CSI*****, and she continued to impress as she showed the world that 1.60-meter jumps were just child’s play when she won the $130,000 Empire State Grand Prix CSI*** (New York), $250,000 Sapphire Grand Prix Of Devon CSI**** (Pennsylvania), Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia CSI*****(Germany) and the Rolex Grand Prix de Dinard CSI***** (France).
Heading to the WEG, you might have wondered if this relatively unproven German-bred Oldenburg mare (Clinton—Last Flight, Lord Pezi) could withstand five or six grueling rounds of jumping. And there, she made history, bringing home the first U.S. team gold medal.
But let the record and videos speak for themselves—travel behind the stall door with us to learn about Ward’s Wonder Woman/businesswoman.
• Lady Gaga’s an inspiration—particularly her one line belting, “Live for the way that you cheer and scream for me/The applause, applause, applause.” While Clinta’s performances warrant many claps and cheers, outside the ring those celebrations set her off a little bit. Hand-walking through the Hampton Classic Horse Show (New York), the finishing ruckus from a neighboring ring causes Clinta to scoot and spin around Casterman.
“That’s her only thing because she’s used to winning a lot,” she said. “So she knows that usually after all the clapping, you run. So she gets all excited about it. Otherwise she’s a pretty chill horse.
“She gets funny with the sounds. Every time you ride her she gets the ear plugs and the soundproof bonnet—both,” continued Casterman. “She then gets very tense with too much noise. But otherwise in the barn, to look after, there’s nothing special. Easy to keep.”
Mental note: Applause reserved for you, Clinta.
• The unicorn has a unicorn. And yes, she can never be parted from her lookalike best friend.
“For my birthday I got a unicorn stuffed animal that I gave to her at the show,” said Casterman. “She loves it—always rubs her face on it.”
• As for other, more earthly horse pals, please keep your distance. She’s a woman who likes her space.
“She’s strong minded,” said Casterman. “She loves people. She’s very sweet. She doesn’t like her friends too much. She likes them but from here to there.”
Clinta’s personal-space bubble can become an issue when it’s time to ship.
“She’s not a very good shipper because of other horses. They can’t even look at her,” said Casterman. “She loves them, like if I would take [HH Gigi’s Girl] for example out of FEI [stabling] and come back, she would nicker to them, go ‘hoohoohoo,’ but then as soon as she comes closer she’d be like [cat hiss]. That’s her.”
• She can only be turned out alone. It has been tested with an unassuming companion.
“I tried once with the pony [Daisy, owned by Ward’s daughter Lilly],” said Casterman. “She almost killed it—Lilly’s pony. She’s the first time refuser—like [HH] Azur, [HH] Callas, Gigi—they all go with Lilly’s Daisy. But [this one] almost killed the pony. It was pretty bad.”
• She’s well aware that she has another top woman in competition for Ward’s heart, and it’s Ward’s other top mount, HH Azur, or “Annie.”
“It is a bit of a rivalry between both Clinta and Annie,” said Casterman. “They both have the same mom, me, and they both want all McLain’s affection. They both want to be the one. They know it—battle of the unicorns.”
• The way she analyzes situations in the ring is how she carries herself at all times. Like a classic businesswoman, she assesses and then acts accordingly.
“She goes out; she looks at something; she’ll figure it out,” said Casterman. “It doesn’t take her long to get to something. She’s very shocked and over it. And that’s how she is when she jumps. She analyzes any situation pretty fast. I think that’s what makes her different.”
That quick, smart mind makes her easygoing and uncomplicated.
“Because she’s that good, you can go by yourself to the show,” said Casterman. “McLain could even take her inside and go in [without help]—she’s that good and the same. She’s not like the other ones.
“The only silliness you’re going to see is when she’s fresh,” she continued. “At the show when you feel like she’s really fresh, then Lee [McKeever] takes her on the longe line; then she can be really, really—she squeals and bucks. Otherwise she can uphold herself. Like if you ride her, she would never do anything wrong. And if she’s fresh, she’s just going to hold it in.”
Clinta, reporting for duty.
• She doesn’t loved being brushed, but even still, she’s a lady.
“She lets you do anything you want with her,” said Casterman. “The only thing she doesn’t like to be brushed that much, but all she does is grinding her teeth. She will not kick. She will not bite. And you can say, ‘Hey,’ and she puts her head like this, ‘Oh sorry.’ ”
• She’s more motivated by the people taking care of her and her routine more than food. But if she had to pick something? It’s bananas and Uncle Jimmy’s Hanging Balls.
“We have this little tradition, like when a horse wins at the show, they all get a Jimmy ball,” said Casterman. “They play with it. Eat it. Takes them a while to get it, but that’s the tradition with us. If one wins, they all get it.”
• Clinta has really come into her own at Ward’s Castle Hill Farm in Brewster, New York. She cherishes her people and all the attention she gets. While perhaps not the most outwardly lovey dovey horse, she repays her people.
“She really likes people to take care of her. She gives you back that feeling that she’s enjoying it right now,” said Casterman. “When she was in Germany, she was already in a huge farm where they had like 200 horses, so the people might not have spent as much time with her as we do at home—at our place. But you feel like she’s happier about it. She really likes it. And she gives you back anything you give to her. And there’s not a lot of horses that do that. Like McLain, she’ll gives him back 100 percent.
“She’s a unicorn,” Casterman gushed. “You’re not going to find a lot of horses like this. She doesn’t give 100 percent, she gives 200 percent of herself to get the job done.”