Adrienne Sternlicht will never forget the first time she caught sight of Cristalline. Like any show jumping fanatic, she tuned in to the 2016 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final (Sweden) and spotted “Stella,” who competed under Australia’s Chris Chugg.
“She was always a pipe dream, I say,” said Sternlicht, 26. “I remember McLain [Ward] came home, and we were schooling in Week 11 or 12 of [the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida)]. I just started working with him, and I said, ‘Did you see that horse?’ and he said, ‘Yes. You and everyone else, Adrienne, saw that horse,’ so I never thought that she would be mine. From the second I got her I think I kind of worshipped her to some extent, and she’s only gotten better. There’s nothing quite like her.”
Sternlicht’s Starlight Farms 1 LLC bought the Bavarian Warmblood mare (Cristallo I—Mona Lisa, Caretello B) in July 2016, and they hit the ground running for their first international competition that September. They’ve come a long way in a few years, earning team gold at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina) and jumping consistently at the CSI5* level.
With insight from Sternlicht and barn manager Emma Chapman, go behind the stall door with Cristalline:
• If Cristalline were a celebrity, she’d be Beyoncé:
“If Beyoncé were president! She’s super talented, kind of has that quiet confidence in herself, and yet she’s like a savant; she’s kind of nerdy and weird too,” said Sternlicht of the 12-year-old mare.
“We often call her Queen B,” said Chapman.
• Cristalline’s favorite stablemate is Toulago, one of Sternlicht’s top grand prix horses.
“He’s her Jay-Z,” said Sternlicht.
“But she’s awful to him,” Chapman added. “She’s really odd with other horses. She hates to be on her own. If she cannot see another horse she will scream; she will run around her stall. But she also absolutely hates another horse too close to her. When Adrienne’s walking side-by-side with someone else, you’ll see her pin her ears.”
• Stella would prefer a mini-free zone, please.
Since one of Ward’s top mares, HH Azur, has a mini named Daisy as her pasture mate, Sternlicht thought she should get Stella one. One year they stayed at a farm in Wellington that had a small pony, so they tried turning them out together.
“She tried to kill it,” said Chapman. “And then we were like, maybe she was just having a bad day, so a little while later we tried again, and the pony had to be rescued. [Cristalline] was so mad.”
• Stella has a pretty normal schedule but needs to watch her food intake.
“All Stella has to do is look at food, and she [gains weight],” Chapman said. “She gets ridden, turns out, and that’s her day. She’ll do anything you want her to do; she’s a soldier, but she doesn’t want to be coddled, and she doesn’t want you at her all the time; she likes her own space. She comes out; she does her job, and then she’s like, ‘Let me be by myself now.’ ”
• When she’s not on break, Stella enjoys one exercise in particular.
“Galloping,” said Sternlicht. “Every once in a while she’ll be really wild, and I’ve never felt anything like her buck. At home, McLain has a grass field that has a hill you can canter up, and the power that you feel cantering up that hill—it’s quite short, but it’s the craziest feeling. You feel like you’d like to go to war on a horse like that.”
• For Chapman, Stella is a dream to ride. Anytime Stella needs to be ridden when Sternlicht is away, Chapman is the first to volunteer.
“She listens so well,” she said. I’m definitely not trying to teach her anything, but she’s just comfortable; she does whatever you want her to do, and the power is insane. It’s just amazing to feel it.”
She’s also Chapman’s favorite horse in Sternlicht’s string. “I manage, so I’ll organize everybody, where they need to be, and organize the horses and whatever needs to be organized for the show,” Chapman said. “When I started working for Adrienne, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be just a manager. I love being hands-on with the horses.’ Before I even worked for Adrienne, I stalked her and Cristalline because I loved watching the horse. I’ll never forget watching her in Spruce Meadows [Canada] and at the Falsterbo Horse Show [Sweden]; I was just in awe of this horse. And when I started working for Adrienne, I was like, ‘OK. The one thing I want is to be able to take care of Cristalline.’ ”
• What’s better than getting to compete Stella? Spending quality time with her in the barn.
“[Cristalline and I are] compatible in a lot of ways,” Sternlicht said. “I spend a lot of time with her outside of the ring. For a horse that’s done as much and stays as keen as she is to jump—I think a big part of that is that I really don’t drill her in the ring. And as a rider, I really don’t enjoy that either. I love all my horses, but there’s nothing like being around her for me. Brushing her, taking her for grass, watching her eat in her stall—for me, just being in her presence is enough.”
Sternlicht admits she indulges Stella’s every whim. “Literally, she can have whatever she wants whenever she wants, but she still doesn’t act spoiled,” she said. “OK, is she the most mild-mannered on the cross ties? No, not at all. But I think she’s earned the right to act whichever way she wants. I think of the classical conditioning of Pavlov with dogs: You do this, you get this reward. People give their horses treats when their horses are good, and I always think that there’s no such thing as conditioning with her. She wakes up; I feed her. She goes to bed; I feed her. I feel like the sun rises and sets for both of us with her.”
• Chapman makes sure to always pack Stella’s favorite treats.
“Uncle Jimmy’s Hanging Balls—she will literally go through one in an hour,” said Chapman. “At WEG she got six. Every day she was there she got a new one because I was like, ‘If she wants it, she can have it. You got to WEG, so you can have whatever.’ Everybody was just like, ‘Oh my God, Emma, you’re getting ridiculous.’ ”
• Sternlicht would like to breed Cristalline, but no time soon.
“Her old owners, [Gabrielle Kuna and Chugg], have two embryos from her,” said Sternlicht. “I would love to continue a legacy of Cristalline, but I’ll probably wait to breed her because it’s quite hard on her. If ever, God forbid, there was a time when she had an extended period of time off that we couldn’t do anything else with her I would consider it, but otherwise I wouldn’t put her through that until she’s older.”