Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet has spent the past few years racking up wins with rider Karl Cook at the most prestigious show jumping events across the country, including at Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida), the Hampton Classic (New York) and the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival (Michigan). Most recently she blazed to victory at the $1 Million Coachella Cup Grand Prix CSI5* in Thermal, California, and Cook was effusive in his praise.
“She just has such desire to do the job well, and she loves doing the job,” he said of the 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood (Thunder VD Zuuthoeve—Goldfee Van’t Zorgvliet, Flipper D’Elle) owned by Signe Ostby. “It inspires you as a rider. Anyone who’s around her, she inspires them. She lifts everyone up.”
The inspirational mare, who goes by “Kalinka” or “Kali” in the barn, has made a name for herself not only for her speed and scope, but also for her exuberance before, during and after her show jumping rounds.
“She’s a leaper,” groom Sarah Griffin said. “She doesn’t do it much at home, but she is just so excited to be jumping at the show. It’s her favorite hobby; she can get really jazzed up.”
We wanted to find out more about the inner workings of this sassy bay mare, so we caught up with Griffin at Desert International Horse Park in Thermal to get the 411. Most interestingly, we learned that the fierce competitor is only one part of her personality; she’s got a soft, sweet, sleepy side as well. Here’s everything you need to know:
• Most of the time, she’s chill.
“At the barn on the ground, I can do everything with her as you would any other normal horse, like clipping, bathing, grooming,” Griffin said. “It’s just in the show atmosphere I need to be a little more careful, when her adrenaline spikes a little bit. But she knows her manners, and she listens very well.”
• Sometimes she can even be a little too chill.
“She’s a big napper. Every day at 9 a.m., she’s down,” Griffin said. “And then if I don’t pull her out early enough in the afternoon, she’ll be back down again. She loves to sleep.”
Griffin said Kalinka will get up if she really insists, but “she does love to protest—she’ll groan and throw her head back down into the shavings.”
• She’s friendly to humans, horses and other animals.
“She loves horses including the miniature horses we have at home,” Griffin said. “She says hi to her friends with a high-pitched whinny.”
She enjoys stuffed animals in her stall as well.
• She’s got sensitive skin, and Griffin has found that cardboard shavings work best for her.
“If I absolutely had to put her on shavings, I would just have to be very careful about my grooming,” she said.
Griffin also limits the chemicals she puts on the mare’s skin to keep it happy.
“I don’t use a lot of sprays or anything that I think might irritate her skin. When she goes outside, I do the full fly gear, and I don’t do a lot of fly spray, because things like that could bother her skin a little bit.”
• The mare is smart and likes to be mentally and physically stimulated.
“She loves to go galloping in the field with Karl; that’s one of her favorite things. I can always hear her feet thundering around, and then I’m like, ‘Oh, there goes Kali.’ She really just loves to have a good time, and we find as many things as we can find to stimulate her brain.”
• Standing still isn’t her strong suit, which is one of the reasons her team uses a substitute horse in award ceremonies.
“It’s literally just not her personality,” Griffin said. “She just loves to go. The running around part would be fine, but not the actual prizegiving and standing. She just gets so excited.”
• She is equal opportunity when it comes to treats.
“She’s really into treats; she’s not picky at all.”
She gets apples, oranges, bananas and Mrs. Pastures cookies regularly at home, and at the ring she gets Lifesavers mints.
• While Griffin knows Kali’s personality inside and out, she’s unsure whether the mare really knows how big of a star she is.
“I am half-and-half on that,” Griffin said. “Part of me, I think yes, because she’s very much like ‘look at me,’ and she gets a little sassy. But then at the same time, when it’s just me and her and we’re having a quiet moment, she is just so easy and sweet, and she’s just a really nice horse to be around. She has always been a sweet horse, and she’s fun to talk to all day. So I’m going to say half-and-half. I think she knows, but it’s not her whole personality.”