U.S.-based Australian eventer Dom Schramm is headed to England to take on Badminton Horse Trials CCI5*-L, along with a healthy contingent of U.S. riders entered in the event, to be held May 4-8. Schramm, who runs Schramm Equestrian with his wife Jimmie Schramm from Cochranville, Pennsylvania, and Ocala, Florida, will be taking Bolytair B (Polytair—Nobelle, Glennridge) a 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Team Bolytair B. While it will be the pair’s fifth five-star, it is the first Badminton for both, and Dom is blogging about the experience.
I suppose I’m kind of lucky in that I managed to pin down an almost inconceivable goal when I was pretty young: competing at the Badminton Horse Trials. As I get older, I am starting to realize that not everybody actually has that version of a “true north” present in their life.
For me, it has been omnipresent, even if I haven’t screamed it out loud. I’m also starting to realize how much of a blessing it is to get your teeth into a goal like this at a young age. I’m not exactly sure why it was always specifically Badminton Horse Trials for me, but I guess there was a lot about such an epic and prestigious test that appealed to a rambunctious young kid from outback Queensland, Australia. It might have been the deep green turf that I’d never actually witnessed in real life. Or the rain and the drama of top sport. Massive crowds of people who would stand out in the cold and wet just to witness the crazy feats of human-horse partnership. Heck, the queen herself gave out the trophy! It almost seemed like another world. And at some point I decided that I would like to go and do it myself—even though I knew full well that it would never actually happen.
Fast forward almost 25 years, and I’m now three days away from loading up a big, athletic 17.2-hand beast of a horse on an airplane, flying him overseas, and showing up to the grounds in front of the historic Badminton House in Gloucestershire, England, to have a crack at what looks to be one of the most epic Badminton Horse Trials in recent memory.
It feels a little surreal to say the least.
I will give you the CliffsNotes of the time that passed between starry-eyed goal setting and today’s actual reality: It was mostly struggle. Struggle and disappointment and a lot of “just not quite good enough.” However, luckily for me, there was the odd punctuation of massive opportunity. Highlights that made all the lows seem worthwhile.
The biggest highlight? A big, fat, slightly hairy horse named Bolytair B coming off the trailer at our farm in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, six years ago. Admittedly, it didn’t much feel like a highlight at the time, mostly because “Boly” spent the large majority of his time on his hind legs, spinning around and running any direction but the one you wanted to go in. His owners, the Giesselman family, had asked if I could work with him as they weren’t exactly sure what to do with him. His antics had gotten to a point where he wasn’t really leaving anyone with too many options. As a matter of fact, after working with him myself for about two months, I was ready to give up on continuing with the horse, too, mostly because I did not want to gain the reputation of being the “bad horse” guy. Thankfully, my wife Jimmie encouraged me to keep going with him, and with the full support of the Giesselmans, we were able to make some progress.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about his past. Mostly because he has accomplished so much and tried so hard for me over the past six years that he’s earned the right to no longer be the “bad horse that came good” and just be “the very good horse.” I also don’t want to wade too deeply into how we turned things around. The one thing I will say is that, as a horse trainer, the most important thing when dealing with a trickier horse is that you have the desire to actually help the horse be better. Once you are committed to that, you will gain the ability to think outside the box and begin decoding the best strategy to help show the horse what is expected of him and how you will help him do it.
Boly has completed four five-star events thus far: Land Rover Kentucky twice, Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (England) and the inaugural Maryland 5 Star last fall. He really is what I call a “triple threat”—a horse that can be highly competitive in all three phases. Our two biggest weaknesses are a little too much eagerness in the canter portion of the dressage test, and not quite enough control across the country. I made the conscious decision last year to reshape my focus and take my riding and training more seriously than I ever have so far.
For the dressage, I enlisted the help of Nicholas Fyffe, a close friend for many years and one of the most outstanding trainers and riders I have ever come across. Through Nicholas’ passion for the sport of dressage and his ability to so accurately observe even the smallest details, he has ignited a real desire for me to help Boly be the absolute best dressage horse he can be, as opposed to just taking dressage lessons in order to get a better score. I cannot speak highly enough about what this man has done for my training.
As for the jumping, Peter Wylde graciously allowed us to begin training with him this year, and in just a few months I already have noticed tremendous improvement in Boly’s jumping technique. In just our second lesson, Peter asked if he could give him a ride. I was already off Boly adjusting the stirrups before he could even finish the question! I got to witness him ride Boly so well and show so much feel that it gave me a lot of confidence to fully commit to the adjustments he offered. He is another world-class trainer.
Our preparation for Badminton has involved a lot of work and effort going into improving those aspects of our performance. Then there is the fitness and also the health and management of Boly’s body. I have a strategy of running him very conservatively at competitions, and I do only the competitions that are absolutely necessary. I feel it’s very important that I keep the wear and tear on such a big horse to an absolute minimum. This strategy has worked pretty well thus far, with the main drawback being that I don’t get many opportunities to practice “letting him off the chain” cross-country. Riding for the time at the highest level is a whole other beast, particularly on a horse that is strong and has a monster stride. I’m hopeful that our partnership helps to fill some of that void for when we arrive in England.
The last piece of the puzzle? Paying for this crazy endeavor! There’s just no way I can afford to fund this overseas campaign on my own, even though I wish I could. So I had to ask the eventing community (mostly the U.S. eventing community) to help me come up with the funds to pay for the trip. I wanted to do more than just set up a Gofundme page and ask for handouts; I wanted to come up with a way of recognizing the people who helped me and also do something a little more creative. So I decided to have people be able to purchase a spot on a beautiful maroon cooler that he will wear once he is in England. My friend Chrissy Hall from Pin In It Designs did an amazing job bringing that idea to life, and honestly I couldn’t be more overwhelmed with how many amazing people have supported this.
At the time of writing, I have raised enough to be able to pay for both legs of Boly’s flight, and I just cannot thank people enough for their support. The U.S. has been so good to me in my career, and even though I’m still technically an Aussie, it never ceases to amaze me how good Americans have been in supporting this immigrant!
So, with all the pieces in play, I’m now staring down the barrel of this lifelong dream slowly becoming a real, tangible thing. It’s very exciting, a little terrifying and a whole lot of tiring! But I keep reminding myself of just how lucky I am to have gotten to this point. It’s easy to lie in bed and think about all the what if’s, but I keep reminding myself that regardless of the outcome of this competition, there’s something very special in this life about having a dream and chasing it ‘til you catch it!