Though she splits her time between Georgetown, Kentucky, and Wellington, Florida, for Havens Schatt, Ocala, Florida, will always feel like home.
“I grew up in Ocala, and I went to kindergarten on [the property that is now the World Equestrian Center],” said Schatt, who runs Milestone Farm with her husband Fred Commissaire alongside their two Australian shepherds Paris and Pearl. “It really is like going home. I’m at the age when none of us is getting any younger, and when I go, I get to spend some time with my parents, which was great.”
And her trip to Ocala was even more worth it when she rode mounts to first and second in the $20,000 WEC Hunter Derby, the feature hunter class of the World Equestrian Center Ocala Winter Spectacular #2, held Jan. 13-17.
Schatt rode Kelley Corrigan’s Diatendro to the top of the 20-horse class and Ken and Amy Wexler’s Cascartini to second.
We caught up with Schatt to chat about her thoughts on her winning mount and how derbies fit into her program.
Congratulations on your great finishes at the World Equestrian Center. Tell us about your winner Diatendro.
We work closely with the Performance Sales International auction and Paul Schockemöhle. They sent over a video of him, and Kelley’s mom had always wanted a black stallion, so he caught our eye. Kelley was very close to [late trainer] Mike Rheinheimer, and we were in Germany buying Diatendro at auction the day we heard Mike died. We call Diatendro “Mikey” in the barn after him. He has an angel.
I showed him in 2018 as a first year [green] horse, and he was a stallion then. He was very good to ride, but on the ground he was a handful, and the jogging process wasn’t very fun. At the end of the year I talked to his owner and said, “If you want to show him, I think he needs to be castrated. If you want me to do him in the derbies, I think we can handle it.” Being in the amateur schooling area, you have to be careful not just for your own self but in case someone else isn’t paying attention. So he went to the clinic.
The next year we went to Wellington, and he showed twice and got a small bone bruise, so we gave him quite a bit of time off. He came back in the middle of that summer and then got Potomac Horse Fever. Then last year in Florida he was doing the 3’6” performance hunters, and Kelley was doing him in the amateur-owners when COVID hit. Kelley likes to see him show in the derbies, which are easy for him.
It’s pretty easy for him to go back and forth between the derbies and the amateurs, which isn’t always the case. He’s pretty versatile in his thinking. He’s a very tall horse, and for as big as he appears to be he’s actually quite light. He doesn’t like you in his mouth; you just pick up one rhythm and let the jump challenge him a little bit.
How did you cope when the shows were shut down toward the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?
I really enjoyed my four-month vacation. We went from Wellington back to Kentucky as scheduled, which was nice. We were lucky; we live on our farm. Kentucky was pretty conservative about everything. Everything was closed, and we spent a lot of time at home. That was when I realized that Fred and I aren’t really that social because things didn’t change that much. I felt bad for my clients, who would say, “This is horrible! We’re at home! We never leave!” but Fred and I were at home on 50 acres with all the horses, thinking, “Life is pretty good right now.”
It definitely put a lot of things in perspective for me, being involved in the horse industry for so long and getting caught up in this horse show and that horse show. It was a breath of fresh air to be alone with the horses. We have a big field at the top of our farm that we never put jumps in, and this year we put a whole course up there—things you don’t have time for. It was just fun to really get to spend time with the horses.
We really didn’t go anywhere at that time. We had dinner with a few friends outside, but for the most part really didn’t do that much.
Do you have any non-horsey hobbies?
I’m trying to get better at doing other things. I would love to travel. I think I could just go in a motorhome and drive and see everything there is to see.
I turn 50 next week, and we’ve chartered a catamaran. We were supposed to go to the British Virgin Islands, but that went by the wayside because that’s closed to Americans. We were going to try the U.S. Virgin Islands, but the crew is French, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are closed to them. I think we’re going to go to St. Barts instead.
What’s it like working with your husband so closely?
I’m so lucky because he’s so supportive of me. Yes, we have our arguments, and I’m sure it’s difficult for him to be in the background and know how much work and energy he’s put into it; then I’m the one in the winner’s circle. I know that’s difficult for him, and he takes all of that in stride. He’s proud of the horses and of me. Of course, working and living together 24/7 for 20 years has its moments.
Fred is French, and he did some eventing as a junior. He was working at the farm next door to me when I was working for Tom Wright. I met him just from riding and being around the neighborhood. The first year we were in Wellington he spoke no English, but we got to know each other the next year.
Unlike most hunter riders you don’t wear a shadbelly for hunter derbies; you wear white breeches and a short coat. How did you make that decision?
I do wear a shadbelly if it’s a hunter classic, like the classic at the National Horse Show (Kentucky) or the [USHJA WCHR $100,000 Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular (Florida)].
I was on the committee for the derbies when they first started. That was something that we brought up. I still believe that if you want to really showcase the derby atmosphere it’s a different class than a hunter classic. And believe me, when I’m walking around the show with my white breeches on, a lot of people ask me, “What are you doing? Are you going in the jumper ring?”
Personally, the minute I’d get out of the hunter ring in the old days I’d take off my choker—now I unsnap my collar—and I think with the shadbelly on once you tie that tie you’re kind of tied in there. Jen Bauersachs now, when she does the derbies she wears her whites too, and she told me I was a trendsetter. I said, “Well it’s just you and me that do it!”
How do hunter derbies fit into your program?
Derbies are a funny thing for me. [Kentucky Horse Shows LLC manager] Hugh Kincannon only has one derby at all of his shows, and it’s very difficult for me in my business to just take the horses to chase derbies. It’s difficult to make a plan to send them here and there, make time to go for one or two horses when I have customers as well. I wish the derbies would morph into something more like a grand prix, where every horse show has one.
Talk about your affinity for young horses.
I’ve never had much success buying a famous horse from someone else and making it famous again. There’s something rewarding to recognize talent, bring it out in them, and be able to train them enough so that when they do leave you they go on to other trainers and situations and be just as successful or more so than they were with us. The goal is that they’re pretty consistent in their career after they leave us. That just makes me proud.
Many hunter and jumper riders have started wearing protective vests. Have you looked into them?
I’ve thought about it. I’ve talked to someone about having one, and I tried one on. I’m all about safety and all about doing the right thing to keep everyone safe. I feel for myself I’m already taking a lot of precautions that a lot of other people don’t. We’re very cautious about every decision we make with these horses. I definitely know that at any point in time they can trip; they can fall; they can do whatever. One day I said I hadn’t fallen off in a long time, and the next day I was spun off.
For me, it’s something I’ve decided I’m going to wait on. I feel secure in how I prepare my horses. I don’t do a lot of catch riding; I know my horses inside and out. I don’t want to be negative toward the vests because I don’t feel that way at all. I think it’s a personal decision for everyone, and this is my personal feeling on it. I hope and I pray that I’m not wrong. I think you have to do what’s comfortable for you.
It was interesting because showing in Ocala in the hunter ring there weren’t that many people wearing them. And [in Wellington] I’m one of the only ones that doesn’t.
What do you think is the biggest problem facing the sport today?
The cost of it would be tops for me. It’s expensive to show horses and to keep them.
I think that’s one good thing that the World Equestrian Center and the [National Snaffle Bit Association] are trying to do. I didn’t check out at the World Equestrian Center—[assistant] Cara [Meade] did—so I haven’t seen the receipts yet to really be able to compare, but they just didn’t have as many fees.
There are a lot of fees for us to show at A-rated shows, and it adds up and adds up and adds up. To me it’s what we did to compete at this level: That’s what it took and needed to be. But there are so many people that just want to enjoy their horses and show at a nice venue with nice weather, and they end up paying the same amount of fees as the people that really want to go to indoors and Devon [Pennsylvania] and all that. So that’s difficult.