Before Karen Pavicic had Totem, her winning ride in the CDI3* Prix St. Georges during Week 7 of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida, she was sitting tall on Don Daiquiri, her partner for the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Caen, France. The 18-year-old Oldenburg gelding “Dono” is now retired, though Pavicic sees him weekly when she drives past his field in Wellington.
“I owned [Don Daiquiri] with a client who bought him, and it was too much horse for her. He came to me to be sold, and I fell in love with him,” said Pavicic, who bases in Wellington and Vancouver, British Columbia. “I didn’t have all the money at the time to purchase him, so I was paying her on a payment plan. When it came to the final payment, she had seen how far our relationship had developed and how much he progressed, and she decided to offer to stay in partnership with me to see what we could do to develop him. The rest is history.”
Pavicic, 48, acquired Dono (Don Cardinale—Neastate III, Rubinstein I) when he was 5 and produced him through to Grand Prix.
“He was not an easy horse, and several people had told me to not waste my time with him and that he was too difficult,” Pavicic said. “He ended up being a wonderful Grand Prix horse, and I had a lot of success with him and traveled all over. He’s still very important to me. He still loves me and knows me and comes running over to greet me whenever he sees me, so it’s nice for both of us.”
These days, the 8-year-old Hanoverian gelding Totem (Totilas—Denebola, Donnerhall) is Pavicic’s sole Fédération Equestre Internationale horse. She has high hopes for him, but they come with the price tag of maintaining a one-horse string.
“I have all my eggs in one basket at this point in time,” said Pavicic. “I bought him as a young horse—he was only 3 months old at that time because that’s all I could afford. He’s my main priority, and I invest everything into him. I did have another horse a couple years older than him that I was developing also. Unfortunately, she has been retired from sport. She’s 10 this year, but she had an injury when she was 8 and never returned to competition. So, that’s life with horses. I’m just doing the best that I can out of my own pocket. To sustain one horse for me is manageable. To do more than that is not feasible. So, I invest everything I can into this horse in hopes of having him be a future Grand Prix horse.”
Tell me about Totem.
He is a very special horse. He’s super intelligent, in fact, maybe a little bit too smart. Three good gaits. He’s got a super character, really good work ethic, wants to come out and work every day. He was gelded when he was 5, and as he’s progressed in his training, he’s become hotter and even more electric. That excites me because you need that electricity or more hotness to be a good Grand Prix horse.
What are the highs and lows of developing a horse to Grand Prix?
I like to develop the horses from a young age. It’s also about the partnership. Your horse is going to go out there and perform for you if they trust you and have a good relationship with you. Obviously, not only is it expensive to invest in your own horses—because it’s certainly not a cheap sport—but it’s also very rewarding; any mistakes that you make along the way are only your own. There’s obviously a lot of risks involved with taking on young horses and developing them. It’s a long process, and anything can happen along the way. Life with horses isn’t easy that way. There are certainly many highs and many lows, but I think the highs outweigh the lows in the end.
I always say you can train any horse to Prix St. Georges. To make the next step to become a Grand Prix horse is the question mark. Sometimes you think they show that talent at a young age, and then there’s an exercise that they struggle with. Other times, the ones that you think are so-so end up being a better horse in the end. So, it really depends on the situation and on the horse.
Talk about the challenge of having an aging Grand Prix horse and a limited pipeline of up-and-comers.
I’m not alone in facing those challenges. You’re only as good as your current top horse; that’s the reality. It’s not easy to find top young horses, and secondly, it takes a long time to develop them. Personally, I like to make my own horses, so it even takes longer. I don’t have the endless money that I can have a string of young horses to maintain and develop out of my own pocket. So, without a sponsor, it’s really difficult. But then to have a horse that’s bought for you, that’s trained, for me, is not something that’s super interesting. It oftentimes has some kind of training problem or something like that that also takes some time.
Talk to me about representing Croatia.
My ex-husband [David Pavicic] was born there. I have dual citizenship, and I rode for Canada for many, many years; 2016 was the last time I rode internationally for Canada. I took a year off competing internationally and changed my sports nationality in 2017. It was 2018 that I could officially start riding for Croatia; it’s a process that you need to go through. I’ve represented them in the young horse classes on [Totem] up until this point. I’m not sure, but this might be their first small tour international CDI win.
It’s a beautiful country, and they’ve been wonderful to me. Super supportive, happy to have me representing them, and I am equally as happy to be helping to develop the sport in their country.
Have you done clinics there?
I have. This year there’s the [FEI Balkan Dressage Championships for Seniors, Young Riders, Juniors and Children, June 30 – July 2 (Croatia)], and they’ve asked me to come over and ride for them in the Balkan Championships. This is the first year that I’m eligible for a major games. I’ve been able to ride in CDIs but not in a major games until this year. So, potentially I could have represented them in the Olympics this year had I had a Grand Prix horse, but I would’ve had to have qualified last year, so it wasn’t really feasible. So, I’d really like to be able to go to the Balkan Championships and compete there for them and hopefully bring back a gold medal. That would be a huge accomplishment.
How developed is dressage in Croatia?
The jumping is more popular. I’m hoping that if I can have some success for them—especially if I go over there to the Balkan championships and have some success—that that might give them the boost that they need and start to encourage more supporters and sponsorship coming their way to build the sport in their country.
Has the Croatian Equestrian Federation offered you sponsorship opportunities?
Not so far. I am hoping to have more success for them, and with that, maybe there is sponsorship that comes out of it. For them, the jumping is more of their priority, and they also, I think, have the No. 1 endurance rider at the moment. So, equestrian sport does have some popularity there, and there has been some growth in the last couple of years. I’m hoping that if I continue to have some success for them that it becomes more high profile, and there becomes more interest in the sport in the country.