Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2024

Winner Of The Week: Believing In Her Instincts Brings Sharon White A Pair Of Wins At Millbrook

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Last year, Sharon White took a hard look at her plans with her advanced partner Claus 63. The pair had a couple of falls at water jumps, and she began wondering whether something was wrong.

“You make up stories like it’s going out of style, and it’s actually about being practical about what’s really happening,” she said.

The practical solution involved removing the gelding’s bell boots, as he was stepping on them and pulling himself off balance. With that tack change, the blips on “Claus’” record have evaporated.

“He’s very careful—in a good way—about his balance into the water,” White said. “It’s just simplifying everything and realizing he tries so hard. He tries so hard for me.”

That change, coupled with an increased belief in her own instincts, have allowed White and Claus to flourish. They finished the 2022 season with a win in the Virginia International and Horse Trials CCI3*-S and started this year with a pair of wins in national competition. In April they topped the CCI4*-S at the Ocala International Festival of Eventing (Florida) and were eighth in the Tryon International Three-Day Event CCI4*-L (North Carolina). Most recently, they won the advanced at Millbrook Horse Trials, held July 27-30 in Millbrook, New York.

Sharon White piloted Claus 63 to victory in the advanced at Millbrook Horse Trials (N.Y.). Brant Gamma Photography Photo

“I had this realization: If you don’t believe in yourself, why should your horses believe in you?” she said. “I believe they go the way they’re ridden, so it’s important for them to have belief, and I’m always there for my horses. But part of that is just trusting myself.”

The pair started the weekend in a tie for seventh after dressage, where White, Summit Point, West Virginia, enjoyed the opportunity to ride Claus in some atmosphere.

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“I actually thought he was very good,” she said. “Very happy to be out and about competing. Slightly exuberant, but that is his style, so except for an exuberant canter depart, he was absolutely 100 percent with me and rideable and through. … It’s very satisfying to ride.

“Millbrook is like organized chaos,” she added. “There’s so much going on. There’s beginner novice [happening at the same time] and people everywhere and kids everywhere. And they do a fair, so there’s just a good atmosphere, and there’s cross-country going on while dressage was going on. You use it to your advantage. You use it as a wonderful training tool of focus for the horses, and I don’t mind at all that Claus got a little exuberant; there was cross-country running around.”

Though her preparation wasn’t ideal—White had a groin injury a few weeks ago, so she had her good friend, five-star rider Tim Bourke, and assistant trainer Lea Adams-Blackmore help her keep the horses going—she added just 4.4 time penalties on cross-country to finish the weekend in the top spot on a score of 36.2.

Dirk Schrade found Claus for White when the 11-year-old Holsteiner (Catoo—Tina II, Levisto) was 6. She started him in a training level event in 2019 before steadily moving him up the levels.

“I had this realization: If you don’t believe in yourself, why should your horses believe in you? I believe they go the way they’re ridden, so it’s important for them to have belief, and I’m always there for my horses. But part of that is just trusting myself.”

Sharon White

“He’s a very exuberant horse and emotional horse, and he tries very, very hard,” she said. “Sometimes I think it’s like sitting on this living, breathing muscle because he’s such an athlete. It’s just focusing all of that wonderful energy and exuberance in the right direction. And with age, of course that gets easier—age and experience and repetition and all of the things. So he is becoming just a very reliable partner which is wonderful.”

White also won on another Schrade-sourced horse, Jaguars Duende, a 7-year-old Westphalian (Jaguar Mail—Latina, Lancaster), in a section of open preliminary.

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“She is just such a competitor, and she’s just good in all three phases, and just proper,” she said. “I don’t really have the words; she’s just great. She’s so funny. She’s tough. She wants to go out, and she wants to be a winner. It’s so unbelievably satisfying. She has just an unbelievable work ethic, and she’s so trainable, and my only concern with her is that I don’t rush her too much.”

Her third mount for the weekend, Shirsheen Ice, a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Beowulf—Candy Copper, Regal Sting XX) she co-owns with Beth Lendrum and Kathleen Neuhoff, jumped to fourth in his advanced debut. “Wolfie” got his start with Leslie Law and joined White’s string about a year ago.

“I wasn’t sure when I was going to bump him up, but he’s the funniest horse and jumps out of his four-board paddock when he feels like it,” she said. “And then when I was off teaching a clinic, my groom was longeing him and he jumped out of my round pen, which is a five-board fence with a big hedge around it with no issue, and I was like well, OK, fine!”

Watch parts of White’s rounds with her advanced mounts, Claus 63 and Shirsheen Ice:

All three horses are stepping up to fill the shoes of White’s former five-star partner Cooley On Show, who last competed at advanced in early 2022. He is currently being leased by young rider Lizzie Hoff.

“Such a hard decision to make, but not really. So hard because ‘Louie’ is obviously such a special horse to me, but I needed to step him down from the level, and he really still wanted a job,” she said. “I’m just so thrilled with the young rider that has him, Lizzie Hoff. He loves her, and he’s getting to do all the things and be his typical Louie self, and that’s really fun and exciting.”

Between injuries and unrealized dreams with top horses, White, 49, is no stranger to the hard knocks of being an equestrian professional, but having others, including her husband Henrik Wranaker, in her corner helps her through the roller coaster moments.

“Before Millbrook started, I called him and was like, ‘I think I’m having a moment because what if this? What if it just doesn’t go to plan like is so typical?’ And he’s like, ‘Who cares, you just keep going! You keep doing what you do.’ I was like, ‘I love you.’ He’s so right. Good support around you and practical advice. It’s just so important and knowing that we’re all nuts, [those] who are involved in the sport, and I’m so grateful to everybody who wants to be crazy with me. Everyone in the sport, no matter what you are: a competitor, an owner, an organizer, an official, a volunteer, it’s a labor of love. And we all love it. So grateful for everybody involved.”

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