Countdown to Kentucky: Doug Payne Dishes on Vandiver and Quantum Leap

Team USA eventer Doug Payne gives the inside scoop on his five-star mounts, Vandiver and Quantum Leap, ahead of the Kentucky Three-Day Event.

In March, Doug Payne competed at the Carolina International Horse Trials CCI4*-S with three of his talented mounts. Among those mounts were Quantum Leap, a 10-year-old DSP (ZWEIB) gelding, and Vandiver, a 17-year-old Trakehner gelding, who claimed fifth and seventh place, respectively. Just a few weeks later, Payne came out on top with Vandiver and at The Fork at Tryon CCI4*-S and was fifth with Quantum Leap. I had the chance to speak with Payne about Vandiver and Quantum Leap, both of which he plans to compete in the CCI5*-L at the Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Doug Payne and Vandiver at the 2021 Carolina International Horse Trials. ©Julia Murphy for Practical Horseman

Can you tell us about Vandiver and Quantum Leap — your top mounts for the Kentucky Three-Day Event?

Vandiver is 17 this year, we’ve had him for going on six years. He’s bred and owned along with Debi Crowley. We’ve had him for long enough that it’s a really good partnership. He’s super, super genuine and he’s got a massive heart. He should be pretty competitive this year [at Kentucky], he should have a good shot.

Quantum Leap we bought as a weanling. He’s the first in a pipeline of horses we have coming. We started to do one weanling a year. He’s owned along with Susan Drillock. He’s a total overachiever; he did [Red Hills Horse Trials] as a 7-year-old. We’ll have moments where he’s killer. He’s probably a year out from totally killing it, but he totally could pull it off. He’s super genuine, very brave, a great cross-country horse, has an awesome gallop. I don’t really worry at all as far as the distance, he’ll be totally good. And, he’s a careful jumper. 

How did you bring them along? Are there any specific training exercises that you’ve worked on with them?

At the four and five star, they have to be incredibly quick on their feet and agile and adaptable in tricky situations. So, we do a lot of rideability and footwork [exercises], quite small in size, but either varying short to long or long to short, and a lot of trotting jumps. Stuff to almost put them a little bit in a bind, but have it small enough that they’ll never lose confidence and they just learn to be super sharp off the ground and adaptable.

Both Quinn—Vandiver is Quinn—and [Quantum Leap] are pretty efficient. Quinn would be just a bit easier to go faster on at this point just because he’s so much more experienced. Quantum, certainly at Kentucky this year, I would like to be quick, but not that crazy. It’s his first one, so there will be a couple of combinations that I’m sure will take a little extra time to set up. Where with Quinn, you can just come in hot around the turn and you’ll be all right. 

Doug Payne and Quantum Leap at the 2021 Carolina International Horse Trials. ©Julia Murphy for Practical Horseman

Do they have any quirks or funny personality traits?

Quinn’s the most emotional creature there is. His spirit animal is Courtney, our head groom, so luckily they travel around together because without her he’s lost. He wants to have a hug all the time, except he’d also be a little creeped out by it. He’s not a huge treat horse, he would get too nervous to function and not be able to eat. He goes like full-on off food when he gets anxious, so we try to keep him as comfortable as we can.

Quantum is like big puppy dog, basically. Like, he would hang out and sit on the couch and drink a beer with you. His nature is totally chill. The toughest part with him is that he’s a total overachiever, so he’s one that always wants to do it right. Especially in the flat and a little bit jumping too, he’s always trying to anticipate what you’re about to ask or how to do it. As he’s developing he’s getting more and more confident and softer and softer and he’s got potential to do anything. But he’s still in development phase, he’s only 10 this year. 

Are there any specific health-care routines that you follow with them?

We’ve got a great team of vets that help us—Dr. Jamie Carter, Dr. Lauren Ray, who are both at Southern Equine [Service] right now in Aiken, South Carolina. As far as our fitness stuff, we do a ton of walking and I really think that’s advantageous. The other big house rule is that if they feel anything off—stop. I think rest is probably the most significant component and we’re very, very quick to give them a day or two off if anything looks funky at all. As far as injections and that kind of stuff, we don’t do an absolute ton. Nutritionally, we work with Purina and their vets stop by on a semi-annual basis to check in. I think their attention to detail and research keeps [the horses] nutritionally in great shape.

Doug Payne and Vandiver at the 2021 Carolina International Horse Trials. ©Julia Murphy for Practical Horseman

Do you have any superstitions or pre-show routines?

No, not really. It’s really chaotic right now. My wife and I have two kids, they’re 1 and 3. And we’ve been in a four-year process of building a farm up just north of Hillsborough, North Carolina. So, we’re probably moving in the next two weeks. In many ways, you learn to operate with the gas. And frankly, sometimes it’s better because then you don’t overthink any of the other stuff. You just kind of get on. Once you’re on, you’re obviously focused on that, but when you’re off, there’s not a ton of time to think. We’re just spent because the kids are wild, so if you get enough sleep, that’s good enough. 

What do you think the most challenging part of the Kentucky Three-Day Event might be this year?

The goal is to finish on your dressage score, right? So hopefully I’ll make that happen. There’s not one particular aspect, I think, that makes this year easier or harder. It’s a little different with the move and all that stuff happening. Fitness-wise, I think [the horses] are actually in really good shape right now. I think we’re actually probably ahead of where we were in years past. It’s always tricky starting in a new place trying to figure out how fit they’re going to get off what facilities you have once you’re in. 

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