Sharon White Looks Forward to Claus 63’s Five-Star Debut

Eventer Sharon White is trusting in her experience and training regimen to guide Claus 63 at the Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI5*.

By Sally Spickard

Sharon White
Sharon White will be compete in Claus 63’s five-star debut at the 2024 Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI5*. ©Amy K. Dragoo

Sharon White is no stranger to producing horses to the CCI5* level. When she canters down the centerline in Rolex Stadium at the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by MARS Equestrian, April 25-28, next week with Claus 63, it will be the sixth horse she has brought to the level during her lengthy career.

As with any horse, Claus 63 (Catoo–Tina II, by Levisto) is unique from White’s former five-star rides, the most recent of which was Cooley On Show, who finished as competitive as eighth place at the level—in Kentucky in 2018.

“[Claus] is very, very different in his own way,” White described. “He’s always been really sharp and he’s still really sharp, but I also think he’s gotten a lot more confident in himself. Age has really helped. He’s always been a horse that puts 150% in any direction. So guiding him and getting him to relax is really what my goal has been, so he can use his body and his mind in a productive way.”

Claus was purchased sight unseen as a 5-year-old from German Olympian Dirk Schrade, with whom White has had a professional relationship since the days of competing Under Suspection, the first horse she sourced from Schrade. “She was such a wonderful horse,” White recalled. “I just absolutely loved her. She was the first horse I ever had that knew more than I did, and that’s really special. So that’s why I have so much faith in Dirk, because of Under Suspection.”

‘They Tell You When They’re Ready’

Dedicating time to truly understanding each horse as a unique individual is perhaps a key to White’s success in producing horses to the top levels with consistency. Foremost among White’s training philosophies is the sense of trust and empathy between her and her horses.

She has often described Claus 63 as “careful” and “emotional.” These are two personality traits she’s worked to understand and account for as the 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding progressed through his eventing career.

“I think it’s a never-ending process,” White described when asked what lessons she carried from the five other horses she has produced to the five-star level over the years. “That’s the beauty and the pain of it. It’s always a little bit of ‘if only I knew then, what I know now.’ That that’s really life right there, to a tee, but with horses in particular, it’s so true.”

Claus 63's First Five-Star
White says Claus has been qualified to compete at the five-star level for many years, but she waited until he let her know that he was ready. ©Amy K. Dragoo

“The biggest thing Claus has taught me is how important the mental side is,” she continued. “I will always appreciate that about him. They always teach you something, and I think back to Ready About, my very first five-star horse, and I’m like, ‘Wow I knew nothing.’ It just gets better over time, the more knowledge you gain, the more experience … . You can be better for your horses and that’s just a real joy of it.”

On paper, White may have considered moving Claus up to the five-star level sooner, but as she puts it, “they tell you when they’re ready.”

“He’s been qualified for a five-star for many years, but this is the first time he’s been so clear with me that he’s ready. I cannot put that into words fully, but he’s ready.”

Trust in Herself and Her Training Regimen

An admitted overthinker, White has reminded herself then to think practically, using the knowledge she possesses and to trust in herself and her training regimen. Claus certainly didn’t lack desire or talent for what she was asking. How could she, then, set him up to feel the strongest in himself and to put his trust in her?

A longtime student of Jimmy Wofford’s, White still credits him with much of her training toolbox to this day. This includes, among many things, her usage of Wofford’s “cowboy warm-up,” in which the rider rides their horse on a loose rein at the walk, trot, and canter to start a training session. This encourages the horses to find their own balance and self-carriage and shows they are not leaning or pulling on the bridle. This can in turn lead to an increase in confidence as the horse gains strength and trust in his own body.

Wofford wasn’t just a master at training horses—he also excelled at training riders. “Jimmy was also pretty good at the mental game,” White reflected. “And it’s something I always need to work on.”

Claus 63's First Five-Star
In preparation for his five-star debut at the Kentucky Three-Day Event, Claus has done jumper shows, dressage shows, eventing competitions and plenty of fitness work. ©Amy K. Dragoo

In her preparation for an eventual step up to five-star, White competed at the Lexington CCI4*-S in 2022 with Claus. The pair has since also represented the United States at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile. There they helped the U.S. earn a team silver medal. White is strategic in her selection of competitions, choosing when to put her horses into an educational environment and when to up the ante in terms of pressure. As Claus has gained experience and confidence, he’s collected more competitive results: He won the CCI4*-S at Ocala International in Florida and the Advanced at Millbrook in New York in 2023.

Grateful for Kentucky

As the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event approaches, White remains focused on her goal of achieving both an educational and a competitive result. “No stone has been left unturned” in terms of preparation. Claus has done jumper shows, dressage shows, eventing competitions and plenty of fitness work in between to ensure he’s feeling the most confident he can ahead of this debut. “My routine is getting fine-tuned and better and better, I think,” she commented.

When asked what lessons she has learned in her accumulation of five-star starts, White thought for a moment before answering.

“I think I’m trying not to forget to be grateful for the chance of doing it,” she mused. “That’s easy to forget in your desire to succeed and do well. It’s very easy to forget just the sheer gratitude of making it there. And I haven’t even made it there yet. I think it’s very important to appreciate that. And I can’t say I’ve ever really appreciated that because you’re too focused on doing well. Everyone’s always like ‘be grateful,’ and I consider myself to be a grateful person. But I also realize this year I want to be able to just be grateful for Kentucky. I’m grateful for all the people in my life and for Claus. I perform better, my horses perform better when I am in that place. So therefore I’d better be in that place, a place of love.”

The Right Mindset

Claus 63's First Five-Star
White has added the support of a sport psychologist this yea. She also strongly believes in the benefits of mediation and mindfulness practice to help with intense competition. ©Amy K. Dragoo

Approaching a new milestone with a new horse is always a challenge. Claus 63 will have the benefit of experience in White. She believes strongly in the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practice. These keep her in the right frame of mind for intense competition. This year, she’s also added the support of sport psychologist Natalie Hummel, whom she connected with at the U.S. Eventing Association Convention in the winter.

“Failure at Kentucky is what prompted me to start [the practice of meditation and mindfulness]. It was a year with Cooley On Show when it didn’t go so well, and so I went all in. My mindset has gotten better. Pretty soon, my mind is going to be my strongest asset! Maybe it already is.”

“At the end of the day, if I’m doing right by Claus, I’m doing it right,” she concluded. “I’m putting him first. And if I go out and show him how to do his job, and that both of us can still work while we’re having an emotion, I know we can be successful.”

Thanks to Kent Nutrition Group and Blue Seal for our coverage of the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event. It includes rider interviews, competition reports, horse spotlights, photos, videos and more.

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