Horses don’t make it to the top of the sport by chance. Although luck plays a part, larger factors contribute to success at the elite level: partnership with the rider, strategic training, an ample dose of talent, a knowledgeable team of professionals and a program of meticulous management and care. While thoughtful care might not bring every horse to the top levels, you can bet that each of the horses competing at the Olympics or topping national leaderboards has a personalized program to bring out the best in his or her health and performance.
In this series, we'll take a glimpse into the daily management and care of leading sporthorses, the first of which is Tori Colvin's partner, Private Practice, a hero in the hunter ring. While each program is tailored to the specific demands of these icons, one common strategy is clear: There is no magic pill that these horses thrive on. It’s simply attentive care by professionals who listen closely to their needs.
Hometowns: Wellington, Florida and Franklin, Tennessee
Basic Stats: 9-year-old, 15.3 ½-hand Holsteiner gelding
Private Practice’s People
Owner: Brad Wolf
Rider: Victoria “Tori” Colvin
Trainer: Tom Wright
Barn Manager: Torrey Hardison
Groom: Aurelio Elizondo
Flat Rider: Dinette Neuteboom
BACKGROUND: You could say that leading hunter rider Tori Colvin has a “type,” and as a chestnut with lots of chrome, Private Practice or “Peter” is it. Colvin stumbled upon Peter when she visited a barn to try another horse. She saw Peter—who had previously been a jumper competed by Eduardo Menezes named “Lord Valencia”—in his stall in 2017 and thought he could make a hunter. Her instinct was right, and thoracic surgeon Brad Wolf purchased the horse for Colvin to compete and renamed him “Private Practice.”
Although Peter has natural aptitude for jumping, helping him learn to go as a hunter, rather than a jumper, took a bit of time, but he quickly hit a more relaxed stride and garnered significant wins during his first year as a hunter in 2018. “We had to get him to settle in and just go a little smoother,” Colvin explains. At first, as he was coming off his jumper career, Peter was a little too much horse for Wolf. “He just has such an incredible jump,” he says. “My trainer [Tom Wright] and I talked about it, and we said that this is going to be an amazing horse and if it doesn’t work out for me, it will be great for Tori for a year and then we can sell him. But, surprisingly, so far it’s worked out for me, too,” he says with a laugh. “He’s settled down over the years and has just become a different horse.” Wolf now also competes Peter, winning champion and reserve titles in the Amateur Owner divisions. “He’s got a great athletic ability, but he has an incredible mind,” Wolf says.
In the barn, Peter knows that he’s a big deal but doesn’t let his ego take over. “He’s really sweet and he’s really easy to ride, and I think he kind of knows that he’s the best,” Colvin says. Wolf echoes the sentiments about Peter’s sweet nature. “This horse wants to be with people,” he says. “He wants to put his head in your hands, lays down, like right on you. And you know all he wants to do is get treats. He’s more like a dog, like a puppy.”
DAILY ROUTINE: Peter is typically worked once a day in the mornings and then goes out for about an hour and a half each day. During the winter season in Florida, he typically goes on the water treadmill three days per week but, of course, it changes depending on his showing schedule. When he returns to Tennessee after the Florida season, there isn’t a water treadmill at the facility, so they substitute the treadmill work with time on the horse walker for 30 minutes once each day. He also gets Mondays off as his rest day.
As for work over fences, he doesn’t jump much. “If we know he’s going to be showing, he might jump twice the week before the show and then once the week of show,” Colvin explains. He might do cavalletti and maybe some bounces, but he doesn’t really do a full course until he’s getting ready to show. “He’s easy,” she says. “He’s like a springboard. His legs are always the same, whether it’s a small jump or a big one, it doesn’t matter.”
NUTRITION: Torrey Hardison, who oversees Peter’s care in the barn, explains that he’s actually a very low-maintenance horse in terms of his nutrition. He is fed timothy hay four times per day, including at night check, and he eats half a scoop of grain in the mornings and evenings. His diet is supplemented by an overall vitamin supplement from Platinum Performance twice a day, in addition to a supplement called Vitalize Alimend that promotes gastric health. Once a day, he receives EquiThrive, and when he’s traveling, he gets Gastrogard.
OTHER CARE: Hardison says that the team performs PEMF treatments on Peter each day via a Magna Wave machine. The treatment utilizes a pulsating magnetic field emitted from tubes that drape over the horse’s body to help to speed the body’s recovery period by breaking down lactic acid. Peter also spends time standing on a magnetic therapy footboard.
A unique component of Peter’s care and management has been the incorporation of eCORE, a program designed to help optimize a horse’s physical condition. In December, before the 2019 winter season, Peter’s team worked with Sherry Johnson, DVM, to determine a specialized fitness plan for Peter. “The veterinarian watches videos of your horse and takes pictures of every angle of your horse; then she develops a 4- to 6-week plan to help you reach your goals as far as performance—if you want gain muscle, fitness,” Hardison explains. “So we worked with her and did a lot of stretches with him, and she helped us figure out a plan and a routine for him on the water treadmill. And we did that for four weeks prior to [the Winter Equestrian Festival] starting. And it really helped build his muscle and get his fitness to a level that was optimal for his performance.”
MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS: WCHR Hunter of the Year 2018 • Winner, 2019 $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular • Multiple USHJA International Hunter Derby titles • Champion, Green 3’9” Hunter section, Devon and Pennsylvania National horse shows • 2019 Devon Grand Hunter Championship • 2019 Sally Deaver Murray Memorial Challenge Trophy
See also: Sporthorse Stars: Donner
This article was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Practical Horseman.