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, one of which is Margie Engle's partner, Royce, a show-jumping celebrity. 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.
Occupation: Show jumping
Hometowns: Wellington, Florida and Chamant, France
Basic stats: 15-year-old, 16.2-hand Oldenburg stallion
Sire: Café Au Lait
Dam: Petula (by Grandilot)
Breeder: Gestüt Lewitz
Owner: Gladewinds Partners, LLC
Rider: Margie Engle
Flat/Dressage Rider: Lisa Wilcox
Barn Manager: Bernie Maier, who also helps flat Royce
BACKGROUND: Royce has the presence of a stallion with massive power and scope that is skillfully piloted around grand prix courses by the petite Margie Engle. And while he might appear to be all business in the arena, he’s got a fun side. For example, he responds when you call his name. “You can call him from anywhere and he turns around and comes over like a dog, whether he’s in his paddock or in his stall,” Engle says. He’s also playful and will snatch anything he can get his mouth on. “He’s grabbed my phone out of my hand before,” she says. “He plays with a stick all the time, he grabs the broom—he actually hit someone with the broom once when it was by his stall. Royce was like ‘Hey, you aren’t paying attention to me!’ He’s quite a comedian.”
Royce was bred by Gestüt Lewitz, a stud farm owned by Paul Schockemöhle in Germany. Russia’s Liubov Kochetova then competed him before Engle and a group of partners purchased him as a 7-year-old.
According to Engle, Royce always had tremendous power, scope and carefulness—but he was a little wild. The jumps themselves were never the problem. “I couldn’t turn very well to the left. He’d jump amazing when he got there,” she says. But he was missing the basic elements of rideability between the jumps. “He did grand prix before he could walk, trot and canter,” she says. So, Engle enlisted the help of U.S. dressage Olympian Lisa Wilcox to improve his rideability.
Royce was also challenging to handle and turn out, but over the years, he has learned to relax and just be a horse outside of the ring. Inside the ring, however, the pair became an unstoppable force once Engle was able to harness his power. Nowadays, the pair dominates the most challenging jumper courses in the world with dependability. “He’s been so consistent. He’s been clean every first round of almost every grand prix he’s done,” Engle says.
But it takes more to be a world-class athlete than pure talent and good training. “I just admire how much heart he has,” Engle explains. “He’s very brave. ... There’s never a course I walk into and say ‘I don’t think he can jump it.’ He’s so kind about everything.”
See also: Sporthorse Stars: Donner
DAILY ROUTINE: Royce is fed around 6 a.m., is ridden either by Engle or Wilcox and then goes out in a paddock for as long as he likes. He usually has some kind of therapeutic work performed on him each day, and then, if the weather is good, he might get turned out for a second time.
He is generally ridden six days a week. When he’s in Wellington, Wilcox rides him twice each week while Engle observes. “I learn a lot just by watching,” she says. “And [Lisa’s] helped me and some of my students. She’s very generous with her time. It really helps the whole program.” After Wilcox is done with Royce, Engle will take him for a trail ride or a walk down the road because he enjoys it.
For a horse whose primary job is jumping, his training program doesn’t actually include much jumping at all. “I like to save his jumps for the [competition] ring,” Engle said. “It’s better not to overjump them. You can do other exercises to keep them fit.” Additionally, Engle tries to ride him on different surfaces and do some cavalletti and bounce work to keep him fit between shows. She also likes to give him ample time off—he had three months off before the winter circuit started. She ramped up his work, introducing bounces and small jumps as show season drew closer. (Go to PracticalHorsemanMag.com to read Engle’s article “Fit and Fun for Life” about ground-pole work and cavalletti.)
NUTRITION: Royce receives three meals of Purina per day with hay cubes in between. Engle also likes to use a HayGain steamer to feed steamed hay. In addition to his regular grain and forage, she feeds him a variety of supplements by Finish Line, including a multivitamin, electrolytes and Stretch Run Plus, a daily liquid supplement that supports healthy metabolic muscle functions. Engle takes it herself, saying it helps with recovery time. Royce also receives Gastrogard.
See also: Sporthorse Stars: Private Practice
OTHER CARE: Engle has a very open-minded approach to horse care. “Anything that might help him, he gets,” she says. Royce receives acupuncture every two weeks and also has regular chiropractic work performed by Engle’s husband, veterinarian and equine chiropractor Dr. Steve Engle. Royce is adjusted every night before he shows and once a week when he isn’t competing. “Lisa can feel the chiropractic adjustments, too,” she says. “It’s like night and day.”
Royce spends time on a TheraPlate—a vibrating, horse-sized therapy plate—and receives pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) via a machine from Pulse Equine. Both machines are aimed to promote the body’s healing process for optimal function, but they operate in different ways. Royce has therapeutic ultrasounds done and receives laser treatment. Engle utilizes a magnetic blanket, too.
MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Selected as 2018 USEF Grand Prix Horse of the Year • Winner, 2018 $500,000 Rolex CSI*****
This article was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Practical Horseman.