Taking Care of Champions: Juvina, Shamwari, Jersey Boy, Verdades

Learn how four elite equine athletes’ support teams keep them at the top of their game.

In horse sports, greatness comes in all shapes, sizes and personalities. But behind every great horse, there’s always a team of people providing state-of-the-art care. This month we’ll give you a behind-the-scenes look at four of the United States’ current international stars: grand prix jumper champion Juvina, hunter-derby legend Jersey Boy, World Equestrian Games eventer Shamwari 4 and WEG rising dressage star Verdades.

All four of these horses have talent to spare, but they’ve come into their own in different ways. Juvina and Shamwari are both relatively new to the U.S. Straightforward and easygoing, Juvina has thrived in the show ring with her new partner, Georgina Bloomberg, but partly because she gets a stronger male ride at home. Shamwari needed a predictable routine and dedicated groom to draw him out of his shell. On the other extreme, Jersey Boy and Verdades sometimes need help reining in their boisterous personalities.

These athletes’ teams all follow basic horse-care rules—providing plenty of roughage and turnout, basic nutritional support, such as electrolytes, and regular shoeing every four to five weeks—but they also seek more sophisticated solutions whenever they need them. Juvina’s trainer, Jimmy Doyle, routinely screens her blood to ensure that she’s healthy and receiving the best possible nutrition. Verdades’s rider, Laura Graves, resorted to blood work to discover that he has food allergies. (Coincidentally, Jersey Boy suffers from food allergies, as well.) As Laura says, “It’s all about being really in tune to your horse, noticing the second when he’s not comfortable and identifying any issue before it becomes a problem.”

Occupation:Show jumper
North Salem, New York (summer), and Wellington, Florida (winter)

Last fall, Georgina Bloomberg and Juvina took third place in the $250,000 CP World Cup Qualifier at the National Horse Show. | © Shawn McMillen

Basic stats:
Austrian warmblood
Cassini I
17.3 hands

Juvina’s people:
Gotham Enterprizes LLC
Georgina Bloomberg
Jimmy Doyle
Exercise rider:
Vasco Flores
Juan Rosales

Major accomplishments:
This fall, Juvina and Georgina won the inaugural $210,00 Central Park Grand Prix and were third in both the inaugural $475,000 Longines Grand Prix of Los Angeles and the $250,000 CP World Cup Qualifier at the National Horse Show. Earlier in the year, they were members of the U.S. teams that won the Nations Cup in Spain and finished third at the Nations Cup in Sweden.

Background: Georgina first saw videos of the big mare jumping in Austria with Stefanie Bistan and thought she was scopey. She bought half of the mare from German trainer Dietmar Gugler in the winter of 2013 but didn’t start riding her until she went to Europe that summer to compete. “The first time I jumped her at Dietmar’s farm, I wasn’t sure we would be a good match,” she remembers. “She was big and powerful and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to control her. Then I took her to a show and, after my first class, I told Dietmar I wanted to buy him out!”

After every jumping session, Juan Rosales applies ice boots to Juvina’s legs for 20 to 30 minutes. The unclipped patch of hair on Juvina’s side protects her skin from spur rubs. | Courtesy, Gotham North

“Juvina liked to shake her head a bit on the way to the jump and I think that turned a lot of people away,” adds Jimmy. That’s no longer a problem. “We don’t overbridle her—and Georgina leaves her alone in front of the jumps. I just think the mare likes her.” Georgina adds that they tried many different bits before discovering that a swale pelham gave her just enough control without upsetting Juvina’s sensitive mouth.

Juvina took six months off that first winter when Georgina had her son, Jasper. “We didn’t compete her at all—she was just flatting and in the paddock, which did her a world of good,” says Georgina. Now that both horse and rider are back in form, they compete about twice a month. “She makes it count when she does compete, so we are careful with how many shows she does.”

Daily routine:At home, says Georgina, “Juvina is quiet in the barn, but in a motherly, calm sort of way. She knows that she is the queen bee and she has nothing to prove.” Jimmy agrees, saying, “She’s very, very easy.” Because her behavior is so consistent, she doesn’t receive any synthetic hormone treatments to control her cycles.

Most of her daily workouts are geared toward maintaining fitness. She goes on the treadmill for half an hour a day. When she’s in North Salem, she walks and trots on the steep hills around the farm a few days a week and goes on occasional trail rides. She does very little jumping at home but instead does cavalletti work about twice a week during the season.

Because Juvina is so big, says Georgina, “she needs a big, strong man on her as much as possible to pull her together. Our work rider at home, Vasco Flores, is a huge help. I ride her at shows and once or twice a week at home.”

Juan applies ice boots to Juvina’s legs after every jumping session for 20 to 30 minutes, then puts on stable bandages. Sometimes she might stand in a tub of ice water for 20 to 30 minutes, as well. “It’s the same thing the professional football players do,” says Jimmy. “If you stood around on concrete and jumped so much, you’d want to do it, too!”

Rescue pig Wilbur visits Juvina in her stall. | Courtesy, Gotham North

Juvina’s favorite thing at home is turnout. She goes out for at least an hour in the morning, then again later in the afternoon if she needs extra relaxation time. “Mentally and physically, it’s great for her,” says Jimmy. “She does so much traveling and showing, at home it’s time to relax.” When she’s in New York, she enjoys a large grass paddock where she is occasionally visited by Georgina’s rescue pig, Wilbur.

Nutrition: Juvina can be hard to keep weight on, especially when she’s traveling. Georgina explains, “She isn’t a horse that likes to sit still.” Jimmy feeds her what he calls “common-sense feed—beet pulp, oats, Cavalor® grain, carrots and apples. I look to see what she needs and change it throughout the year.” At home, she’s fed a good quality 60/40 timothy/alfalfa hay three times a day. When she’s on the road, she receives hay four times a day, “so she always has something to chew on,” he says.

Twice a year, the veterinarian performs a blood screening to check that all is in order and to see if Juvina is lacking any vitamins or minerals. If anything is amiss, Jimmy adjusts her diet accordingly.

Other care: Fortunately, says Jimmy, “Juvina keeps herself super sound. Our blacksmith makes custom shoes for her and gives us an extra set to take to Europe.” At the Nations Cup in Spain, the mare suffered a bruise on her frog, and Jimmy gave her a month off to recover, poulticing her feet to draw out the bruise. He adds, “There’s no magic in this game. It’s just common sense and knowing your horse.”

Juvina receives Adequan® and Legend® injections periodically after shows, which Jimmy says helps her continue to perform well for her age. Again, he emphasizes the need for common sense. “If our horses don’t need injections, they don’t get them.”

On the road, says Georgina, “she ships well. We treat her like a queen bee, making sure that she has at least a stall and a half since she is long and we like to keep her comfy.”

Jersey Boy
Nickname: Lewis
Show hunter
Buffalo, New York (summer), and Ocala, Florida (winter)

In his stall at shows, Jersey Boy enjoys the company of stuffed animals. He wears a plastic bib to prevent him from shredding blankets and bandages. | Courtesy, Jennifer Alfano

Basic stats:
Breed: Hanoverian
Sire: White Star
Age: 12
Height: 16.1 hands

Jersey Boy’s people:
Owner: Susie Schoellkopf, SBS Farms Inc.
Rider: Jen Alfano
Groom/exercise rider: Jessica Litfin

Major accomplishments: Jersey Boy currently leads the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s International Hunter Derby lifetime earnings list, with a total of $264,678 in derby prize money won since 2007. He has won nearly 30 hunter derbies, including the 2012 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals, as well as numerous working and high performance hunter championships.

Background: Susie bought Lewis as a very green 4-year-old. “We thought he’d be a good investment as a sale horse,” remembers Jen. “He was cute, but none of us thought he’d be that special.” He turned out to be so quirky and difficult under saddle that “we couldn’t have given him away!” she says. “He was very spooky and opinionated.”

Jersey Boy began his career as a jumper before Jennifer Alfano discovered his affinity for the hunter ring. | © Flashpoint Photography

Jen started Lewis in the jumpers that first winter. “He kept clearing the jumps, so we kept moving up the levels. He did the 5-year-olds in the spring and was very scopey, but sospooky. That got hard.” On a whim, she entered him in a conformation hunter class and discovered that the hunters suited him much better. His new career blossomed when he was 7, the year the USHJA began offering hunter derbies, which he has dominated ever since.

Lewis is still a handful, both under saddle and in the barn. His warm-ups are often erratic. “He doesn’t put any effort into his first couple jumps,” says Jen. “Over a three-foot fence, he’ll look like he couldn’t go six inches higher. Then he messes around.” He is especially difficult in small schooling areas, she adds. “He won’t jump. Sometimes all we can do is a small crossrail before we go into the ring. He’s always been quirky—and we just live with it.”

After so many years of success, Jen has gradually cut back on Lewis’s once busy show schedule. However, she still likes to show him steadily throughout the year, explaining, “It’s hard to keep jumping fit when you don’t show enough, so we don’t let him down too long.” He gets a few days to a week off now and then in between big shows. And, after the last show of the fall, he takes a full month off. “The farrier pulls his shoes and we let him grow his coat long. We turn him out and let him be a horse.” A few weeks before the barn heads south for the winter, he starts back with flatwork. Once in Florida, he’s clipped and shod and starts jumping again.

Daily routine:Around the barn, “Lewis a terror!” says Jen. “He used to reach over the walls to get to the horse in the next stall, so we put him at the end of the back aisle of the barn all by himself. He didn’t care.” Although Lewis is better behaved around other horses now, he bites, kicks and stomps when he’s in the cross-ties. “He’s never still. He really doesn’t like being groomed. He can pin his ears back so far he doesn’t look like he has ears! But it’s very hard to be mad at him. He’s like that kid in school who was always in trouble but couldn’t help it.”

Whenever Lewis wears blankets or leg wraps in his stall, he also has to wear a plastic bib, a cup-like device attached to his halter. This allows him to eat and drink normally, but prevents him from destroying the blankets and bandages. Otherwise, says Jen, “He shreds everything.”

Groom and exercise rider Jessica Litfin accompanies Jersey Boy and Jennifer Alfano as they accept the reserve championship at the 2014 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. | © Shawn McMillen

Lewis is turned out only about three days a week, partly because his barn is based in the city and has limited pasture space but also because he prefers to be in the barn. “After about an hour, he starts running up and down the fence line, screaming to come in,” Jen explains.

Jen does most of his riding, but his groom, Jessica, exercises him sometimes, too. Because he’s such an experienced jumper and competes so frequently, he rarely jumps at home. If he goes longer than three or four weeks between shows, Jen jumps him just enough to keep his muscles jumping fit.

Nutrition: Lewis is a relatively easy keeper, so Jen watches his weight carefully. “I don’t want him to get too fat,” she says. His twice-daily grain meals consist of timothy pellets, whole oats, flaxseed and beet pulp. He also receives four servings per day of soaked timothy hay. He breaks out in allergic hives whenever he eats alfalfa, so his team diligently avoids exposing him to anything containing that.

Lewis also receives a number of supplements: Platinum Performance® Equine, Myo-Vet® for muscle strength and recovery, and sucralfate powder to support healthy hind-gut digestion. At competitions, Jen also gives him UlcerGard® as a preventative measure to counteract the effects of the high-pressure, high-stress show atmosphere—“not that he’s ever stressed!” she adds with a laugh.

Other care: Besides keeping everyone on their toes during grooming, Lewis is extremely low-maintenance. He has always had good feet and is shod with conventional shoes and rim pads. After jumping at home or at shows, he wears Back on Track therapeutic leg wraps, which are designed to decrease swelling. He also stands on a magnetic footpad at shows. Periodically, a chiropractor works on him, along with the other horses in his barn.

Lewis brings along his own friends when he’s on the road. Four stuffed animals hang on his blanket chain by his stall door—just out of reach, of course. “He’ll chew on them if he can,” Jen says. “One of them is missing a leg because of him.”

Shamwari 4
Nickname: Shammie
Cochranville, Pennsylvania (summer), and Aiken, South Carolina (winter)

Shamwari and Boyd Martin were the highest-placed American eveners at the 2014 World Equestrian Games. | © Pierre Costabadie/arnd.nl

Basic stats:
Breed: Hanoverian
Sire: Star Regent xx
Age: 12
Height: 16.3 hands

Shamwari’s people:
Owners: Shamwari 4 Syndicate LLC
Rider: Boyd Martin
Assistant/exercise riders: Silva Martin, Caitlin Silliman, Michael Pendleton
Grooms: Kat Lissett, Sergio Reyes

Major accomplishments:Before joining Boyd’s string, Shamwari competed with Swedish rider Ludwig Svennerstal at the 2012 Olympics, finishing fourth as a team and 20th individually, and in the 2013 European Championships, where they won team silver. Shamwari and Boyd were the highest-placed American eventers at WEG last year, finishing eighth individually. (At print time, the FEI had not yet deliberated about the fifth-placed French horse, who had a positive drug test. Disqualification of that horse would move Shammie and Boyd to seventh.) Before that, they were awarded a Land Rover grant to compete at the CCI4* in Luhmühlen, Germany, where they placed third.

Background: Shamwari was born and raised in Germany. Ludwig bought him as a 6-year-old, moving him to his home base in England. Last January, Boyd formed a syndicate of supporters to buy the horse for him to campaign at the international level.

Shamwari spends most of his day turned out. | © Pierre Costabadie/arnd.nl

Unfortunately, just two months after Shammie arrived in the States, Boyd broke his leg. Normally, his wife, Silva, who is a Grand Prix dressage rider, would have kept the horse going on the flat, but she was sidelined as well with a serious head injury. “It was a real challenge,” says Boyd. “Luckily I’m surrounded by great riders here.” While the couple recovered, their assistant trainer, Caitlin Silliman, rode Shammie. Boyd’s good friend Phillip Dutton competed him in several horse trials to prep for his three-day events.

“He’s one of the quietest horses I’ve ever had,” says Boyd, who learned the hard way that Shammie has an aversion to loud noises and tractors. At WEG, the dressage warm-up was underneath the stands. A schedule break occurred while they were warming up. “People got up and made a lot of noise with their feet on the stands. He went from very quiet to explosive.”

Shammie’s show schedule usually includes four horse trials, ridden conservatively, before a four-star three-day event, which is then followed by a break before prepping for the next three-day. Last year, says Boyd, “he did quite a bit of eventing in a short period of time, so he earned a well-deserved break.” Shammie enjoyed several months of the fall in his pasture before he started legging up again in November.

Daily routine:When Shammie arrived at his new home, Boyd says, “he was a little suspicious and quirky at first. Now that he’s settled in and comfortable with the barn routine, he’s changed 180 degrees.” Boyd’s head groom, Kat, gives her assistant groom, Sergio, much of the credit for this, saying, “I think Shammie’s a one-person kind of horse. He doesn’t like a lot of people messing with him. Sergio oversees all of his personal care and he’s happier that way.” Boyd agrees, “This horse is the most important thing in Sergio’s life. He’ll come in on his day off to groom him and check up on him. He caters to all of Shammie’s needs.”

Michael Pendleton hacks Shamwari. He and Caitlin Silliman do all of Shamwari’s hacking and some of his conditioning work. | Courtesy, Boyd Martin

Shammie gets a full grooming in the morning before his ride, which is usually a two-parter. For example, one day he may walk for 40 minutes on trails through the woods or on the rolling fields around the cross-country course before coming back to the ring to school dressage. On another day, he might jump and then go out to the hills for a trot set. Boyd does most of the riding. Silva does about half of Shammie’s dressage training and Caitlin and Michael do all of the hacking and some of the conditioning work.

After his workout, Shammie is bathed and then put in his stall to dry. He stands in boots filled with ice water for about 20 minutes after every gallop or cross-country course. He then spends the rest of the day in a large grassy pasture, one of the three that are reserved for the four-star horses in the barn so they aren’t overgrazed. Like Juvina, Shammie loves his turnout. “He would live out all the time if he could,” says Boyd. “He’s very happy eating grass all day.”

When he comes back into the barn at night, Shammie gets another full grooming. “That’s what makes the horses look so good,” says Kat. “It takes a lot of elbow grease to get their coats this shiny.” Sergio then wraps his front legs for the night. “We like to wrap a lot,” explains Kat. “It helps to support their legs when they’re in a heavy work schedule.”

During the competition season, Shammie also swims once a week at a nearby racehorse facility, Maui Meadow Farm. “It’s great for his strength and fitness, and it’s not concussive so it’s really easy on his joints,” says Kat.

Nutrition: Being about 60 percent Thoroughbred and a picky eater, Shamwari is not an easy keeper. “It’s very difficult to keep weight on him,” says Boyd. “We figured out that he likes to eat a little bit lots of times a day. So we give him five meals.” Kat rotates him through various different Purina feeds, changing the grain as soon as he seems to lose interest, which can happen within just one week. She also feeds him a variety of SmartPakTM supplements, including SmartGainTM to help maintain his weight and SmartGut® Ultra Pellets to prevent stomach ulcers.

Groom Sergio Reyes wraps Shamwari’s legs for the night to help provide support. | Courtesy, Boyd Martin

In addition to his daily grass fix, Shammie is also fed hay several times a day in his stall. A local farmer, Jamie Hicks, plants a special high-end hay field specifically for Boyd’s four-star horses. It’s about 80 percent timothy and 20 percent alfalfa.

Other care: “Shammie is pretty sound and straightforward,” says Kat. Every one to two weeks, his veterinarian, Dr. Kevin Keane, goes over him thoroughly “to make sure we’re not missing anything subtle,” says Boyd.

During the competition season, he gets a weekly massage from myofascial release specialist Pat McGraw. He also occasionally receives laser therapy (from an MR4 ACTIVetTM laser) whenever he seems a little stiff or sore—on his legs, neck, back, etc.

Otherwise, says Boyd, “We treat him like a rock star. He’s getting used to the international lifestyle.”

Geneva, Florida

Verdades is turned out in a paddock for as long as he likes, which can be anywhere from two to eight hours. | Courtesy, Laura Graves

Basic stats:
Breed: Dutch warmblood
Sire: Florett AS
Age: 12
Height: 17 hands

Verdades’s people:
Owner/Rider/Groom: Laura Graves
Trainer: Debbie McDonald

Major accomplishments: In his first year at the Grand Prix level, Diddy finished second overall in that division at the 2014 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions. He and Laura then traveled to Europe, placing second in a CDI4* in Austria and breaking into the top 10 in the CDIP5* in Aachen, Germany. This earned them a spot on the U.S. team at WEG, where they helped the team finish fourth and individually placed eighth in the Special and fifth in the Freestyle.

At the 2014 World Equestrian Games, Laura Graves and Verdades helped the U.S. team finish fourth and individually placed eighth in the Special and fifth in the Freestyle. | © Pierre Costabadie/arnd.nl

Background: Laura’s mother picked 6-month-old Verdades out of a video of young prospects from a Dutch agent. “My first choice was already sold,” remembers Laura, “so we bought Mom’s first choice.” Besides a little help getting him started under saddle and a handful of times that her former trainer, Anne Gribbons, sat on him, Laura is the only person who has ridden Diddy. “He’s sensitive so it’s always easier for me to teach him new things,” she says.

Under saddle, says Laura, “he takes his work very seriously. He never tries to be naughty. In the barn, he’s very different. He’s so goofy. His favorite game is to grab blankets off the blanket bar and throw them across the barn—like a kid who throws his pacifier on the ground just so you have to pick it up.”

Unfortunately, Diddy’s playful antics resulted in an injury in 2011. While playing with his stall door, he caught a wolf tooth on the bars. He pulled himself loose but broke both sides of his upper jaw. The injury required surgical insertion of a metal pin to fuse the bone back together. Once that healed, the pin was removed, leaving a small hole in his gums above his teeth. Finding comfortable bits for Diddy, therefore, has been a challenge until recently. Last spring, Laura discovered a Neue Schule bit. “His scores went from 65 to almost 70 in one show,” she says. She later changed his bridoon from a loose ring to an eggbutt and his scores went up another five points.

Diddy shows only five to seven times a year. With the exception of last year when he traveled to Europe, he has traditionally enjoyed two months off from the arena during the summer. Laura pulls his shoes and limits his rides to long walks and fitness workouts in the fields.

Daily routine:Laura currently has no staff to help her with horse care. “I do all of my own grooming. That’s very important to me. It’s the time when I get to see how he’s feeling in his body, what his legs look like, whether or not his back is sensitive to the currycomb.” Diddy loves being groomed and particularly enjoys being curried, she adds. Before rides, she uses carrots to encourage him to stretch his back and neck. She also does some tail pulls and runs a finger under his belly to make him flex his back.

At least once a week, Diddy trots over cavalletti and hacks. During noncompetition weeks, he also does weekly interval training in a big field. Laura programs an app, the HIIT Interval Training Timer, on her smartphone, which she clips to her belt. The phone blows a whistle when it’s time to switch gaits. As he gets fitter, she gradually shortens the walk intervals.

After every workout, Laura ices Diddy’s legs with EquiFit GelCompression boots for 20 minutes. She also hand-walks him for about 20 minutes a day and turns him out in a paddock for as long as he likes. Sometimes that’s two hours, sometimes it’s eight. When he’s in the stall, he wears stable bandages every day that he works.

Nutrition: When Diddy was 6, Laura discovered that certain grain fillers—corn, soy, beet pulp and alfalfa—made him twitch his nose during rides. “He acted like he had to sneeze all the time.” A blood screening identified the allergens and his symptoms disappeared when she eliminated them from his diet. “We put him on oats at first, but that made him quite hot.” Since then, she’s found a high-fat rice-bran feed, Nutrena Empower™ Boost, that suits him better and also gives his coat a shine.

Although Verdades takes his work in the ring very seriously, he acts goofy in the barn. | Courtesy, Laura Graves

During competition season, Diddy is fed three small grain portions per day, plus all the timothy hay he wants in a slow-feed hay net. When he’s not competing, says Laura, “he stays pretty plump so I only feed him twice a day. I feed him in direct proportion to how hard he’s worked each day. I cut his grain almost in half on his day off.”

To prevent infection, Laura has to rinse grass and grain out of the hole in Diddy’s gums every day with a syringe containing dilute chlorhexidine, a disinfectant.

Diddy also receives a daily powdered probiotic supplement called EquiOtic™. When he travels and competes “or just doesn’t look right to me,” Laura gives him an extra paste dose of EquiOtic. On shipping days, she gives him UlcerGard.

Other care:After two incidents in which acupuncture clearly benefited Diddy—once when he was having trouble producing sweat and once when his back seemed a little uncomfortable—Laura became a believer. She also stands him on a vibrating device called Vitafloor® for 20 minutes a day. “It prevents him from ever getting super sore or tight.” She thinks that it may relieve stress caused by his extreme pigeon-toed conformation, coupled with his expressive movement. “He really articulates with his front legs and hits the ground pretty hard.” In addition, Diddy receives Adequan injections every four days for a total of seven doses a few times per year and Legend injections during competition weeks.

Otherwise, Laura relies on basic daily care to keep Diddy healthy. She says, “If you manage your horse properly, you can avoid the need for a lot of other things.”

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Practical Horseman.

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