Jan 26, 2024

Christa Schmidt Weighs In On the Undeniable Heart of the 2023 USEA Standlee Horse of the Year Capitol H I M

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
Christa Schmidt (left) poses with Capitol H I M and Hannah Sue Hollberg. Amy Dragoo Photography photo

It was 2017, and Christa Schmidt found herself in the market for a nice Preliminary/one-star horse to help her make some of her amateur aspirations come true when Karen O’Connor told her about the Holsteiner gelding by the name of Capitol H I M (Con Air x O-Heraldika).

“It was pretty quick actually,” said Schmidt of the decision to purchase “Chito” seven years ago. “There was another young individual who wanted to purchase him so it was a pretty quick buy. I was initially drawn to the way he had taken care of his previous owner so well ,and the minute he came into the barn, I just fell in love with him.”

Schmidt noted that Chito was an immediate sweetheart, and she found herself sitting in the barn with him for long periods of time loving on him.

“Sure, people looked at him and thought, ‘Well he is just a plain bay,’ but he has the heart of a lion and is so willing to do whatever he possibly has to do to take care of you and himself," she said.

It was love at first sight, but in the competition ring some unfortunate habits came to light that Schmidt found herself growing concerned about.

“I realized quickly that he was quite horse shy,” she reflected. “I don’t know if he had a horse run into him head-on or what, but I had quite a few spins in the warm-up.”

The mother of three and amateur eventer decided to do what was in the best interest of herself and the horse that she so dearly loved, so she handed over the reins to long-time friend and rider Hannah Sue Hollberg.

USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

“We were training at my mom’s [Jacqueline Mars'] farm with Hannah over some cross-country fences in the ring, and we came to a question that was a narrow, angled skinny, and he just couldn’t read it,” said Schmidt. “I don’t think he had ever been asked to do anything like that. We parted ways, and I had Hannah get on him, and it was so natural. I said, ‘I think you should keep working with him, and we see what we have.’ ”

The bond between the two, as Schmidt describes it, was instant.

“From then on, they loved each other," she said. "I absolutely adore him. He’s got a heart of gold. He wasn’t spinning in the warmup because he was evil; he was just scared. I don’t think he has a mean bone in his body, I really don’t. There were some things he needed to learn on cross-country that I was finding, but Hannah was the perfect person to teach him and support him and hold his hand.”

There was a fleeting second where the thought of selling Chito crossed Schmidt’s mind, but as she watched the blossoming partnership between him and Hollberg, she knew he was exactly where he needed to be. Nobody expected, however, for him to accomplish all that he has so far.

“We had gotten him when he was older,” Schmidt shared, “and he has been one of those horses who has impressed us at every turn. I have a lot of young horses, and you always hope that they are all going to be five-star horses, but that is just never reality. I wanted to give this horse the benefit of the doubt and take him as far as we could.”

Hollberg took over the ride in 2019 and quickly began making her way through the levels with Chito. They finished fourth in their first two-star at Red Hills (Tallahasse, Florida), and then moved on to three-star where they would have a win in their third outing at the level together at Jersey Fresh (Allentown, New Jersey) that same year. Two years later, the pair had a top-5 finish in their four-star debut at Chattahoochee Hills (Fairburn, Georgia). They had three more top-10 finishes before attempting their first five-star together at Kentucky, but unfortunately, Hollberg parted ways with the bay gelding on cross-country.

After having four rails in the CCI3*-L at the Maryland 5 Star later that season, Hollberg decided to do some investigative work.

“I was struggling to get the fitness I needed, and he seemed kind of down, and he was fatter than he should be with what he was getting to eat. I had to muzzle him out in the field,” Hollberg recalled. Her veterinarian suggested they test for Cushings Disease and Chito came back positive. The treatment regimen of pergolide mesylate was game-changing. In fact, many might say they came back stronger than before.

On course at the MARS Maryland 5 Star in 2023. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

Hollberg and Chito kicked off their 2023 season together with a win at the Preliminary level, followed by a win at the Intermediate level just a few weeks later. Then in March, the pair came second in the Advanced at Chattahoochee Hills before finishing 11th in the ultra competitive “mini Kentucky” CCI4*-S at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Two months later the duo came home from the MARS Bromont CCI4*-L (Quebec, Canada) with a third place in hand and then finished fifth in the Adequan USEA Advanced Final at the USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feed (Lexington, Kentucky). This all led up to their straight out of a fairytale fourth place finish at the MARS Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill at the end of the season.

"He jumped better than he ever has in his life [in show jumping,]” said Hollberg after the MARS Maryland 5 Star last year. “He just felt amazing; fresh as a daisy like he hadn’t run at all. He can gallop forever. I was protective of him on cross-country because I didn’t feel like he could go for very long, and I didn’t know why, and now it’s like, oh, he can keep going!”

“It’s beyond my wildest dreams that Chito Burrito would be doing a five-star,” shared Schmidt. “I definitely think a lot of people in the eventing world didn't believe in him. It always broke my heart. And my mom and I talked about it quite a bit because I have always believed in him, obviously, and so has Hannah.”

His phenomenal results in 2023 not only shortlisted the gelding for the 2023 Pan American Games, but also resulted in his winning of the Standlee USEA Horse of the Year waward.

While Schmidt has taken a step back from heavy competition herself to enjoy time with her kids, she plans her yearly calendar around all of her horse’s outings so she can go and cheer them on in person.

“At this point, I am enjoying the horses I have, and I will go out in the spring and do a couple of events, but nothing major," she said. "I love to focus on when I can get away for weekends to see Chito and some of my other horses. I am definitely nervous with all of my horses going out on cross-country, but my heart definitely flutters when he goes out.

“I think Hannah smiles extra hard around the course because she knows I’m watching intently, and I just want to make sure everyone’s happy and okay and safe. It’s funny, she will do a fist pump over a fence for me, and I feel like she is kind of telling me, ‘It’s OK. You’re going to be OK. He’s going to be OK.’”

It’s that relationship that Schmidt has built with riders like Hollberg, Lauren Nicholson, Sophie Middlebook, and Lynn Symansky, that makes sitting back in the owner’s seat a little bit easier when it comes to the horses she holds so dear.

“It’s never like I am parting with my horse. I see all of my horses so often and I can’t wait—actually, I can wait—because one day, Chito will be my hack horse. When our horses retire from upper-level competition, they live a grand life on our farm. My mother and I are kind of known as the treat ladies, so all the horses are banging their feet against the stall when we walk in. With all of our horses, they come to a point where they tell us what they want to do, and when it is that time, they come home and get the life of treats and spa days and hacking out.”

Until that day comes, Schmidt is loving watching Chito thrive with Hollberg.

“I have high hopes for him, and you never know! Maybe there’s some bigger things coming down the pike for him.”

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