Tell us about Rhett, your very impressive grand prix horse.
Jim: Rhett is an 11 year old gelding that is half holsteiner/ half dutch harness horse. He is 17.2 hands of fire breathing dragon. He was bred in Kentucky by Shirley McQuillan. She owns him.
How did you come to find Rhett?
Jim: Becky Langworst called me up and said, “I have got your horse standing in the barn.” At the time I was taking a clinic with Conrad Schumacher so I drove over to Becky’s. There Rhett was: big, wild, large. My first reaction was that he had interesting mechanics, with undirected energy. I knew the horse was unique, but I needed to go home and sleep on it.
I have been lucky to ride such kind generous horses like Donnatelli and Don Principe, and thought I was relatively talented as a rider, but was very unsure after riding Rhett once, that he would fit into my training.
But I decided the next morning that I would take him home. Rhett is a little like Chicken Little. I didn’t know if he would even fit in my trailer. But he followed me right into the trailer and I thought that was a good omen.
What’s the journey been like with Rhett; bringing him to the Grand Prix and the Florida CDI competitions?
Jim: I have never sat on a horse that makes such physical demands of me. The trot is a jackhammer to sit, need to ride him with a lot of core muscles. And if you get it wrong, there is no subtle way to correct. It’s a constant search for self balance.
I spent years of Rhett’s spooking, bolting, running on the forehand, careening around the arena. Putting changes on him was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a horseman.
I have never been so powerless with a horse who is so much quicker than me. He is so lightening fast in his reactions. No cruise control. No power steering. He requires my complete focus.
In 2009 Rhett and I went to Germany on the US Dressage Foundation grant from Anne Barlow Ramsey. We competed in the small tour and trained with Michael Klimke. Rhett had won a lot of high score awards in our region, and was 7th in the Developing Horse National Championships, but when I went to Germany, I was finishing at the bottom of the classes.
In Germany with the cold whipping winds and the intensity of the show grounds Rhett went back to his old spooking, bolting self—complete with no half halt. This for me was an epiphany: I must have Rhett honestly on the aids no matter what the conditions.
That got me out of my comfort zone for sure. Go BIG or go home. Don’t back off. Be able to go forward and have your half halts work.
Then you returned to Germany in 2010?
Jim: Yes, I went back to work with Michael Klimke because I felt there was so much more I had to learn. To prepare Rhett for the grand prix, I needed someone to kick my tail. I was there for 6 months.
Can you tell us about your experiences using BioStar’s Colostrum-38?
Jim: Rhett is so susceptible to Florida skin problems: fungus, scratches, rashes, hives, and he gets so depressed. When his immune system is this reactive it really affects his performance. I’ve tried every topical out there but I wasn’t addressing his immune issues systemically.
When I put him on Colostrum-38, his skin got better, he felt better physically. I got a positive energy boost that I can use in the ring. He is so ulcer prone and the colostrum helps his gut, and helps to keep him feeling good.
Our horses are exposed to all kinds of bacteria, viruses when they compete, and the colostrum helps his immune system so that his body can better resist the viruses and bacteria. Colostrum is an essential part of Rhett’s program.
There was quite a difference in Rhett from your first CDI the end of January, to your second CDI in February.
Jim: At the first CDI he had broken out in scratches and his skin was irritated all over. He just didn’t feel up to par. We finished sixth in that CDI, our first, but Rhett wasn’t himself.
Then I got him on your Colostrum-38, and he started feeling better really quickly. By the time of the second CDI, three weeks later, everything had cleared up, his coat looked beautiful, and I was able to deliver a better performance (placing fifth in the Grand Prix, and fourth in the Grand Prix Freestyle).
Rhett got scratches again the day before you had to ride the grand prix at the Dressage Derby in march.
Jim: Yes he did. But they weren’t nearly as bad as they have been in the past. They literally popped up over night. I just upped the colostrum, and added your recommendation of coconut oil (on the scratches and in his feed) and that combination really worked. There was a huge difference in 12 hours.
You had solid performances at the Derby: fifth in the Grand Prix and fourth in the Grand Prix Freestyle.
Jim: He felt happy and proud in the ring. That’s really important to me, because I want him to enjoy his work.
And now you are on the USET Long List for the 2012 Games!
Jim: yes, so my plan is to go to Holland in May and train with Edward Gal and compete over there. Plan to be back the end of August so that hopefully Rhett and I can compete at Gladstone in September.
What has Rhett taught you?
Jim: Rhett has taught me that I cannot demand — I have to invite him like a friend to piaffe, to passage. He has taught me to make it fun for him. I actually sing to him when we are schooling. He has really taught me to find the motivation for the horse to feel proud, to show off.
And he has taught me the importance of nutrition; that the closer to nature we feed, the healthier our horses are.