By Doris Degner-Foster
Callie Schott has two superstitions. “When I’m riding in an important class, I hate having anything new: no new breeches or a new show coat,” she said. “I also leave my dry cleaning tags on my clothes for good luck.” However, superstition and luck played no part in influencing Callie’s decision to go out on her own as a trainer after she worked for Beezie and John Madden.
The prospect of starting a new business in your own barn can be a daunting idea, but Callie has been working toward it for a long time. “I’ve always grown up with horses and have been around them my entire life,” she said. “My father is a veterinarian, an entrepreneur and polo player. My mother showed as a child and evented after college, and then got into the hunters and jumpers.”
Callie and her mom, Elaine Schott, operate River Mountain Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, with a clientele that ranges from youngsters to sophisticated amateur owners showing at premium horse shows. They also manage a small breeding program and have been successful in raising quality young hunter/jumper prospects.
Callie began riding at the age of 3 and spent most of her time as a child at the barn. She later started seriously training with the legendary David Wright, a nationally known and highly respected professional horseman, rider, trainer and USEF “R” judge. A much-loved trainer and mentor, David produced, trained and showed hunters, jumpers and hunter ponies through the top “AA” level. His students won awards at USEF Pony Finals and the major indoor shows until his untimely death in July 2014.
“When I trained with David, he gave me many opportunities as a junior to do catch-rides with different horses,” Callie remembered. “I did my first Grand Prix when I was 17 in Gulfport on a sale horse that David had in the barn. I had the last rail down and ended up placing fourth, but for my first Grand Prix, that was really exciting.”
Callie won the North American League Children’s Hunter Final in 2002 aboard Miscongeniality, a homebred, and won the 2001 U.S.A. National Junior Hunter Championship Perpetual Trophy Large Champion 15 & Under on Almost Famous before she enrolled at the University of Kentucky. It was a family tradition. Her mom got her master’s degree from the University of Kentucky and was the former coach of the equestrian team. When asked if attending college was preferable to going professional upon turning 18, Callie said, “I think it’s always smart to focus on education and have that in your back pocket. In this industry, you never know what can happen, especially since it’s such a physical profession; [a degree] gives you something to fall back on.”
Meant to Be
Shortly after she graduated from college with a B.A. in business, Callie landed a job that seemed like it was meant to be for her. “I had interviewed with Allison Robitaille but it wasn’t the right timing,” Callie said. “She needed somebody immediately and I still had another semester left of school before graduation. In the small world of things, when Allison heard that John and Beezie Madden were looking for a rider, she mentioned me to them.”
By coincidence, Callie was later seated at a dinner party next to Dell Hancock of Claiborne Farm. During dinner conversation, the topic of Callie’s career came up. “Dell responded by saying, ‘Well, let me give my good friend John Madden a call,’” Callie said. “So I interviewed with him over the phone and I got a job. John just said ‘Well, I’ll guarantee you a job through Florida,’ and that’s how it started.” She ended up staying for almost five years.
Callie found that the Maddens’ training program has a strong emphasis on flatwork and focusing on the basics, but she learned more than riding techniques. “I learned how they organize all of their horses from their daily work schedule, to the monthly plan, to the yearly strategy — focusing on their main events and competitions,” Callie said. “I also learned about client management and how they coordinate client riding, teaching and showing schedules in advance so that everything runs smoothly. Organization and planning is key to running a successful operation like John and Beezie’s.”
Callie felt that she benefitted as much by observing their training techniques with the horses as by watching the lessons that they taught. “In Florida when we were there all together, they’d try to include me in the lessons,” Callie said. “Then at home in Cazenovia, they’d help me jump and school some of the horses.”
The Maddens introduced a 7-year-old mare named Wrigley in their barn as a sale horse, who turned out to be a perfect fit for Callie. “She was a little difficult when we first got her; she was hot and sensitive,” Callie said. “Over the years, we developed her into a Grand Prix horse and it was a great opportunity for me. I got to do the derby at Spruce Meadows a couple of times, and a couple of nice Grand Prix in Florida during the Winter Equestrian Festival. When Beezie broke her collar bone last year, they sent Wrigley to me to keep her going.”
Although Callie has started her own business, John Madden recently asked Callie to help them by going to Cazenovia while they were in Europe to school some of their other horses before they returned to America to finish out the show season. “We still stay in touch,” Callie said. “The Maddens have provided me with great opportunities to grow professionally and for that I’m very thankful.”
While working for the Maddens, Callie was given the opportunity to teach some of their younger clients and she even took a few clients to horse shows when John and Beezie were in Europe. “I’d stay connected and report back to them every day, but I had the responsibility of doing it on my own,” Callie said. “I also got to go to Europe some and show, which was really incredible. It was just one small show in Holland, but then I got to go to Aachen and help ride and groom, which was really amazing to experience.”
In 2012, John started a contest for American-bred horses that they called the Breeder’s Bridge to High Performance contest. The prize was three months of training provided by Callie under the direction of the Maddens. Owners sent them videos of more than100 horses and they watched them all before deciding on five finalists. “I went and rode all five and we narrowed it down to two, and then at that point, John said, ‘Well let’s just get them both,’” Callie said. “They were two completely different horses. One was a Thoroughbred and the other a Warmblood.”
On Her Own
“It’s difficult to know where to begin and how to finish,” Callie said, when talking about everything she learned from John and Beezie. “Some of John’s best advice is to just show up. It’s simple but I think it’s very true. It’s important to be present in more ways than just physically. I’ve taken this into account in our business at River Mountain Farm. We want everyone to play on the same team and have support from everyone, from the veterinarian, farrier, chiropractor, the grooms and our sponsors.”
Callie admits that it has been a risk to come back home to start her own business at the family farm, but she feels that it’s working out well. “I’m fortunate to have wonderful sponsors like Voltaire Saddlery, Finish Line Products, Fenwick Products and Hallway Feeds,” she said. “I have a great group of clients and working students.
“My short-term goals at the moment are to have a nice group of showing clients as well as sale horses,” Callie continued. She works with contacts in Holland that she met through Beezie and John to import quality horses.
Callie said that her long-term goal would be to have a string of Grand Prix horses, and to have the opportunity to ride for the U.S. She’s already working toward that goal by recently acquiring a Grand Prix horse that she’s very excited about. “He’s an incredible horse,” Callie said. “He’s very athletic and just needs a few more miles. The goal is to keep developing him and we’ll see where it goes.”
With Callie’s background and support from family and friends like John and Beezie, the sky’s the limit to where Callie can go from here.
For more information, visit www.rivermountainfarm.com.