When the Markel/USEF National Young Horse Championships kick off at Lamplight Equestrian Center in Illinois, Sabine Schut-Kery will be there with Sanceo, one of the country’s top 5-year-olds. After the pair won the Western Selection Trials in California in May with a qualifying score of 8.228, many wondered if their next stop would be the FEI World Breeding Championships for Young Horses in Verden. But Schut-Kery understands the value of waiting. “I thought a lot about whether I should take him to Germany,” she says. “As a rider, it’s a huge opportunity. But Sanceo has given me so much this year already. You really have to think what’s best for the horse.” For her, that meant forgoing international competition and heading to the national young horse championships instead. “It’s a great show and a short flight for Sanceo,” says Schut-Kery of Lamplight, who competed there two years ago.
In Sanceo (San Remo – St.Pr.Hauptstutbuch Rivera, Ramiro’s Son II), the German-born Schut-Kery, of Thousand Oaks, CA, believes she has a horse with incredible potential. She found the talented Hanoverian stallion in Germany when he was a 2 ½-year-old for owners Alice Womble-Heitmann and Dr. Mike Heitmann of Horsegate Ranch in Hempstead, Texas. “I always say, with him being so handsome, he’s the kind of guy you’d want to date!” laughs Schut-Kery. “He has beautiful gaits, but more than that he has a willingness, a work ethic and loyalty. He takes his job very seriously.”
The judges at the Western Selection Trials agreed. As Natalie Lamping explained, “Over time he just needs more power and maturity, but he has so much lightness and airiness. What’s so nice about him is that he keeps such a nice cadence and balance throughout.”
Schut-Kery loves the challenge that young horses pose. “If you said, ‘Here’s a budget, go get a horse—would you choose a Prix St. Georges horse or a young one?’ I’d get a young one, because I love the development, the whole journey. In the end, you know them so much better and have a deeper relationship.”
“Our main goal is that Sanceo hopefully goes all the way,” she adds. “But at the end of the day I have to listen to him and see if he’s ready for that. As a 5-year-old he’s still young; he’s a sensitive guy. Five is an important year in the development of a dressage horse, and I want the foundation work to be strong. You have to treat your horses as individuals. You always encourage them, but it’s different with a young horse: You cannot put a time frame on it. Last year he wasn’t ready, but it didn’t make me believe less in what the goal was.”
Womble-Heitmann vividly recalls first seeing Sanceo in Germany. “Sabine showed us several horses. As soon as the breeder brought him out, we said, ‘That’s the one.’” In addition to Sanceo, Schut-Kery has three other horses owned by Womble-Heitmann and her husband, who is a retired equine vet: Cacique, a 12-year-old Hosteiner stallion (Cambridge–Kalanda II, Linaro); Rohan, a 3-year-old Westfalen stallion by Rock Forever; and Zaltana WKT, a 4-year-old Hosteiner mare (Concerto Grosso–Kalanda II).
Likewise, when the couple first met Schut-Kery at a competition in Texas, they knew they were witnessing something special. “I saw how elegant she was and how the horse enjoyed the ride; she was one with the horse,” says Womble-Heitman. “I said to my husband, ‘She is the best rider I’ve seen in a long time.’ Sabine is a superb rider, but it’s her virtue, her integrity and her honest work [with the horses] that has brought her to the head of the table.”
For the past two years Schut-Kery has been based at El Campeon Farms, a picturesque private facility situated midway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. “I have a covered arena, but we also have a big outdoor jumping ring, and that’s so great for the young horses — we can just let go a little bit. I like to give them variety in their training. We go out on the trails, and I can use different sizes and locations of arenas. It stimulates them and makes it more interesting. We also have a huge grass field. And all my horses go out seven days a week in a big grass pasture — where do you find that in Los Angeles? Talk about lucky!”