When the dust settled at the recent Nation’s Cup show-jumping competition in Toronto, only two riders had been able to finish with three clean rounds. One was two-time World Cup Final champion Ian Millar, a Canadian riding the legendary Big Ben. The other was Candice Schlom, the youngest member of the U. S. national team, unproven, unknown . . . unbelievable.
“The 20-year-old from Calabasas may have won over the world,” raved the California Horsetrader, a bimonthly newspaper.
Sally Ike, director of show jumping for the U. S. Equestrian Team, was equally impressed. “Being in the same company with Ian Millar is indicative of Candice’s strengths,” she said.
Schlom’s overall performance in Toronto--she led the U. S. team to second place behind Canada and also finished second in a $100,000 individual event--catapulted her into show-jumping’s fast lane and highlighted a transcendent year. Starting out as a virtual rookie, she earned more than $100,000 in prize money, won her first World Cup Grand Prix event and made her first national team.
“There’s no reason she can’t go all the way to the top,” said Bill Cooney, who helped train Schlom as a junior. “She’s got great style and great talent.”
And great fortune. Schlom’s upward mobility was given a giant boost by her cousin, Calabasas developer Larry Dinovitz. A year ago, Dinovitz became her sponsor, bought her a high-priced Dutch thoroughbred and put her in charge of his 100-acre Calabasas horse farm, Rancho del Puma. Without him, she might have spent years getting to the level she’s at now, but Dinovitz doesn’t doubt that she would have succeeded.
“She’s a tremendous athlete and she’s totally dedicated,” he said.
There is another component in Schlom’s overnight success, a 10-year-old mare named Wula (pronounced VOO-luh). In show jumping, as with most horse-related activities, the animal is a major factor--as much as 90%, experts say--in the success of the rider. But victories are not assured by merely paying six figures for a mature, talented horse. The trick is picking the right horse, then bonding with it.
Last September, Dinovitz sent Schlom to Switzerland and gave her only two days to find a horse. The first day, nothing. Then she saw Wula and looked into her big brown eyes. “You can see a lot in a horse’s eyes,” Schlom said. “You can tell if it’s bright and alert and has athletic ability, concentration and attitude.”
Wula passed the eye exam, then Schlom got in the saddle and took a test ride. “She was wonderful,” Schlom said. She also identified with the horse. “She’d only been in two or three international competitions. We were at the same level of experience.”
Wula was flown to the United States, then kept in quarantine for six weeks before Schlom was able to take her home on New Year’s Day. Their symbiosis was almost immediate. “I feel we’re one,” she said, “two minds working together to challenge the course. We’ve got that rapport.”
Schlom’s ascent into the show-jumping stratosphere might seem sudden but it was the result of years of hard work--10 or 12 hours a day, six days a week--and intense involvement with horses. Her parents, Al and Marlo, kept horses at their home in Sunland and showed cutting horses. At 3, Candice began riding western horses and showing them, but by the time she was 7, she was bored and switched to show jumping, which she loved from the start.
Training under such well-known West Coast trainers as Hap Hansen, Susie Hutchinson and Jimmy Williams, Schlom competed as a junior in top-level events. Show jumping consumed her life. She didn’t attend high school, preferring to take correspondence courses. At 15, she and her mother moved to North Salem, N. Y., living in a camper for two years while Candice trained at Beacon Hill Show Stables under Cooney and Frank Madden.
“I was extremely lucky to have such supportive parents,” Schlom said.
Cooney and Madden took Schlom to competitions in Europe and encouraged her to ride on the Florida winter circuit. But her education wasn’t limited to riding. She learned the horse business from the bottom up, from cleaning barns to managing a stable, which gave her the necessary knowledge to run Dinovitz’s ambitious operation.
Today, she trains 16 horses at Rancho del Puma and has two students. Her junior rider, Kelly Lobach of Calabasas, was on the championship team in the Young Riders competition earlier this year in Chicago.
“I always thought Candice would have a significant input in the business,” said Cooney, who has moved his stables to Colt’s Neck. N. J. “She can give a lot to any horse or rider.”
When Candice was growing up, it would have been logical to assume that her half-brother, Todd Dellutri, would be the one to have a money-making athletic career. He was a football player, an All-Southern Section wide receiver at Burroughs High, and Candice only rode horses, a pursuit that usually doesn’t pay off unless you’re a jockey.
But Todd suffered a career-ending knee injury and is now an assistant football coach at Burroughs. Candice developed her skills in the most lucrative of all horse-related activities outside of racing.
Show jumping draws big crowds, attracts major sponsors and offers big prizes. Since she acquired Wula, Schlom has won more than $100,000 for Larry and Connie Dinovitz, who pay her a salary for running Rancho del Puma so that she can retain her amateur status.
It was the money that got her a berth on the U. S. national team for the Nation’s Cup. For the first and, probably, only time, the USET selected the four team members on the basis of money won during the first nine months of this year.
“We wanted a strictly objective process,” Ike said, adding that the 1992 Olympic team--Schlom’s ultimate goal--will be chosen through traditional qualifying trials.
Schlom foreshadowed her Toronto performance by winning her first grand prix, the Aid to Zoo competition last spring on the Arizona circuit.
“That was a major breakthrough for me,” said Schlom, who finished the six-week circuit as overall champion despite suffering a broken nose and a cracked rib in falls.
Next year, Schlom hopes to compete in the Pan American Games--if the United States decides to send a team to Cuba--and the World Cup in Sweden. But she will not soon forget the thrill of wearing her country’s red coat for the first time. Well, almost the first time.
“When I was 12, I wore a red coat (in a competition,)” she said, “but when I found out it was the U. S. coat, I told my mom to sell it. I decided I wouldn’t wear a red coat again until I was on the national team.”