Once upon a time, (as all good stories should start) there was a little girl. This little girl, named Caitlyn, needed to find something to believe in, something to love. Her parents decided to try different sports to find something little Cate could excel at and enjoy. So, Cate endured soccer, gymnastics and dance. She was more likely to stop and pick flowers than defend a goal. She was more interested in living life than dancing around it. And then one day it all changed. Caitlyn was invited to go horseback riding with her brother and some friends. Not owning any horse gear, she wore her Barbie bike helmet and went off for another day of “trying something new”.
Caitlyn came home infatuated with horses. She wanted to eat, sleep and dream horses. For Caitlyn, horses and riding made her a better student, one could argue a better person. The horses gave her a focus for her loving nature. It didn’t take long until Caitlyn spent most Saturdays at Whipple Tree Farm. I remember her as a little girl (a couple of years younger than Lauren) always wanting to ride another horse. It did not matter if she had already ridden three or four that morning; she was looking to ride more come Saturday afternoon.
And as the years went on, Caitlyn, while being able to do well in any show ring, hunter, jumper or equitation, started to excel at the Equitation events. These rounds, either over fences or on the flat, are judged on how well the rider rides. Sounds simple, but it is anything but that. Most of us riders, know proper form, shoulders back, heels down, hands quiet, knees tight, but when the horse starts jumping or moving, maintaining that position is a whole new task. And so Caitlyn practiced and practiced some more. A few years of winning back to back equitation championships in the various schooling associations, Caitlyn wanted to try the next step, the USEF rated shows.
Caitlyn changed trainers, changed horses and moved to the big time. The top equitation honors in the United States are won each year at the Maclay Nationals, The Washington Invitational Horse Show (WIHS), the Pessoa Medal and the USEF Talent Search. It quickly became apparent that to succeed at these high levels meant an outstanding horse partner, a strategy for accumulating points to make the finals (which shows to attend when) and more hard work than Caitlyn ever imagined.
None of it came easily. The first horse slated for Caitlyn did not work out at all and series of try-out rides ensued. It is difficult enough to get a great ride on a horse you know inside out, but with riding a host of different mounts, Caitlyn was at a disadvantage. Added to this issue was the ever present chance of getting hurt, being thrown from that horse you did not know. And one dark day, I got the message that Caitlyn had been thrown at the Katy Equestrian Center. They were still awaiting more information, but Caitlyn’s neck was broken. I remember being in shock, frightened and concerned for Cate’s future- of just her chance to be Caitlyn again, much less to be a top equestrian.
Mere weeks after her injury, Caitlyn was back in the saddle. She had come back physically intact from the injury, but I had to wonder how she would do mentally. Jumping a huge fence is a daunting task and not for the faint of heart or one with a lack of confidence. I saw Cate compete shortly after her return to the show ring and she certainly looked one hundred percent.
About this time, she met her new horse partner, Ky, named after the state (Kentucky) where she first saw him. A big, strappy bay with a lot confidence and even more jump, Ky was the ideal mate to take Caitlyn to the next stages of competition. And the clock was running. To compete in any of the regional or national equitation events, the rider must be classified as a “junior” rider, while specifics vary, it generally means under age 18. Caitlyn will turn 18 in October. So this was the year to make the final run at the big events on the junior equitation circuit. Each season, points count only for that season so each rider must ride and re-qualify each year.
Getting horse, rider and trainer to each event scheduled throughout the US is a study in logistics. Is it best to attend the big shows and hope to make the cut or attend smaller shows closer to home and hope there are enough participants to run the class? And if multiple weekends are involved away from home, what about school, projects and daily activities? Likewise, moving a horse from Texas to Kentucky or Missouri is not as simple as the rider jumping on a plane. During the summer months, high temperatures on the road are hard on horses. And injuries, stress and strain from travel are always an issue on horse’s less than sturdy physiques. But Caitlyn, fueled and supported by her trainer and mother, succeeded at the task of running after the national titles.
In what can only be classified as brilliant riding, planning and a bit of luck (I am Irish, you know so got to count that in), Caitlyn has achieved her goals in qualifying for finals as follows:
- Qualified for Zone 7 Equitation Finals (six states-Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kansas and Missouri)
- Pessoa National Equitation Finals
- Washington International Horse Show-Equitation National Finals (based upon today’s ranking of 6th in the West Division-this could change)
- Maclay Regional Finals (winners will go on to Nationals)
- United States Equestrian Federation Talent Search(West Coast)
No matter the results of any of these finals (although I will keep you posted) Caitlyn has triumphed in an extremely elite world. She has turned her love of riding, her discipline and her training into success against the obstacles stacked in her way. Caitlyn will emerge from her junior riding career a seasoned equestrian ready to represent the NCAA from her choice of university programs. I am proud to have known her along the way as she has made this journey. And certainly not for the first time, nor just as certainly not for the last, I say “Bravo, Caitlyn”!