Katharine “Kate” Cassidy is a USDF Silver and Bronze Medalist and USDF Silver Freestyle bar recipient from San Diego, California. For the majority of her equestrian career, Kate has ridden dressage, but she has also dabbled in hunter/jumpers, equitation, and many forms of western riding.
Kate’s first dressage horse, Aavignon Andante, was far from destined to be in the big dressage ring. However, Kate was able to transform her seven-year-old Saschen Anhaltiner hunter prospect into a respected, national FEI small-tour competitor. They finished the 2015 season with an invitation to compete at the USDF US Dressage Finals for the Open Fourth Level Freestyle and CDS FEI Jr/YR Champions.
Kate was paired up with Pellegrini, a Hanoverian gelding, in 2013 and finished their 2015 season as the USDF Region 7 Young Rider Champions with a 69.342%, CDS FEI Jr/YR High Point Champions with a 67.063% and CDS FEI Young Rider Champions with a 66.389%.
Recently, Kate acquired a lease with Donna Richardson’s Welt Erbe (“Velt Erba”) and the pair is working diligently to secure a position on the 2016 Region 7 Young Rider team. Currently, the combination is ranked 24th in the nation, but will be able to climb up the ranks as they finish the qualifying season.
Kate rides with USDF Gold Medalist Tina Caldwell and attends clinics with world-renown clinicians like Charlotte Bredahl, Jan Ebeling, Jane Weatherwax, and Paul Belasik on a semi-regular basis. Along with catch riding horses for her trainer, Kate is also a full-time student at the University of California, San Diego, studying chemistry and molecular cell biology, and intends to pursue a graduate level education.
At the start of 2016, Kate secured partnerships with popular brands like Romfh Equestrian Apparel, Schockemöhle Sports, and PDS Saddles. These relationships are just the start for her equestrian career and provide a network that has proved to be invaluable.
This year holds a lot of promise for Katharine Cassidy and Welt Erbe and their future is limitless. Be sure to keep your eyes on Katharine Cassidy and Welt Erbe! You can keep up with their progress on her Instagram account @_kate.cassidy_
OUR INTERVIEW WITH KATE
1. How long have you been riding Dressage?
I started riding dressage causally at the age of 8. My competition career began when I was ten on my first pony Zippity Do-Dah. Even though I rode dressage on my ex-hunter Aavignon Andante for a few years after Zippy, I really didn’t start taking my training seriously until I was sixteen.
2. Have you always ridden Dressage?
For the most part, yes. I started riding when I was two at a pony ranch, doing walk-trot lessons, occasionally practicing a sort of Western riding. I started riding in English tack when I was six and dabbled in the hunter ring, but didn’t stick with it. My mom, actually, got me interested in dressage; she told me that I could not do jumpers until I mastered the basics of horsemanship and was proficient in dressage. I tried jumping a few years ago, but found that dressage had captured my heart.
3. How many days a week to you go to the barn and ride?
I usually ride five to six days a week, but I’m at the barn at least once a day every day of the week, even if it is just to brush my horse or muck a stall.
4. What is a typical warm up and cool down for you and your horse(s)?
My lease horse, Welt Erbe, or Wilbur, as I like to call him, is a seventeen year old Hanoverian gelding, so we usually walk a good five to ten minutes on the buckle before we pick up to do any work, often leg yielding across the arena to facilitate suppleness and to start our work with a loose, relaxed tone. Then we start off slowly, getting muscles warm with a connected, stretchy trot. Once I feel that Wilbur is fluid and beginning to wake up to the work, I collect up my reins a few more notches and bring his frame up from his stretchy headset. Throughout both the stretchy portion of our warm up and the slightly more collected trot, I incorporate bending lines and more long, sweeping leg yields to encourage the suppleness and bend.
We pick up the canter in this more connected frame and test out how he responds to my seat bones, since he can change from day to day, still working around large circles (mostly 15-20 meters) and other bending lines. We often warm up our flying changes now that we are in the canter or do simple changes through the walk or trot if he’s not keen on using his hind leg that day. After a walk break, we collect up again, shorten our reins, and get to work. Once our work is done, Wilbur and I finish up with a stretchy rising trot, insuring that he stays connected with a steady rein and continues to use his hind end instead of falling onto the forehand. Wilbur loves his stretchy trot and I have to keep a close eye on our rhythm because he can attempt to run out from underneath me. As soon as I’m sure that he is still with me and that he has been stretched out adequately after his work, we walk out on a long rein, and sometimes hack out on a small trail at my barn.
5. What is the importance of transitions in your schooling?
Schooling transitions is extremely important in my training! There are some days that I will spend entire rides working on transitions to insure that my horse is listening to me, that my horse is supple and on the hind leg, and that we keep our quality of gait throughout the paces. On spooky, young, or just eccentric horses, I find that transitions can help keep their mind in their work and help them realize that when they are in the arena it means business. Additionally, transitions are a completely separate score in dressage tests; attention to detail during a transition whether it’s between gaits (i.e. trot to canter) or within gaits (i.e. extended trot to collected trot) can really supplement your overall score.
6. Do you follow the Scales of Training on a daily basis?
Yes, I follow the Scales of Training on a daily basis. It is important to establish the basis of rhythm, relaxation, and contact before you ask a horse to participate in the higher degree of work involved in impulsion and collection.
7. Do you work on each level for the year before moving to the next level?
Currently, I do believe that having a strong foundation in a lower level is important to move up to a higher level, but it does not necessarily take a single year to master a level enough to move up. Sometimes this proficiency can take longer than twelve months to achieve and other times it can be managed in less than a year. Currently, I am showing at the FEI Young Rider level, which is comparable to the Prix St. George’s, and I have been showing this for a few years. Between qualifiers, however, I have worked toward and shown Intermediare 1 and have schooled a few movements from the Intermediare 2.
8. What kind of saddle do you have?
I ride in an 18″ PDS Grande Monoflap from the Carl Hester collection. I love riding in larger-seated saddles (an 18″ instead of a 17.5″) because it allows a better range of motion for my hips and facilitates a better seat. I have found that my PDS helped me develop a more accurate feel of my horse and a better connection from my hip to my heel throughout my ride.
9. What is the most important Dressage event you have been to?
The most important Dressage event I have ever been to and competed at was the Del Mar National CDI this year. It was one of the last 2016 Olympic qualifiers and the air around the barn was electric with excitement and anticipation. As a part of a fundraiser for the Region 7 NAYJRC Team, the juniors and young riders at the show (myself included) ran tests for the Night of the Musical Freestyle in our full FEI dressage apparel. Another large, important show I competed at was the 2015 Region 7 Championships; there, I received the title of Region 7 Young Rider Champion with a 69.342%. I hope to attend and compete at NAJYRC this year in Colorado and I would love to be a spectator at the 2017 World Cup.
10. How often do you show?
During show season, I usually show at least once a month, but rarely any more than twice a month.
11. Do you braid your own horse’s mane?
For most shows, I braid my own horse. I enjoy the peace it brings both me and my horse as we prepare for the weekend ahead of us. At larger shows, like the CDI, I often enlist a professional braider to help me make sure that Wilbur and I look our best in the big ring.
12. Who grooms for you at your shows?
My groom, Mario Gonzales, takes care of my horse at the shows. Sometimes, the stress of the show can get to me and I’ve found I usually don’t perform as well if I have to be preoccupied by making sure that everything is in place by myself. It truly takes a village!
13. Do you trail ride and how often?
I do trail ride! I love taking a horse out on trail for a walk to relax and to return to the peace that originally drew me to horses. I try to get on the trail at least once a week; it is honestly the best way to clear your mind.
14. What are your goals for 2016?
My goal for 2016 is to make the NAJYRC Region 7 team. While just attending NAJYRC would be an amazing experience in itself, I would love to place in the top fifteen combinations in order to compete in the freestyle class.
15. What is your favorite musical freestyle you have seen?
While it is difficult to choose, my favorite freestyle that I have ever seen would be either Michelle Reilly and Umeeko’s Eminem Freestyle or Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro’s How to Train Your Dragon Freestyle.
16. If you could clinic or train with anyone in the world, who would it be?
If I could train with anyone in the world, I would choose to train with Carl Hester or Charlotte Dujardin. I absolutely love the way that Carl Hester teaches; I have seen so many videos of his training methods online and his eye for problems and his ability to fix the issues at hand is nothing short of amazing. Through his training, Charlotte Dujardin has honed her natural talent for dressage and has become, in my opinion, one of the best riders in the history of dressage. I would love to have a single hour to pick her brain and absorb all that I can.
17. What can you tell other junior riders about reaching their goals in dressage?
Don’t ever give up. Honestly, I know it’s cliche, but it’s true. You can do this. You just need to put in the work and you’ll get there. Both life and dressage is a process and a journey and you need to enjoy all the troubles that you go through because that is what shapes you to be the person you’re meant to be. I owe a lot of my skills to my previous horse, Pellegrini; on the ground, he was the sweetest horse and loved to follow me around in pasture. When I got on his back, however, Pellegrini spent every moment testing me, asking if I was sure that I wanted to half pass or if I /really/ wanted that flying change. Every time I would let go of my seat, Pellegrini was convinced I wanted a walk break and would promptly walk, even if we were in the middle of a movement. He taught me humility, respect, determination, and, eventually, confidence. He taught me to trust in myself and my own ability and how to problem shoot in the middle of a test when his hind leg would shut down. Pellegrini wasn’t the traditional ‘horse of a lifetime’, but I wouldn’t trade the three years I had with him for anything else in the world.
18. What is your horse’s personality like?
The best words I can describe Wilbur with are compassionate and humorous. Like a lot of horses with a type A personality, Wilbur is skittish and untrusting at first, but loving and soft when you gain his trust. Most days, Wilbur comes out of his stall ready and willing to go to work, excited to see what we are going to do next. He tries his little heart out for every movement I ask and really attempts to please his rider, which he usually does. His favorite treats are blackberries, raspberries, and peppermints and I have taught him how to kiss and smile, two tricks he loves to show off.
19. Please tell us who you would like to Thank for being your best supporters:
First and foremost, I would like to thank my parents for supporting and cultivating my love for both horses and dressage throughout my life. They have been so integral in my ability to pursue my love and hone my skills in dressage. My trainers Tina Caldwell and Bonnie Walker are obviously huge supporters in my equestrian career and they challenge me every day to be a better rider and a better person. I also could not be as successful as I am today without the support of people like Mario Gonzales, Laurel Kerner, and so many other friends who truly want to see me succeed. The continued support from the community that surrounds me is invaluable and motivates me to do better every day.
20. What is your favorite quote that you love and want to share with others?
I have two favorite quotes that I think would be pertinent to mention. The first was said to me personally at a clinic with Paul Belasik. He said to me: “it’s a duet… That is what [dressage] is about. This is teamwork.” I love this quote because it highlights that behind the good, the bad, and everything in between is a partnership that needs to be cultivated with mutual respect and understanding.
The second quote comes from the fifteenth century from Antoine de Pluvinel, and I believe that it relates nicely with the quote from Paul Belasik. “You can never rely on a horse that is educated by fear! There will always be something that he fears more than you. But, when he trusts you, he will ask you what to do when he is afraid.” It is impossible to build a healthy relationship with any being, whether it be animal or human, based off of fear. Fear is an emotion that elicits the fight or flight response, and this reaction is triggered when the creature is under pressure. By building a partnership based off of trust, mutual respect, understanding boundaries, and not pushing limits, your horse will understand that, with you, there is nothing he can’t do.