(first printed in the April 2012 Equiery)
by Katherine O. Rizzo
Perseverance & Commitment
For Katy Gates of Monrovia, horses have been a passion that runs through her blood. Her mother Jane grew up riding and continues to ride to this day, so it was not that hard for little Katy at age six to convince her parents that she too wanted to be a horseback rider. After attending a weeklong day camp, Katy was given a set of weekly riding lessons for her sixth birthday. It only took Katy another two years to show them she was committed enough to deserve her first pony.
“I was thrilled when she asked for riding lessons. It was hard to sit back and not push riding on her but I really wanted it to be a choice of her own,” Jane said. She added, “Riding really teaches your child responsibility, compassion, and dedication, and it rounds out their lives.”
That first pony was a four-year-old chestnut Arabian mare that Katy describes as “as rotten as she was beautiful.” She went on to say, “pairing a young and green pony with a young and green rider was maybe not the best idea but in the end, it was my perseverance and my commitment with that pony that helped me grow as a rider.”
Commitment and perseverance are two traits that Katy has used to help balance riding, schoolwork and now, a career within the horse industry. Jane described Katy as a shy child but said that riding, and specifically eventing, gave Katy confidence and allowed her to develop into a strong, passionate young adult. “She has grown because of it,” Jane added.
The Great Gizmo
Gizmo entered Katy’s life when he was just three years old and she was 13. “He was pretty unimpressive when I first laid eyes on him but he was absolutely the sweetest horse and still is to this day,” Katy said. At the time, Gizmo was a bit scrawny and awkward looking, as many three-year-old Thoroughbreds can be, but his “old soul” personality quickly showed through.
Katy describes Gizmo as “extremely willing with a good work ethic.” This work ethic allowed the pair to jump quickly into eventing rather successfully. Katy rode Gizmo at a few starter horse trials and then when he was five years old, they entered their first Beginner Novice horse trials. “We had a lot of ups and downs while he figured out his job. In the beginning, he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to be an event horse,” Katy commented. As the pair grew together, their training progressed and Gizmo turned into a very competitive partner.
In 2004, the pair competed in the inaugural American Eventing Championships at the Training level when it was held at the Carolina Horse Park in North Carolina. The pair was one of only two double-clean show jumping rounds in the entire division. That same year, the pair also competed in the inaugural Training Level Three-Day Event at Waredaca, sponsored by the Area II Adult Rider group.
A Winning Team
While attending Saint Andrews Presbyterian College in North Carolina, Gizmo stayed home for a semester under the watchful eye of Jane. At Saint Andrews, Katy rode on the school’s Intercollegiate Dressage Team. Katy considers her mom her biggest supporter. “She is a horse show mom extraordinaire and we are a team! She is the best groom and coach,” she said.
And Jane loves her role as that horse show mom. “My husband Russ jokes that it takes a whole family to show a horse,” Jane added.
Katy then transferred to James Madison University for her sophomore year and this time, Gizmo came with her. “I did not compete often because of my academic workload and lacking the funds needed for training,” Katy said of those early college years. But this did not discourage Katy in any way. She even stated that although they were not competing that often, just having him at school for her gave her a break from her studies when needed. “Going to the barn when she was having a tough day with classes really cleared her head,” said Jane.
In 2008, Katy and Gizmo joined some other JMU riders to compete in the inaugural College Team Challenge held at the Virginia Horse Trials. Their team won and Katy and Gizmo had the best score on that team. Balancing schoolwork with riding can be difficult for most students but Jane said that Katy became superorganized as she grew up riding and found ways to keep progressing in the sport.
The following year, Katy rode Gizmo in a Training/Preliminary division at the May Waredaca Horse Trials. The division has the riders compete at the Preliminary level for dressage and show jumping, but at the Training level for the cross-country phase. They scored a 33.3 in dressage that day and won the division.
Katy’s trainer, Sharon White, an international three-day event rider based in West Virginia, describes Katy and Gizmo’s partnership as that of a “good married couple.” She added, “they trust each other 100%.”
Katy took a break again from competing in 2010 while she studied abroad in Italy. “I absolutely loved every minute of being abroad but I really missed riding,” she said. Jane took over riding Gizmo again and kept him fit for Katy while she was gone. When she returned to the states in December, Katy graduated from JMU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History and took on a working student position at Sharon White’s Last Frontier Farm. “It was an opportunity of a lifetime to learn firsthand what it takes to be a part of the professional world of eventing,” Katy said of her time at Sharon’s.
Katy has been a longtime student of Sharon’s, even before she was a working student. Through the years, Katy has impressed Sharon with more than just her riding. “She is a wonderful, kind, dedicated person. Her compassion for the horses is tremendous. I felt very fortunate to have her come to the farm,” Sharon said. When Katy graduated and was looking for a full-time job, Sharon even offered her a position at Last Frontier. “I tried to get her to stay!” Sharon stated.
Instead, Katy took the position of office manager for Spurlock Equine Associates in Lovettsville, Virginia.
The Equiery Season
In 2011, Katy and Gizmo competed in seven — USEA-recognized horse trials from May through October. “I was anxious to apply my training gained from working at Last Frontier Farm to my 2011 competition season. My hope was that Gizmo and I were prepared to be as competitive as possible at the Training level,” Katy explained. In all but one event in 2011, Katy and Gizmo placed in the top 10.
They started the season with a ninth place finish at the Virginia Three-day Event and Horse Trials where they competed in a Training Rider division. From there, the pair placed fourth at Olney Farm in July. Later in the season, they earned a third place ribbon at the Marlborough Horse Trials.
Their best score of the season was at The Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy Farm in October. There, they earned a 35.9 in dressage and jumped clean all day to place third in the Open Training C division. Katy said that event was her favorite of the season. “I had the best dressage score of our season and he was fast and clean in both jumping phases. He was brilliant on cross-country. He was totally on his game and was ready for more,” she said.
Her scores from the six Maryland events in which she competed earned her the Equiery Perpetual Eventing Award through the Maryland Combined Training Association, an award that Katy did not think she had qualified for and was surprised but grateful that she won. Katy said, “It is a feeling of great accomplishment. I am so proud of the recognition that my equine partner and I have received.”
Sharon White stated, “Katy is totally deserving of this award!”
A Preliminary Future
For 2012, Katy has plans to move Gizmo up to the Preliminary level. “We will take it one step at a time. I try not to plan too far ahead because as I have learned with horses, everything can change in an instant,” she said. Such wise advice! Katy went on to add, “I know that riding at the Preliminary level will require even more commitment, conditioning and training. I feel confident that Gizmo and I will be successful at the Preliminary level with the help from our trainers.”
Sharon White could not agree more, saying, “They’ll move up together, no problem.”