BY JESS CLAWSON
Making it as a professional in the horse world can be challenging… that’s perhaps an understatement.
The isolation, long hours, even longer list of demands, and the need to make everyone happy while still prioritizing horse welfare means that some talented riders and coaches may quit before they really take off. Others decide to team up. They look around, realize the talent they’re surrounded by, and join forces with professionals who have complementary skills to build a business together.
Kate Jutagir and Dezraye Choi of Blackhound Equestrian did exactly that when they merged with Pyramid Sport Horses, joining their team with trainer Kim Laursen. The three now provide outstanding equestrian services in the Bay Area.
Each individual trainer brings her own skill set and expertise to the business, which Kate sees as one of their biggest benefits. “Being able to have a team of people supporting you, making sure you’re not stuck, is incredible,” she said. “A lot of trainers find themselves on an island. Hopefully they have great resources and mentors, but if you don’t, it’s tricky. It’s perilous. You’re always trying to do the right thing. As a team, Kim and Dez and I want to make this work, and we are committed to having each others’ backs.”
Kate began riding as a four-year-old on the east coast and never stopped. When she moved to the East Bay she found an equestrian world full of fantastic trainers, but nothing that looked like the riding school she had grown up with in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. She knew what she wanted to build: a place that would invest in riders, horsemanship, and the future of the sport.
Along the road of her professional career, she met a young Kim Laursen, who went on to become a professional herself. Kim grew up in Northern California, riding in all three rings as a junior and diversifying her early career by interning with a cowboy and learning how to start young horses and teaching clinics. After completing her education, she worked for a competitive show jumping barn. “That’s where I learned the European style of riding,” she said. “They gave me a great foundation in high level horse care and helped develop me into a strong rider.”
From there, Kim opened Pyramid Sport Horses in 2013 on the principles of horsemanship, riding fundamentals, and respect for the sport and the people involved. She had known Kate since she was a junior, and began getting to know Dezraye when she became a professional. “We were both always looking for eyes on the ground in the warm up ring, or for someone to set fences or give feedback. Our style is very similar. Eventually we became great friends, and have always pushed each other to be our best,” Kim explained.
Dezraye grew up loving animals, and took advantage of the opportunity to work at some of the top show barns at the Bay Area, as well as to live and compete abroad. She has always been a strong competitor in the hunter jumper rings, and has coached riders to top placings on the West Coast, including medal final wins.
Kate, Kim, and Dezraye decided to combine forces and go into business together earlier this year. “As trainers in the San Francisco Bay Area, it can be an isolating experience where you are always busy working in your own barn without a lot of collaboration,” Dezraye explained. “Merging our programs was a natural progression as we found that our styles are different yet complementary and we truly enjoy working together every day. We believe this creates a positive atmosphere for everyone at the barn–our horses, clients, and staff all benefit from this team approach. We are also very supportive of each other’s individual goals as riders and trainers which is key.”
Their team also includes two important staff members. Program manager Trisha Cheih has a background in early childhood development, which is a key skillset in a program that includes children. “She keeps us on track and on schedule,” Kate said. Barn manager Kim Kuperman ensures that the stable management is smooth and seamless.
The facility, now under the sole direction of Blackhound, has spacious stalls, large indoor and outdoor arenas with premium footing, trail access, and good turnout. They have the capacity to tailor the care of each horse to their specific needs.
New riders have the chance to take lessons on their experienced horses, and also have options for full and partial leases. Blackhound offers a full-service training program for pleasure and competitive riders alike. They have the capacity to tailor the care of each horse to their specific needs. Their 64 acre and 52 stall facility is expanding. It has the advantage of being large with multitudes of riding options, but also a place where a close eye is kept on each horse. Plus, they’re investing in equipment to ensure their program continues to progress. Earlier this year they added a treadmill, and plan to purchase an Equicisor.
“The main goal is to help everyone else accomplish what they want to do,” Kate explained. “I want to see Kim have great success in Europe, and watch Dezraye in the Grand Prix ring. I want to see all of my students achieve what they dream of, whatever that might be. We’re going to keep developing riders and horses, keep educating equestrians, and never stop.”
“Our other goal, as animal lovers, is to rescue a mini pony and give him or her a life of luxury as our mascot,” Dezraye added.
The team has a great rapport, from the head trainers to the staff. “There’s never a day at work that I don’t laugh,” Kate said. “I am just so grateful to have such a wonderful team. We don’t have bad days at Blackhound.”