BY ANN JAMIESON
One of the most successful riders in U.S. Show Jumping history, Katie Monahan-Prudent was a member of the 1986 gold-medal-winning World Championship show-jumping team, took part in six World Cup finals, won almost every major grand prix in the United States and was named AGA U.S. Rider of the Year three times. In addition, she was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame, and named Coach of the Year for developing riders by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Currently, Katie and her husband Henri Prudent run an international training program along with their son, Adam at their three locations: Plain Bay Farm, Middleburg, Virginia; Wellington, Florida, and Rosières-aux-Salines, France.
Katie’s parents were not horse people—at all. Her father was an engineer, her mother a housewife, and neither had ever ridden. Yet from her earliest memory says Katie, “It was all I ever wanted to do, to be around horses.” She theorizes her passion “must have come from another lifetime because that’s all I ever wanted to do or to be. Right from the start, I had a special connection with every horse I was around.”
Luckily, her parents recognized and supported that passion. When she was five, they began taking her to a small local stable in the Chicago area where Katie grew up. “We would go on weekends and someone would lead me around on Dinky,” a horse her parents had leased. Katie rode Dinky for about a year.
The Jaynes, a prominent equestrian family, were located in Chicago, and Katie’s next stop was at Martha Jayne’s Fleetwing Farm. Martha was the ex-wife of Silas Jayne and the current Jaynes, Charlie and Alex, are related to her as well.
When Katie was six, her family bought a school horse from Martha, a 16-year-old Quarter Horse named Tina, who held the Illinois State Champion Barrel Racing title. It turned out the mare was a fantastic jumper as well. Together, she and Katie claimed the state championship in the Junior Hunters and competed at Madison Square Garden. Tina also taught Katie to ride bareback, with no tack, just a rope around the mare’s neck. “She was just a great horse! And that was the beginning of it all.”
Katie’s parents bought Miltown for her, another Quarter Horse, when Katie was eight. He was purchased from Lynn Firestone who was Bert Firestone’s ex-wife, and who Katie would later know as a client and a good friend to Katie and Henri. Miltown proved to be another star, going on to a state champion title as well in the junior hunters. “I was a real whiz in the equitation with Miltown,” Katie remembers. She won the Maclay Finals with him in 1969.
Bert Firestone and his third wife, Diana, were prominent breeders of both sport and race horses, later producing Genuine Risk, the second filly to win the Kentucky Derby. Many years later, Katie helped Bert’s daughter, Alison Firestone, develop her own equestrian career to the top level of the sport, and Bert and Diana owned Grand Prix horses for Katie.
Katie’s family then moved to Michigan, purchasing a property conveniently across from the Bloomfield Open Hunt Club, where the Detroit Horse Show is held. “I spent every waking moment of my life at that club!” Katie recalls with a big smile. “We’d put our chaps on over our swimsuits and go there and ride and then swim.”
“I got a very big break when I was 14 and a well-known hunter judge named Sally Sexton saw me riding and asked if I would ride her horses. She had a lovely group of top hunters. I told her I was honored.”
At that time, they only showed in Michigan, with one out-of-state show on the roster, the Chagrin Valley Horse Show, in Ohio. Katie “rode Sally’s horses and I had been pretty successful in the equitation, in the ribbons a couple of years in the finals. Sally said to me, ‘If you’re ever going to win the finals, you’ve got to ride with George Morris!'”
Katie thought, “Okay, I don’t know when we’ll ever be at the same shows as Geroge.” Sally solved that issue by taking Katie to two shows in the fall out East, to Piping Rock and North Shore Horse Shows (on Long Island). There Katie met George and “He gave me my first lesson and I started riding with him when I was 14, winning the ASPCA Maclay finals on Miltown at the Garden that year. I continued to ride with him…forever, he was the biggest influence in my life, and what a great man, and what a great motivator. He taught me everything I know!”
Katie won the AHSA Medal Finals as well, riding a horse Chrystine Jones gave her to show. Until she was 14, she competed only in hunters and equitation. Back then, there were no Children’s or Low Children’s Jumpers, so riders had to go from hunters right into the Junior Jumpers. Chrystine also loaned Katie her first junior jumper, who taught her how to ride the big jumps. She was “very important in my life,” says Katie, “She was a great mentor.”
Katie attended Rutgers University, but that didn’t work as Katie just wanted to ride all the time and only stayed for one year. She studied journalism because she loved to write. “However,” she adds, “I can’t imagine a life without horses.”
A catch rider for years, Katie “gained a lot of experience, in both hunters and jumpers. “I had great horses to ride, including Johnny’s Pocket, who was owned by Judy Richter and another horse, The Jones Boy, owned by George Morris, as well as many others,” she explains. “Then one of my good horses that I was riding had a lameness, and it was caused by the shoeing. As a catch rider, I would just show up to ride the horse, I had no hand in the care or management of it. I remember saying to myself, ‘If mistakes are going to be made in the management of these horses that I was riding, then I have to be the one making them so that I can learn from it and it doesn’t happen again.'”
That thought led to the birth of Plain Bay Farm.
“During my career, I had been working for a family on Long Island, Winston and C.Z. Guest, training their little daughter Cornelia. They were very wealthy, and they fox hunted in the fall. They had what was called a ‘hunting box’ in Virginia, a small home where you go to fox hunt. You leave your foxhunting clothes there, and you bring your foxhunting horses down.”
The hunting box was located in Middleburg, Virginia, and Katie was lucky enough to go with them in the fall. When she saw Middleburg, “I called my parents and said, ‘I have found the place where I am going to live the rest of my life. This is where I’m staying. I loved Middleburg!'”
True to her word, when it came time to have her own barn, Katie moved to Virginia and rented a farm. Her dad had retired so her parents decided to move to Virginia as well. “So they bought a piece of land in Upperville and built a home there. At one point I had made $20,000 selling a horse, and I took it and built a little four-stall barn. And that was the beginning of Plain Bay Farm. But it wasn’t long before I outgrew it.”
Next, Katie rented Goshen Hill Farm in Middleburg. It was owned by a man from Connecticut, who foxhunted in the fall. It was a 15-stall barn, and he only had two horses, two fox hunters. Katie’s job was to keep the fox hunters fit so when the owner came down, his horses were ready to foxhunt. Katie “put those horses in every lesson I had, with every kid in the barn! Those horses were fit. They were broke to death!”
When the man came down to ride, Katie was doing such a great job that he always had a fantastic time. A couple of years later he decided to put the farm on the market and gave Katie the first option. He said he’d sell it to her for a reduced price if she could come up with the money. She couldn’t. But…she asked two of her customers, the dads of two of her students, if they would loan her the money so she could buy the farm. They did. Katie got her farm.
She paid them back quickly, and “that farm is the farm I have today. It’s a fantastic farm, it’s the only farm within the town limits of Middleburg, right on the outskirts of town.” Katie named her farm Plain Bay Farm because “so many of the great horses I’ve had have been plain bays…Milltown, The Jones Boy, Johnny’s Pocket. I thought to myself, ‘if I ever have my own farm I’m going to name it Plain Bay Farm.'” Ever since, hunter/jumper riders have looked upon it as home to some of the best horses and riders in the country.
Katie stresses how important it is “to love the horse. That has to be part of your psyche. You have to create a bond. You have to love the training and have an idea of what you want to achieve with that horse and then figure out how to make it happen.”
In addition, it is crucial to have a system, “so that you train most horses the same way, like a kid going to school. Horses have to learn the basics, just like kids have to learn how to read and write and add and subtract. You have to be a very good horseman and understand the physical apparatus of the horse, when you can push them, when you can’t. You need to know when they feel sore, and what to do to keep them sound. Remember that the horse is always the athlete, and we are just the pilot.”
A good horseman “tries to understand what the horse is feeling and how to get that horse to be where he can compete at his best.” She remembers a great vet in Europe who was at one show. “He didn’t have to watch the horse jog up and down six times as some of the vets do today. He could watch a horse for three steps and know if it was all right or not. Great horsemen have a real feel for a horse.”
Katie’s first World Cup Final, in 1979 in Gothenburg, Sweden, was the first World Cup Finals. It was held indoors in Europe. Katie had never been to Europe. She would be riding George Morris’ horse, The Jones Boy, who was “very hot. And not easy.”
George kept the horse for Katie. He had the opportunity to sell him when a man offered him a briefcase full of cash and was planning to sell him. But something happened. Katie started crying. “You can’t sell him, this is my chance to get to the top of the sport!” George relented, and kept him for her. Katie qualified and rode in her first World Cup Final. She scored a win in the first class, and then came second in the second class. Unfortunately at that point the points were tabulated differently, and it came down to a sudden death jump-off.
The schooling area was under the grandstands, and the Swedish people have a thing called the Swedish Bomb, where they all stamp their feet. Katie was unfortunately under the grandstands schooling when they all stamped their feet. The Swedish Bomb turned the Jones Boy into “a raving lunatic!” and caused Katie a rail down in the jump off. But it was still “the experience of a lifetime!”
Katie lost to Hugo Simon and Gladstone. But it was an amazing finish in her first international competition! “I had never seen Hugo Simon before, I had never seen any of those riders before,” recalls Katie.
After the World Cup Finals, The Jones Boy got very sick. And again, “George Morris really helped me out. One of his students, Betsy Bolger, had a very nice horse called Silver Exchange. She was going off to school and wasn’t going to be riding so she let me take him over.” Katie qualified for the Olympics with him.
She and her teammates were devastated when they learned they would not be going. The Russians had invaded Afghanistan, and countries around the world boycotted the Games. “We just couldn’t believe that we weren’t getting to go,” remembers Katie. The Alternate Olympics for show jumpers were held at Rotterdam, and Katie was part of the American team which placed fifth.
Although Katie was unable to compete in the official Olympics, she had been to all the great European shows and was privileged to be on the last tour with Bert de Nemethy. Starting at Longchamps (the Paris show held in the infield of the racetrack), they competed at Aachen, Hickstead, and Dublin… what a year!
Riding Silver Exchange, along with Armand Leone on Wallenstein, Melanie Smith on Calypso, and Norman Dello Joio on Allegro, at the prestigious Dublin Horse Show the team won the prestigious Aga Khan Cup. When they played the National Anthem, the Irish went crazy for Katie (who was Irish, Katie Monahan not Prudent at that point). “They were literally sitting in the trees, screaming Katie Monahan, Monahan, Monahan! I never felt more Irish than in Dublin!” recalls Katie.
“To hear the National Anthem, whether it’s as a rider or as a coach, it’s always so special. It’s very special to be riding for your country and to win for your country. “In retrospect,” concludes Katie, “I was so green at the time I didn’t know what I was doing! It’s all exciting! You have to hone your skills, to get Medals you have to go there knowing you’re going to jump a clear round, not wondering. And I was very green and young. Still everything was taking me to heights in my career that I will never forget!”
About the Author: Ann Jamieson wanted to be a horse show judge since she was a child, and has now held her USEF “”r”” judge’s cards for over 30 years.
She writes about both horses, and travel, (and particularly loves combining the two). Ann is the author of the “”For the Love of the Horse”” series, four volumes of amazing true stories about horses, and the proud mom of her Secretariat grandson, Fred Astaire (Tucker).
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