by Ann Jamieson
Katie knew it was time to have a Grand Prix horse of her own. The two fathers who had helped Katie buy her farm, Adam Sanford, (whose daughter Shana rode with her), and Paul Inman whose daughter Paula rode with Katie (and is now her personal assistant) had invested in her before.
Katie decided she had to fend for herself to get horses and make her own mistakes. She asked them, “If I put up this much money will you match me, and we’ll go to Europe and find a horse, and it will be our Grand Prix horse?”
Once again, the two men were happy to invest. Katie headed to Munich where the European Championships were being held. George Morris was there training people. He and Katie have a good friend, a Dutchman named Johann Heinz, who is a great rider. The owner he worked with at the time, Mr. Melchior, owned the immense breeding operation Zangershiede. He had bought a stallion in France, named Gayssire Fleury. “He was half trotter, and he was very difficult. He had a very funny mouth. If you tried to take him back, he’d trot. But he was a jumper! He was unbelievable!”
George said “Well you’ve got to get on and ride this horse.” The Europeans still ride very differently, “they want horses to be flexed, they want horses to go in a frame.”
But of Americans, Katie says, “We don’t care, we’d grown up on Thoroughbreds that were sort of wild. I didn’t care if his head was up. So I got on and tried him and loved him, and we bought him—the three of us.”
They changed his name to Noren because someone filling out the export papers put the name Noren on them, so they kept it. “He was wild and crazy but I got along with him well.” So well that he earned the “Horse of the Year” title that year! “That was a fairy tale story because the fathers and their wives who had invested in me, we just had the best time of our lives. Noren was so wild the wives would have a hard time watching. I’d be coming to the six-foot oxer and he’d trot and they would scream and he’d always make it over the oxer and then ended up Horse of the Year and it was a great year!”
Though it might have been intimidating to most of us to trot to a six-foot oxer, Katie, “believed in him. I remember I won the President’s Cup with him which I believe secured the AGA title for me. I was jumping off against Melanie Smith on Calypso. She went and was outstanding…and I wanted to beat her! I went next and I jumped one, two, a rollback to this big oxer and I checked Noren a little and he trotted! It was miraculous I made the oxer! I said to myself just smooth it out, you don’t want to trot any more fences, and I smoothed it out and we ended up winning! I thought stop going so fast, just come home clean. And I ended up winning.”
With Noren, Katie won the American Invitational (held at Tampa Stadium, the only horse show held in a football stadium), the American Jumping Derby, and the President’s Cup at the Washington International Horse Show. “It was a great year for all of us! I was finally doing it by myself, along with a great team of people around me which included my ground person John Madden and the best barn manager in the world, Pablo Lopez. I was responsible for all the things you need to learn to make it go well. That was a very rewarding time!”
Winning her first AGA Championship with Noren meant the world to her. There was so much on the line: “starting my farm, asking my clients to put their money into my business for me. Noren was difficult, but we ended up at the end of the year with the championship and it was just so rewarding. I could do it! I could make it! Because you wonder all along if you’re going to make it until you get there. I proved to myself that I could do it.
“Talent is just part of it. You have to be so highly motivated. It’s so much more important than being able to see a distance. I do what I want to do, and make it work. And that to me is the most important—the motivation, the horse, and beyond that everything falls into place.”
The American Grand Prix Association
Katie feels that, “We never gave Gene Mische enough credit. He started this Florida circuit and started the American Grand Prix Association, and he made it so great for all of us. It was something special for all riders; you’d plan your calendar around it.”
It was a very sought-after tour and at the end of the year in 1982 Katie won a Rolex watch, and never took it off. “Then Gene got Mercedes involved so if a rider’s horse won Horse of the Year, the rider won a Mercedes.” Katie won a Mercedes that year. “It’s a great marketing idea,” because once you’ve driven a Mercedes you’re hooked on it for life. You have to have a Mercedes. Granted,” says Katie, “I do buy them used.”
Pamela Harriman was another great owner Katie worked with. She owned The Governor, who won Horse of the Year in 1986. In those days Mercedes gave a car not just to the rider but also the owner of the horse. So “we both got a Mercedes,” says Katie. “We went to the Garden; we both walked out together and got our cars.”
The Governor came from the same man Katie had gotten Noren from, Johann Heinz. He was a Holsteiner, very well bred, by Landgraf. “He was a great, careful horse,” remembers Katie. “He wasn’t Olympic. He wasn’t a 1.60m horse. He was a 1.50m horse but Pamela enjoyed him. She loved to come to the indoor shows like Washington and the Garden to watch.”
She also owned Special Envoy. “I bought him through Henri from Gerhard Etter in Switzerland. He was a small horse, but a fighter. I learned later that if I was fighting him, he never went well. But if I could get his attention like that on the jump, where he was fighting the jump, then he was a big winner. And he won some of the biggest classes in America. He won the Jumping Derby, he won the President’s Cup, he won the Invitational, he was another very good horse that Mrs. Harriman owned for me.”
Asked how she felt when she was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame, Katie said, “It’s a nice honor, it looks back at your life and what you’ve done and I think it is a nice honor. I was proud. I’ve loved the sport so much and I have so many friends through it. I appreciate it every day.”
A bad fall where Katie hit her head during a show in Wellington in 1990 ended with Katie in the hospital being operated on for a blood clot on the brain. When fans the next day saw Henri in the show ring, they were reassured that she was going to be ok.
After the fall, Katie lost her depth perception. She counts herself “very lucky I got right to the hospital and got operated on right away.” But it was “pretty hard to come back from that.”
Katie was lucky to have Belladonna, her one Grand Prix horse at the time. “She was a great, careful horse. If I rode well and was accurate, we would win. If I was a little off on the distance she would stop and throw me off. Having Belladonna at that time pushed me to get over my depth perception problem; it was a great inspiration to get back into a high competitive mode.”
Thoughts on the State of the Sport
“I often think the sport today isn’t as much fun as it used to be. We had a lot of fun! We honestly had the time of our lives. Nowadays, it’s all about money. In America showing is a real elitist sport, and many go in classes just to school. They pay for the entry, pay for the stall, and their kids don’t even know what it costs. In Europe, most people feed their families with the prize money they won, and they are way more competitive there than America.”
Katie feels that American riders today are getting softer, and it’s not just riders, “It’s life in general, it’s America. I guess because of lawsuits, it’s liability. I grew up falling off every day. I’d ride bareback. I’d see how fast I could go. When you grow up not always worrying about being hurt, you become a different person. And I just think life, in general, has become soft, and trainers have become very good at pampering their clients. Like I said, it all gets to be about money, and the value of horses. You can’t do with horses what I did as a kid. A horse might slip and hurt his leg and a very expensive investment loses its value to the owners.
“But for me, the whole point of worrying about the softness is for where it will take our team in the future. We need to be able to compete against the Irish and other European riders who grow up riding green ponies and green horses who are naughty and difficult. Our kids ride $200,000 ponies who wear earplugs and have been lunged for an hour. It’s just a different world. How are we going to beat the Europeans?
“American parents would never put them on a whirling stopper that might throw them to the ground. Or a leg hanger that might flip. There are a lot of skills that our kids never learn. How are we going to teach a horse to jump that triple combination going away from the gate in the rain at dusk at Dublin? That’s my fear for America.
“In my own barn, there are Amateurs and Juniors who have fears and who will never reach the highest levels. I like teaching them, and I like them as people as well. Not every student is meant for the highest level. But I’m thinking what are we going to do for our elite team when there is no more McLain, Laura, Beezie, or Kent? They have been the staples of our team for the past 15 years.”
Katie does feel that there are some great riders coming along, and hopefully, they can gain the experience and toughness they need to be team leaders in the future.
She is extremely proud of the people she taught who have gone on to the top of the sport. Beezie Madden came to her as a junior, and many of the riders Katie has worked with are now top international riders and some of the best trainers in the world, including Penelope Leprevost, Kimberley Prince, Reed Kessler, Alison Firestone, Laura Kraut, and Simon Delestre.
“Henri,” says Katie, “has been a huge influence in my life.” The two met in Virginia in 1982 at a horse show in Richmond.
“Katie won the Grand Prix and I was second, and I got to meet her. It was my first show in America, and we became friends and here we are now,” Henri remembers.
He wasn’t aware of who Katie was at the time. He had come to this country to sell French horses, and compete, and was working for Mr. Graham, “an American who owns factories in Europe and wanted to promote French horses.”
While Henri didn’t speak English, a friend of his in Switzerland encouraged him to go to America, “and I took the advice.” Henri picked up English on his own. While he tried going to school to learn, “School was never my thing.”
Henri had worked for Gerhard Etter in Switzerland for a long time. He taught Katie a great deal about the business. “He introduced me to a number of dealers and taught me a lot about dealing. We started doing everything together, and now 35 years later, we still do everything together.”
Katie recalls that, “Nineteen eighty-six was an unbelievable year for me. I married my husband, I was AGA Champion, and I also was champion in the National League, and went to the World Championships where we won the gold medal, that was the best year of my life!”
Henri, unlike Katie, always sells his horses (Katie wants to keep them all). He and Katie each have their own horses and their own investors.
Henri started out in the sport of eventing, which he loved. But he soon realized he wasn’t going to make any money in that discipline. So, he and a friend decided to quit eventing and start young horses for show jumping. Initially, they did both but,”You see where you want to go, and I loved show jumping.”
In France, Henri worked out of a stallion station (an haras) owned by the government in his hometown of Rosieres aux Salines. He learned to ride at the haras, trained by a man named Yves Rosseau, whose father was the director of the farm. The station is a club where people bring mares for breeding. Haras are placed throughout France, giving farmers a chance to breed their mares to top stallions without paying a fortune.
Some of Henri’s best horses included Reveur de Lacense, a Selle Francais who was “a really good horse who went clean all the time.” While not the fastest he “was a really good jumper.” He was sold to someone in California. Another good one Henri owned was Fair Lady, who won a few Grand Prix within Palm Beach and Europe. She was sold to top Swiss Rider Willi Melliger. The King was another of Henri’s top horses. “He was not easy but I won a lot with him,” recalls Henri.
He also rode for many of his customers. Although Henri “loves showing, I love to go around the world and show,” he is now focusing more on training. He loves to see horses come along, to “see what I can do to make them better.”
Henri competed with the French team, showing at the Garden in New York, Washington, and Toronto. He won the Grand Prix in New York.
Katie would sometimes make her clients loan him their good junior jumpers so he could show with the team because Henri would come over without good horses. Henri won the World Cup at the Garden with Alison Firestone’s junior jumper Trick or Treat, and was Leading Rider at Toronto!
“Clotaire,” one of his best horses, “took me from National Rider to International rider, I won a lot with this horse!” Like his son Adam, “When I get a great horse, it’s sold. Katie always wants to keep her horses, she doesn’t like the selling business.”
Plain Bay clients enjoy the luxury of showing both in Europe and the U.S. Henri says they are all hoping to go to Europe to compete this fall. The past few seasons the trips were curtailed due to Covid.
In 2021, a horse owned by Katie and Henri, and brought along by Adam for several years was proving himself to be one of the best horses in the country. Adam won the 4* Grand Prix with him during the final week at WEF. He was going to be sold with the hope of getting on the Olympic team later that year. Although Katie didn’t want to sell him, Henri and Adam thought the time was right. Although it was the correct decision to sell him, Katie says, “I just hated to do it.”
He was sold to Barb Roux as Laura Kraut’s mount. Balou won the first Grand Prix they competed in together, qualified for the Olympic team, had a double clear the last round of the Olympic Games, and helped our team win the silver medal! “It was a fairy tale year!” exclaims Katie.
Katie prefers riding, and, as she has gotten older, training students. Adam has instead followed his dad’s path, taking his passion for buying and selling horses to a whole new level since they sold Balou and he went off on his own. Based in Europe now, he is running a business and doing a fantastic job of finding good horses and selling them to clients around the world.
Henri, Katie, and Adam all love to cook, eat and drink with friends. They love to play games like Scrabble and Backgammon. Wherever they are in the world, they look for the best restaurant in the area to visit for a fabulous dinner.
Henri says, “I enjoy the horses every day and that’s why we’re still doing it. It’s a sport and a passion and we’re so lucky to do what we love. We never take a vacation, we always say ‘Our lives are a vacation.’ I mean, what could be better?” (We are sitting in Plain Bay South, in Wellington, Florida on a glorious day watching their rider, Cat Driscoll, school a horse).
Katie and Henri say “Together we have our son, Adam our beautiful farms with horses and dogs, family and friends, and a life we share together doing what we both love.”
Does it get any better than that?
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).
Read More from This Author »