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Journal at the World

November 16, 2012

Successful Newcomer

She has only been riding show horses for five years and jumping for less than one. But Kathryn Olson has quickly made a name for herself.

By Jody Reynolds
The American Quarter Horse Journal

Kathryn Olson and AQHA President Gene Graves

Emotional after her third-place amateur hunter hack win, Kathryn Olson explains to AQHA President Gene Graves that this was only her sixth time to show in the event. (Journal photo)

November 7 was a busy day for 21-year-old Kathryn Olson of Bennett, Colorado. She and gray gelding Only Blue Prints found themselves in three finals classes at the AQHA World Championship Show – amateur hunter under saddle, senior hunter hack and amateur hunter hack – almost back to back.

She knew she could count on “Floyd.” She has known him all seven years of his life. Floyd is owned and trained by Kathryn’s horse-trainer brother Gerald Olson.

But two of their three events were brand new.

After a whirlwind afternoon, Kathryn and Floyd earned 10th in senior hunter hack, fifth in amateur hunter under saddle, and bronze in amateur hunter hack.

She cried as AQHA President Gene Graves handed her the bronze amateur hunter hack trophy, and she explained to him, “We just started doing this event! And this is only my third World Show!”

What makes Kathryn unique is the amount of time she has been riding, and specifically the amount of time she has been jumping.

Kathryn and Gerald, 25, grew up in London in the middle of the city, without a horse in sight. After moving to the States when Kathryn was 10, Gerald took an interest in horses, and Kathryn followed suit.

“He rode a family friend’s horse and begged our parents to get us one,” she recalls. “We started in 4-H, then people started hiring him to train their horses.”

Eventually, Gerald and Kathryn made their way to AQHA shows. Kathryn started competing in western events with 2004 bay mare Shes Bens Mercedes. Her favorite event was trail, and “Lilly” was good at it. Last year, Kathryn and Lilly won the amateur trail world championship. She also had Floyd, whose specialty was hunter under saddle. They’ve qualified for the amateur hunter under saddle class at the World Show for the past three years.

“He’s been successful in hunter under saddle, but we could kind of tell he needed another job, too,” Kathryn said. “He was ready to add something.”

In late 2011, Kathryn called horse trainer and former AQHYA world champion Ryan Painter of Pilot Point, Texas. Ryan started working with Floyd over fences. They met up at the Arizona Sun Country Circuit in February, where Kathryn got the itch to try it.

“The World Show is my sixth horse show to show hunter hack,” Kathryn explained. “The Sun Circuit was the first time I’d ever gone over a jump. Floyd was very green, as well. A green horse and an extremely green rider – it’s been a trip! It’s been an interesting summer, but it’s been so fun. Hunters is my favorite new thing.”

What’s Her Secret?
How did Kathryn rise up the ranks so quickly and from out of nowhere?

She worked hard, asked a lot of questions and trusted her brother.

“If you’d have asked me five years ago if I’d ever be in this position, I would have laughed at you,” she said. “We were going to county 4-H shows. Every stepping stone has been a milestone. I wouldn’t be where I am without my brother. He’s my role model. He works so hard and pushes me to believe in myself. He always believes in me. He’s my biggest fan and my greatest critic, and I love him.”

Her biggest piece of advice: Never be afraid to ask for help.

“So many people are willing to help you,” she said. “You just have to ask. There are people ready to befriend you, help you, cheer you on, give you a shoulder to cry on. So many trainers in the hunter side of the industry have been so nice and really helpful. The amateurs are really welcoming. I get more nervous for the hunter classes than for the trail. It’s been a transition for sure.”

She tries to think of the World Show as another regular horse show.

“You can feel really small sometimes when you don’t feel like it’s going right,” she said. “This is the best of the best. For your fellow amateurs and trainers to step up and encourage you and tell you not to give up, it makes you realize that it’s another horse show with your friends. We’re all here to have fun and compete.”

And she also tries to focus on what she loves to do.

“You have to find what clicks for you and what works for you,” she said. “Quarter Horses are so versatile that you can do so many different things. Find what you really love to do. For me, that’s trail, and it’s becoming the hunters really fast. I really like to be challenged, and I like to get my adrenaline pumping a little bit. That’s something I haven’t been able to find. Now the hunters have incorporated that, and I really, really love it.”

Bright Future
Her goal for the future: To win the Farnam All-Around Amateur award with Floyd. They’re qualified next year in numerous classes, including new events – working hunter and equitation over fences.

Kathryn also plans to keep improving with her new western horse, Ima Lopin Ytoo Slow, (owned by Gerald) who she earned third in amateur trail with this year.

“The World Show was only my eighth horse show that I had shown her,” Kathryn said. “That was really, really awesome.”

Kathryn is a biochemistry major at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She hopes to eventually pursue equine pharmaceuticals.