South Africa’s Newly Crowned Queen of Eventing Katie Keller has enjoyed a meteoric rise through her young life adding Senior National Championship to Pony and Junior Titles
The Horse Show is presented by Chris Stafford
Podcast length: 27′ 40″
South African Eventer Katie Keller, 23, wrapped up last season being crowned the Senior National Champion to confirm that her Pony and Junior titles were not a passing phase of youth. In 2007, Katie, who recently moved close to Durban, established her name in eventing in the Gauteng Province, following in her mother’s footsteps. Katie’s passion was inspired by her mother, Karen Keller, who is a well-respected Dressage trainer based in Kyalami, Johannesburg. Katie has consistently been on championship teams and in 2008 took the Pony Championship title, followed by the Junior title in 2010 and Team Gold Medal in 2012. “I was sort of born almost on horseback,” she noted, “I’ve always been around horses, and horse passionate, and just loved them.” Devoted to eventing Katie understands the challenges of establishing an international profile and what it will cost to train and compete overseas. She has had a taste of training in England and the U.S. and one gets the feeling that it’s only a matter of time before Katie takes her career to next level with four star events the main focus. Chris caught up with Katie at her home near Durban to find out more about her passion and ambition. READ the full transcript of the show below.
Katie’s Career Highlights:
2007: Gauteng Pony Rider Eventing Team member
Placed 5th Pony Rider Eventing Championships
2008: Gauteng Pony Rider Eventing Team member
Individual SA eventing pony rider champion
Gauteng Eventing Junior Team member
Individual Reserve SA champion
2010: Gauteng Eventing Junior Team member (two horses were selected)
SA Junior Eventing Champion
3rd SA Junior Eventing Championship
2011: Gauteng Junior Eventing team member
Placed 5th individual
2012: Junior eventing team
Winner CCI one star SA adult eventing championship
2013: Reserve Champion mini Adult eventing championship CCI 2 star
2015: Winner Polo International Horse Trials
Represented Gauteng adult eventing team
2016: Winner western Cape eventing championships
Winner SA adult championships short format 2 star
Inter-Africa cup team
Represented Western Cape team
Team Gold inter-provincial championship (placed 3rd individually)
2017: 2nd Gauteng eventing champs Adult FEI CIC**
- South African Adult Eventing Champion 2017
[00:00:02] Katie welcome to the program.
[00:00:06] Well it’s lovely to have you joining us from near Durban in South Africa. Tell us exactly where you are located.
[00:00:15] So I’m located just about 40 minutes drive outside the main town which is just on the coast of Africa so we’ve got beautiful sunny weather here at the moment.
[00:00:29] Yeah. Don’t make us too jealous now. Sure. But you only recently moved there. Tell us a little bit about where you grew up. Give us a picture if you will paint a picture of your very earliest memories around horses and where it was that you did get most of them from a very early age.
[00:00:51] Sure. So I grew up originally in Johannesburg which is up in the northern province with my mom and my dad they my mom was very horsey so she’s always written her whole life.
[00:01:04] She originally lived in England and when she moved out she took up writing full time and she also instructs.
[00:01:12] So I was sort of born almost on horseback. I’ve always been around horses and horse passionate and just loved them.
[00:01:22] And I just remember even when my mom would ride as a kid out canter around my feet behind her pretending I was a horse that’s all I could believe I was I didn’t know I was human for most my life growing up and then just started I think because my mum sort of knew a lot of people they sent us a lot of ponies and just started riding ponies and just fell madly in love with it and they and I was very lucky to get a very special pony by the name of Blue by you. He didn’t know much but he was a very good horse in the country and a very good confidence giver.
[00:02:01] And since having that pony my heart was completely set on eventing and I just loved the sport and the respect freedom of galloping horse and also the people in it are really really great people to be with. And so from that I had a couple of successes that I was very lucky to get rides on horses off that and that just sort of skyrocketed my career and passion for eventing.
[00:02:30] And then I moved down to the east coast as I mean to Durban and I was lucky to take some of the horses with me to carry on competing. So that’s worked out really well.
[00:02:44] Well clearly having early emotion did it for you and convince you that’s what you always wanted to do. But what did you think it was about your personality that you know writing. I mean when you are so many different sports to choose from. And of course so many different equestrian disciplines to choose from why did you think eventing suited your personality as much as it has done. Katie when you could have done anything.
[00:03:12] Sure. That’s interesting. I think the main thing for me because it’s all three phases it’s not just one particular one. You have to really for that bonding connection with the horse. I think it really came down to that. I loved spending time with a horse training doing a fitness and doing it very much a time consuming sport.
[00:03:35] But I just love being with my horse and there’s nothing you can skip on on the eventing as in you have to have that strong bond in partnership with your horse. And I suppose in any sport it’s the same but eventing just sort of to me pushes that even further that there’s no short cuts or short escapes, you have to have that complete trust and harmony with your horse. Otherwise you know it’s too risky to go out onto the course if your horse doesn’t completely trust you and you don’t completely trust a horse. You know it’s a mutual mutual thing. And I think just being out in the country and it’s just you and your horse that it’s like a whole different world of freedom.
[00:04:18] And I just absolutely love it I mean every time I get up after cross country it’s a black hole on a complete high.
[00:04:29] It’s not a bad feeling is it. I must say once you’ve done it and you get the bug that’s it. No turning back right. Yeah definitely. Well you also clearly enjoy the horsemanship side of things as well.
[00:04:44] And if as you mentioned your mother was immersed in England in the in the in the English system for a while so she fully understood horsemanship and obviously passed it among to you too and you seem to have embraced the horsemanship the coaching the that the interpersonal skills that equestrian sports alphas took a little bit about why that means so much to you should care.
[00:05:12] I think it’s such a crucial part for a lot of my growing up I was sort of states and I enjoyed the competition but it really came down for me that connection and building that bond with the horse and being able to read a horse or understand a horse and some of my best moments have not actually been in the ring competing.
[00:05:37] Sure it’s great to compete and be up there and do well but the moments I’m most enjoyed when normally at home and when you just got something right and you completely understood or read the horse correctly and getting those little moments it sort of just fuels that next moment so when you’re going through a tough time in training or something it’s those little rewards and you finally get something right to break through and gain an understanding and a connection and back a communication with another living being is just so rewarding in turn the backing track of fulfilling very fulfilling thing and I think getting horsemanship and being able to really look after your horse makes you help to understand the horse more when you’re riding the horse and it just holds that deep a bond and especially for eventing I can pick up you know the horses a bit or cool when they are feeling good but I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t know them as a horse in the stable and being able to do horsemanship and work with the horse off of them not just in that arena they become your friend and that’s what horses became for me as they became my friends and they were sort of there was no judgment to anything and I could just spend as much time as I wanted with them and I think that’s just why I loved the horsemanship so much as well.
[00:07:04] We’re certainly in competition. You’ve made a real success of it coming up through the ranks through ponies and juniors now into the senior ranks. Katie and national champion every time along the way so congratulations on what you’ve achieved and last year of course becoming the national champion. What does that mean in terms of your career progression for you if you put it in context of what you might be able to do in the future on the international stage.
[00:07:33] Sure. My dream has always been to either video badminton. One of the big four star events being out of South Africa the technicality of it makes it quite hard with logistics of getting horses over all funding it over there. But if it became a possibility my dream would be absolutely to do really Burghley or Badminton or just ride at a four star four star level. Even to just meet some of the meet some of the top instructors and trainers.
[00:08:11] One of my heroes is Mark Todd who I would love to eat one day meet. I mean that’s another dream.
[00:08:19] So moving forward after this I would love to ride seas.
[00:08:24] Currently just completed a coaching course. So depending how that goes. Look at possibly myriad overseas but I do see it as a very long term plan to go over and just do it for one or two years. I don’t think it’s quite viable unless you have a lot of luck on your side.
[00:08:45] So I’m looking at it if I were to go over on a very long term at least five to ten year basis and building up sort of a team and a network and so that would be one of my dream visions if it were wish it were possible and you’ve always considered education in academic progress and career if you will to be as important and integral in your whole career picture too haven’t you to have something to fall back on and I’d like to hear a little bit more about that because you now seem to have really taken an interest in coaching. So talk about your education and what that has been in terms of you know being the foundation for everything else.
[00:09:34] Katie so when I left school as a writing career because Mum’s always been in horses – I obviously saw the not so easy side of it as well.
[00:09:48] Suppose any business you’ve got the side you love working at the horses but there’s also the difficult side of the stresses the long hours and all of that. And it’s also a risky sport.
[00:10:00] So I went out of school and I said let me just get a degree so it’s not necessarily that I was going to go into whatever degree I got as a business but I would just be something to fall back on if riding didn’t work out or a head injury or something. So then accounting was a subject I was most national after I decided to do the accounting accounting degree. I was lucky to be able to study from home which let me continue writing so I didn’t have to take the bait my writing. And then recently I came across as a kid I loved doing vision boards and drawing up dream lots and that kind of thing. And about I drew of a drip a vision board and about five years later I found that same food and on it I had achieved all the championships and all the horses I’d dreamed of owning and what Ray and that really amazed me and that’s what got me into then looking at the coaching side of things to see why have I had said success and luck.
[00:11:12] And then after going in and researching and doing that course I’ve developed a huge passion to coach and help other people in the sport and develop the sport and empower people to really achieve the goals they want in the genes they want to because it really is possible. And so through that I’ve sort of finished the counting but it’s not something I would have pursued and the coaching has become a real new passion and by doing that it allows me to pursue my rut my riding as well and my dream to my riding. So that’s sort of where my career vision is heading now.
[00:11:53] And when you look back then at what you’ve achieved as a pony rider Junior a young rider and now coming into the senior ranks what means the most to you as you’ve progressed.
[00:12:08] Sure. What a day for me say meet the people I’ve met made the things I’ve learnt along the way and the person you become through that.
[00:12:21] And the obstacles you’ve overcome so it’s not so much about the successes but what it took to get there and when you overcome obstacles in life what you don’t think is ever going to be possible and then your dreams come true through miracles of the universe and from people around me that have just been so kind.
[00:12:40] Without them I wouldn’t have got here and has really been the most meaningful meaningful to me.
[00:12:47] So I definitely say my best moments were the people I’ve made them different horses I’ve learned.
[00:12:54] And the obstacles I’ve overcome to show me that it’s very possible and that’s why I really hope to give back and help other people show that it really is possible.
[00:13:05] Now let’s talk about the horses that you’ve had the ones that have enabled you to be as successful as you have been so far in your young career. Katie now did those horses and ponies mainly come from your mother Karen or do you have sponsors. Talk a little bit about you know the journey of choosing those horses how they came to you in the past and now give us a picture of your training establishment at the moment and how many horses you have.
[00:13:35] OK so a lot of my ponies my mum and I we chose together. She was quite hands off with what I did. So she never pushed me or said you have to buy this pony show that pony. She sort of let me do which I think is a saving grace because it kept my passion going and it didn’t feel like I had to do it or was forced to do it. I did it because I really wanted to and as my own drive. But she would really think like give advice and suggestions on what a good horse was a good pony all that kind of thing. But at the end of the day she really did what I felt in my heart as the right pony for me and choose that pony and then very early on she sort of just left me she would help if asked for help but she let other people help and instruct if I wanted and she sort of kept hands off. And then when I got really keen very keen and very dedicated. Then I had to sell my pony as you outgrow ponies and move on to a horse and then at the time we just didn’t have enough money to buy going also a horse at the time but we had another guy by the name of Mike Marsden who owned racehorses he was a racehorse owner and he had a mayor come off the track and he said no and once the made would you like. So at that time we had no money to buy a horse so my mum said it’s this horse or no horse.
[00:15:03] So I took her on and I mean for the first two months we didn’t see eye to eye. I mean I get on with a lot of horses but me and her we didn’t quite get on and my mom just said well that’s that horse or no horse and that horse ended up teaching teaching me the most important things in riding and that is dedication and commitment and you just do it no matter what. And she really taught me and got me up she was the first horse I took to star and she had a very she wasn’t the most talented horse the best and the dressage but she had the biggest heart and the cross country and she once we sort of got through our differences and work together we ended up being such a strong team and she gave me such confidence to go up the levels.
[00:15:53] So she was my biggest teacher as a horse and then after that I was very lucky because my mum had very good connections in the sport and to be able to get rides and some really nice growing horses and then the recent horse that I just won the big championships and last year he came to me so the lady stayed with us she kept the little pony and she had this horse and sort of said she’s not experienced enough to ride what I like the ride on him.
[00:16:24] And so I took him on and yeah he was really really special and she’s fully sponsored him and owned him and so that was a really great opportunity because it allowed me then to travel and go to shows and compete more and get really have the instructor instruction that I needed and could then have access to and she sponsored me to go overseas to England to train for a little while and to America to train which without her and that horse that would wouldn’t have been possible and she really helped skyrocket my career to where it is today and then currently at the moment. So
[00:17:09] I’ve got to sort of youngsters I ended up selling the horse I went on last year to a young girl just more for the reason of the horse has been to the top and to end on a good high with that horse I found more important than pushing him to do more than what he’s what he’s done.
[00:17:32] And it also gives a young ride the opportunity that I had to learn and experience and grow her riding.
[00:17:40] So at the moment I’ve just got two young horses that I’m currently bringing up the levels one’s a really novice one star horse so that’s most probably my most exciting up and coming prospect Well that sounds like you’re going in the general direction that you want to go anyway so it’s a continuum and an arc of your story is really quite incredible. Katie and it bodes well for the future.
[00:18:09] And I’m wondering now in terms of the business of it though in South Africa and the opportunities that you have there how how do you see that progressing. I’m just wondering how you know with the training that you might have the coaches that are available before you do have to make that jump and that leap to go abroad and train abroad and take your horses with you.
[00:18:35] So it’s very different and we definitely have very good horses riders and instructors so anything that’s hugely different is we don’t have the numbers that they do overseas and the funding. So. I mean if we have 10 people we ran to be able to run a three star trek and a very good one and we have very good riders but then is only Taine increase which is tiny compared to maybe 3 400 entries that you’d get overseas.
[00:19:07] So I think the big jump from moving share overseas is just the vast size of it. And you sort of go from South Africa you have your set up you know the people you know the Vates saw where the Fazio’s are.
[00:19:23] You’ve got your friends your family your backup and then to suddenly move overseas to somewhere where you don’t really know anyone. It’s just hundreds of good riders you just another rider to really make that break and get to the top. I mean quite a thing and also to do it on one horse is sort of not impossible for a lot of people. I think overseas the really good riders have a string of horses and a really good backing system way in South Africa. You sort of have your one or two horses that you produce and keep sound and as you go along and I think it’s just sort of so much they go overseas and to adjust to that can overwhelm a lot of people.
[00:20:10] So I think that would be most probably the biggest adjustment is just the size of it and the number of competitions.
[00:20:19] Yeah we sort of have one course and then maybe two showjumping shows overseas. I mean there’s two or three a weekend which is just completely different numbers game and I mean to be fantastic for South Africa to get to that level but I just think at the moment we lack the numbers and the funding unfortunately and you have big ambitions you.
[00:20:48] I’ve read that you do want to get your spring book collusion and ride at full star level as we heard you dream of going to lamington and.
[00:20:55] But does any of that being that international arena intimidate you at all. Katie given the environment that you’re coming from show I think would be hard to say.
[00:21:08] I’m sure it would be a big eye opener and a whole different different standard in view of the sport but I think you can only know if you really go over there and try. I’ve always dreamed about competing on one of those big tracks and I think the biggest thing would be to mainly handle that amount of pressure and also that amount of funding.
[00:21:38] I mean it’s not a small thing to just sort of go overseas and move overseas and find that thing and there’s a lot of people behind it and backing and I think the big pressure the biggest pressure would be not to let others down would be able to fulfil the dream but also also not that others on those who back me and that kind of thing absolutely will finally tell us about your plans now.
[00:22:03] In January talk a little bit about of course you’re in the southern hemisphere so let’s hear what your plans are for the season when that starts and what you are planning to do.
[00:22:15] OK so our season sort of runs intimate throughout the year. We used to only read it through summer but now because we are able to irrigate the growing and that we are able to run throughout the set of shows. So it sort of starts beginning of the year with more smaller just training shows which will take the younger being tossed to and just do some training runs and stop building up the new horse that I got that the one horse he’s been out of work for a while. So I’ll just start building up his fitness and then in between also ride for a couple of people.
[00:22:59] So I’ll be back with those horses as well. So my first cross-country sharecropped I’ve had a few dressage training shows I will be the end of February when I take the first horse out. So we just preparing for that one at the moment.
[00:23:15] And what else do you do you do into in sport. Katie do you do any cross training.
[00:23:22] Yes to enjoy my running quite a bit as me and I do parties.
[00:23:28] I find Pilates has been… Pilates and yoga been one of the biggest help for horse riding cross training to help me strengthen up for my sport and then otherwise just nothing sort of replaces riding fitness so to me you know riding is uses so many different muscle groups that definitely Pilate’s I think would be the closest to helping me strengthen my riding and then I do the running so that I’m fit for cross and course walks. I think it’s a huge thing to also not just be physically fit but also maintain but and I find a lot of people that get tired towards the cross-country at the end. I’m not always physically tired but mainly tired. So I do a lot of mental training and focus and preparation for my cross country and she’s and competition and that so I’m able to stay mentally focused throughout the course which I find has been a huge aid and sort of achieving a bit a success in my riding.
[00:24:35] Well you certainly have had the successful ready national champion there in September last year following your national championship title as a Junior and Pony Rider. Katie I want to wish you the very very best of luck with your ambitions and hopefully making it into the international arena and we will follow you all the way to Burghley or Badminton I hope and you’ll have to come back on the show and tell us about your international experience so the very best of luck for you.
[00:25:02] Thank you so much it was great bing on your show.