By Britney Grover
Portraits by Shawna Simmons
Kady Abrahamson was riding before she could walk — and jumping before she knew how. “By the time I was 4, I would jump over logs by kicking the Western horses so they’d jump over instead of stepping over it,” she said.
Kady’s parents were quick to recognize her passion and get her real instruction; her first trainer recognized Kady’s talent, and helped her pursue top-level training. When Kady was 13, she won the pony jumper individual bronze at Pony Finals — and rode in her first grand prix the following week. Last year, she won the Black Barn $250,000 Junior/Amateur Jumper Prix Final on her “horse of a lifetime,” Charline 28, who was named the High Amateur-Owner Horse of the Year for both 2017 and 2018.
Now just 21, Kady fits her passion for riding into a busy “normal” life attending school. Thanks to her support system, she’s able to balance both with impressive results. Last spring she was riding full time, taking 21 credit hours at Jacksonville University and doing an independent study; she’ll graduate magna cum laude, and in January she’ll start an accelerated master’s degree program — all while continuing to show her string of talented horses at top shows around the country.
Finding Her Wings
Kady’s mother grew up riding horses for pleasure in Athens, Ohio. “My mom had me riding on her back before I could even walk,” Kady said. “I started riding on my own when I was 3, trail riding and just messing around for fun.”
Her grandfather bought Kady her first horse, an Arabian named Fanny. When Kady began trying to jump, her mother preempted disaster and took 4-year-old Kady to a friend, Trish Neverman. “Basically she was one of those trainers that kind of did it all,” Kady remembered. “I learned how to jump properly and got my first English saddle.”
By the time Kady was 6, Trish recognized Kady’s talent and encouraged her parents to pursue it beyond her own teaching. Kady began riding with David Biesel, and got her first small “fancy” pony. “I fell at least 20 times in the same day off that pony,” Kady recalled. “She was kind of a brat, but it taught me to be really tough. I never had anything handed to me when I was younger; I never had the million-dollar ponies. That pony dumped me and I had to learn how to be tough, and how to really ride.”
After a medium hunter named Hakuna Matata, who had been rescued from a kill pen, came Salsa, her first pony jumper. “I loved it. I totally fell in love with jumpers, never wanted to go back to hunters, never did go back to hunters, sold my pony hunters and all I did was ride Salsa,” she said. “I just felt like I was flying.”
Bigger & Better
The week after 13-year-old Kady and Salsa took home the individual bronze from Pony Finals, Kady jumped her first grand prix on a horse named Irish Hunt they had purchased from David. “He was really special: David’s mom bought him for David, who brought him up to jump grand prix. He won his first grand prix ever and then sold him to me. I jumped my first grand prix, I jumped my first clear round in a grand prix, I made my first top three in a grand prix, I did all of my ‘firsts’ on him,” Kady said. “And he was an off-the-track, American-bred Thoroughbred, the kindest, jumped from anywhere, did anything for anyone and was just an amazing horse.”
When Kady was 15, David agreed that she needed more time than he was able to give her. She began working with Australian Olympian Scott Keach and his best friend, Sharn Wordley; her parents bought a farm in Lexington and founded Abrahamson Equestrian, and Kady has been there ever since.
Housing Kady’s amateur-owner mounts at Abrahamson Equestrian led to breeding jumpers, which in 2015 expanded to breeding and racing Thoroughbreds as well. “We breed racehorses and sell them or keep them to race,” Kady explained. “We have a horse racing now, we have one in training, a few going to a sale, we have an American Pharoah baby on the ground right now and a mare pregnant by Justify. It’s been a lot of fun to watch horses of our own race, and also having all those babies around while they’re super cute.”
The support of Kady’s parents and her team is what has enabled Kady to succeed both in the ring and in school, which was always “regular school,” Monday through Friday. At Jacksonville University, she chose to focus on riding in the amateurs and grand prix as well as being a good student. Her barn manager, Matt Wildung, has been along for the ride to ensure Kady can be 100 percent focused on school when she’s there, finishing her bachelor’s degree in sport business with a minor in marketing before beginning the sport management master’s degree program. She’s been just as successful in the saddle, winning amateur-owner and grand prix alike. Even with a badly injured shoulder, Kady continued to win, especially on Charline 28.
Horse of the Year
When Kady first got Charline 28 from Sharn, she nearly gave her back. “I hated her for a year,” Kady admitted. “I thought, This horse is crazy! I’ll never be able to figure her out. She’s nuts. And she is a bit crazy, but then I learned to ride the crazy — you just kind of have to let her do her thing. One day we just clicked, and jumped 30 clear rounds in a row. Every time she walked in the ring it was a clear round. There was a time in a jump-off she tripped and I almost fell off, I lost my stirrups and she somehow still finished jumping clean.”
Once they connected, things started to take off — despite Charline battling shivers, a neuromuscular condition that causes tremors and loss of mobility. “But when she goes in the ring she tries her butt off,” Kady said. “She wants to win so badly and feels everything that I feel. We just click.”
Charline and Kady were so successful that Charline was named the High Amateur Owner Horse of the Year in 2017, and again in 2018 after what Kady calls her most memorable showing experience, the $250,000 Junior Amateur Championship in Saugerties. They jumped clear both days, ending up in a jump-off with one other rider, who knocked two rails down before Kady and Charline rode.
“I almost blacked out before the last jump because I realized whether I had it down or not I was going to win,” Kady said. “After that, I don’t even remember much. That horse turned herself inside out the second day to jump clean. She tried her guts out, and I’ll never forget that. She has such a heart of gold, and everyone that watches her knows it.”
The week after Saugerties, Kady had much overdue surgery to repair the shoulder she injured two years previously and tried to live with. She stopped showing to recover until February of this year, and then slowly picked it back up. But when Kady was ready to show again, Charline wasn’t. “Her shivers had gotten really bad, and we decided that it wasn’t in her best interest to keep jumping her.”
Though they announced Charline’s retirement in June, she may have other plans. “That horse is very smart, and it was almost like she knew that we were saying she was done and she didn’t want to be done,” Kady said. “It’s almost like she’s fighting to come back. I’m not going to get my hopes up, and I’m not going to push her: she doesn’t deserve that, she owes me nothing. But if she wants to come back and she’s telling us, ‘Don’t retire me yet,’ then that’s what we’re going to do.”
Surrounded by Support
While Kady would be thrilled even to be able to ride Charline at home, she still has five mounts she’s actively campaigning that will be relocating to the new Abrahamson farm in Ocala, Florida, including Mega Jackpot, a special young horse because he was the first horse bred and raised at Abrahamson Equestrian. In addition to her parents and her team at Abrahamson Equestrian, Kady credits her success to her friends from school, her sisters in Alpha Delta Pi Sorority, and her boyfriend, Jacksonville football player Evan Anderson.
“They all watch the live streams and sometimes come watch me jump,” she said. “It helps keep me balanced: I can show and fall off and have the worst day ever, and they say ‘Oh that sucks’ and they just forget about it. It’s really helped to be able to go back into my own life and forget about what happened, but it also keeps me humble because when I win, they say, ‘Oh awesome, congrats!’ and then it’s over.”
With her support system behind her every step of the way, Kady is ready to take on another big year of riding and studying. “Riding is my stress reliever from school and school is my stress reliever from riding,” she said. “Everyone has been so supportive, the horses I’ve had and that I have now are all amazing, and I’m super blessed. I’m really excited; it should be an awesome next year.”
Photos by Shawna Simmons, www.sasequinephotography.com