By Laura Scaletti
Portraits by Kirsten Hannah
When opportunity knocks, Katherine Brewer is always ready to open the door. From her first invitation to sit in the saddle to her current job at Arkay Sporthorses in Belgium, when given the chance to ride or work with horses, Katherine enthusiastically says, “Yes!”
“How I’ve followed my career in horses so far is if an opportunity presents itself that I’ve been trying to work for, I take it and just move. I don’t focus on the small details, like where I’m going to live, I just pick up and go,” Katherine said.
It was this “try anything” attitude that propelled Katherine into the sport. When Katherine was 10 years old, her mother, Deborah, was getting her master’s degree at Columbia University. “On the first day of classes, my mom’s professor started the class by saying, ‘If anybody has any kids who’d like to visit a barn and take a riding lesson, let me know because I’m a barn manager at a barn in The Bronx.’ Although I was a swimmer at the time, my mom thought, Well, Katherine’s always loved horses, I’m sure she’d love to do something like that,” Katherine said.
Shortly thereafter, Deborah took Katherine for her first lunge line lesson with Joey Currais at Hunter’s Landing. “My mom loves to tell the story that when I got off that pony, I looked at her and said, ‘I want to do this forever,’” Katherine said. “I bet she was like, Great, super, what have I gotten her into, but that first ride was what really kickstarted this journey and my mom couldn’t keep me off horses since then.”
A self-proclaimed shy, super-awkward and nervous child, Katherine found the only place she felt like she was 100% herself was on the back of the horse. “I loved being around the horses and the energy that they had. The way they made me feel, like I just belonged with them, made me immediately recognize I’d always stick with it,” Katherine said.
After two years of taking lessons at Hunter’s Landing, Katherine moved barns to work with Lindsey Mohr. Lindsey not only became Katherine’s first “real trainer,” but Katherine also became Lindsey’s first client ever.
“Lindsey let me ride her own horse and taught me the beginnings of horsemanship. I’d go collect the horses from the field and she’d teach me how to brush them and tack them up. It was with Lindsey that I fell in love with the idea of horsemanship and first entered the jumper ring,” Katherine said.
The bond created by being each other’s first remains strong today, even though Katherine’s family had to relocate to California when she was 15 for her father’s job. “When I turned professional, my first job was with Lindsey. We actually run a business together in New Jersey, where she rents out my family’s Brewport Stables. It’s a really nice thing how this lifelong relationship has developed,” Katherine said.
When Katherine moved to California, she ended up at a full-service barn. While she quickly moved up the ranks, did her first Grand Prix at age 16 and attended Young Riders twice, Katherine couldn’t shake the feeling that she wasn’t much more than a passenger atop her talented mount.
“I felt like being part of a full-service barn, where you simply get on your horse, pilot it around, get off, hand it off and then go about the rest of your day, protected me from the reality of what it takes to be a true horsewoman. I knew I had to step away from the lifestyle and mentality of a client if I wanted to make a career out of horses,” Katherine said.
Katherine’s dad, Jeffrey, was also instrumental in helping her shift her thinking. “He’d always called horseback riding a hobby for me and I would always explain that it wasn’t a hobby, it was a job. He told me, ‘You’re not working, we’re paying people to keep everything going for you. Maybe your lessons are tiring, but you’re not doing anything that could make a career out of this right now. You need to go to college.’ So, I followed his advice and went to college,” she said.
During Katherine’s junior year of college, opportunity knocked when Lindsey contacted Katherine to see if she wanted to move back to New Jersey and be her working student at her hunter and equitation operation, WinMohr Show Stables. “My parents went along with this idea on the condition that I continue to pursue my degree online,” she said. When Katherine arrived at Lindsey’s, she quickly realized she hadn’t learned much more than the basic horsemanship Lindsey had taught her nearly a decade prior and she was hungry to learn more.
Katherine felt embarrassed and didn’t know how she could call herself a rider or a horsewoman when she didn’t truly understand or know what was going on with her horses. “Unless I was sitting on a horse, I was almost scared of them, as I didn’t know much about how to deal with them on the ground. I didn’t know how to lunge, properly wrap legs, proper nutrition, basic first aid. I felt like I had a complete lack of connection with the animals I was sitting on,” Katherine said. “I decided I needed to try to absorb all the information I could.”
Looking to gain as much knowledge as quickly as possible, one night Katherine went home and ordered 15 books on horsemanship and horse care. “I was so committed to learning anything and everything I could that I would ask questions to every single person around me about what they were doing and why. Whether they were a groom, barn manager, vet, farrier, owner, trainer or other rider, I felt I could learn something from everyone,” she said. “At first I was a felt a little insecure about asking so many questions, but every person I questioned was happy to help me learn.”
After a year of being a working student for Lindsey, Katherine decided it was time to make the leap and become a professional. She eventually became the assistant trainer at WinMohr Show Stables.
Thanks to the knowledge learned in those early days of being a professional both in and out of the saddle, Katherine realized that while she loved working with Lindsey, she wanted to find a job where she could focus on her jumper skills. Although she was ready to take on the world, Katherine quickly discovered that no one was willing to hire her as a rider.
“I specifically remember going around HITS Saugerties and telling everyone I met, ‘By the way, I’m looking for a job if you hear of anyone looking for a rider.’ People would just nod and say, ‘OK,’” Katherine said.
This went on for months, until Katherine received a call from jumper rider Martine Marcelli. Martine had injured himself, was going to be out for a few months and needed a rider. “He told me they were supposed to show the following week and asked if I could be there. Absolutely, I could be there. I took care of my horses in the morning and then would go work for him, and then started to freelance for others as well,” Katherine said. “I just accepted that I would have to travel around and learn from as many people as I could until I found a position that was full time.”
After Martine gave Katherine her first break as a professional, she also worked for Trevor and Jill Gaffney in Ocala, Florida. “They break their own horses, train and show them. They taught me that it’s possible to do it all while still being horsemen at heart,” she said.
Katherine feels lucky to have worked with some amazing professionals as she’s moved up the ranks. For the past few years, she’s had the opportunity to work with Emil Spadone. “He’s a true horseman. I’ve been able to see how he can get into horses’ brains and connect with them without even sitting on them. I’ve never been able to see someone get results from the ground like he has, and he’s really helped me with my horse Casido 2,” she said.
While in California, Katherine was able to spend some time training with husband-wife duo Daniel and Susan Igani. “Although they had all these horses and customers in training, they would completely devote themselves to do all things necessary for the horses. Picking up a pitchfork at the end of the day wasn’t beneath them,” she said. “It was so refreshing to see this, because it’s just not something you see that often anymore.”
In 2018, Katherine took another leap of faith when she purchased her horse Casido 2 off a video. “I had asked Jan Theymann, whom I’d worked for in Germany during the summer of 2018, if he knew of a horse that could do 1.40m, as I wanted to get experience at the bigger heights. He said he had a great horse without a lot of results,” Katherine said.
As excited as Katherine was to have a new horse, he proved to be extremely quirky. “For the first two years, I was honestly a little bit scared of him. He was extremely reactive and we couldn’t connect,” she said. “I actually tried to sell him, but nobody else wanted a horse like that, so I decided to try and make it work.”
It was Katherine’s Argentinian coach, Daniel Ighani, who really helped her connect with Casido 2. “He told me, ‘This is never going to be a horse that you can put into a system. He’s not an amateur’s horse, he’s a very difficult horse. You need to let him be who he is and accept him exactly for that,’” Katherine said. “Ever since I stopped trying so hard to fit him into my mold of what I knew, all of this talent has come out of him because I allow him to be himself in the ring.”
Sure, he still has his antics, like having in-gate issues and then rearing when he walks into the show ring, but once the timer buzzes, he’s ready to conquer the course. To soothe some of this behavior, Katherine bought Casido a therapeutic mask he wears when showing that’s supposed to bring him a level of calmness.
“I’m not really sure it works on him, but I’ve kept it on him, and he flies around the ring jumping like a bunny. I started to call him Super Bunny, and at first people made fun of me for the name but it’s stuck and now everyone is calling him Super Bunny,” she said.
Over the past two years, Super Bunny has lived up to his name. Together, he and Katherine have had over 20 clear rounds, placed in over 20 Grand Prix, won their first Grand Prix together in Ocala and competed in their first $500,000 class. “This past winter in Ocala, he became a staple at the top of the standings and people started coming up to me to tell me what an amazing horse he is,” Katherine said.
“While working with some influential professionals in the industry has shaped my view of it, none of it would have made sense to me if it wasn’t for this horse. I think I speak for a lot of professionals when I say the feeling of connecting with your once-in-a-lifetime horse is like no other,” Katherine said. “The love, trust and journey I have taken with Casido has not only shaped me as a rider, but also as a human being.”
During the 2023 Ocala Winter Circuit, Katherine told Emil how badly she wanted to work in Europe. “He told me Emile Hendrix, from Stal Hendrix, was coming to the show that week and we could chat about any opportunities. After I walked out of the Grand Prix, Emile asked if I wanted to work in Europe and I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Katherine said.
There was just one catch: Katherine had to be ready to start in five days. “I said, ‘Let me fly home and get my passport in New Jersey and I’ll be there,’” she said. Once again, opportunity knocked and Katherine answered the door.
After learning and riding at Stal Hendrix for a few months, Emile and Katherine realized they had enough riders and grooms at the barn. “We mutually decided that I should explore a different option. I ended up connecting with Randy Sherman, an American rider who’s lived in Belgium the past 15 years. At first, Randy was trying to help me find a job, then he suggested I just come work for him,” Katherine said.
Working for Randy at Arkay Sporthorses helps fulfill Katherine’s desire to be a hands-on horsewoman. “Like the other influential horsemen in my life, I really love working for Randy because he’s in there tacking up horses every day, doing barn work, fixing fences. He works as hard as the rest of us do and he’s an incredible rider, trainer and dealer,” she said.
Katherine is currently in the process of getting her visa so she can stay in Europe for a few more years. She’s hoping that she can develop herself as a rider abroad, create her own training system and be able to come home to the States and run a successful sales barn out of her family’s Brewport Stables.
While Katherine still has her teenage Olympic and Team USA aspirations, she’s realized that she’s going to have to either build the right connections or develop her own horse to get there. “When I was younger, I thought I could do that if I just worked hard enough. Now that I’ve been in the sport around some of the top riders in the world, I see how much knowledge they have, how they ride their horses and how they are so connected to their horses because of their years of absolute dedication to the industry and the sport,” Katherine said. “At this point, I’m perfectly fine being patient for my opportunity to come.”
For more information, follow Katherine on Facebook and on Instagram @_katherinebrewer
Photos by Kirsten Hannah, kirstenhannahphotography.com