By Ruby Tevis
Portraits by Kristen Scott-Crocker
Katie Freeman has come a long way since she first opened the gates to her business, Summer Wind Farm in Apopka, Florida. Katie was just 24 years old then, but she knew what she wanted from life and she was determined to chase her dressage dreams. Now, she’s preparing to check off one of those bucket list experiences—a Grand Prix CDI.
As a child, Katie went on a trail ride with her family, and from that moment forward she was hooked on riding. “My mom wasn’t thrilled with it because of how much money and time riding would take up, but she still put a smile on her face and drove me to the barn,” Katie said. “My dad was always super supportive—my mom absolutely loves it now and tries to come to every horse show, she was always just more practical with money than my dad!” After taking riding lessons with Orlando Dressage founder Klaus Fraessdorf, Katie’s father, John, orchestrated a Christmas surprise she’d never forget.
“I’d been riding a horse that was for sale named Sky, and I knew he would be sold to somebody else because we couldn’t afford a horse,” Katie said. “After we opened presents on Christmas morning, I just wanted to go see him and pet him because that was all I cared about. My dad said he had to go do something, but he really just went to put a bow around Sky’s neck. My mom and I pulled up to the barn and there was Sky, my first horse.”
Katie and Sky formed quite a bond, spending hours riding on trails and participating in Pony Club. “My dad already had a full-time job and traveled a lot, but on top of that he decided to become the district commissioner of our Pony Club. He would borrow a truck and trailer to take me to horse shows, and he saved up the meal stipends from his company to help pay for board,” Katie said. “My mom put up with us whenever we were up to something!”
With money earned from commissions on sale horses, Katie saved up to buy her second horse, an off-the-track-Thoroughbred named Madison. “My dad and I were on our way to buy Madison but we had to stop to get my money from the house, so we pulled into our cul-de-sac with this horse trailer. My mom didn’t really know, but she knew,” Katie laughed. With Madison, Katie became competitive in eventing, riding up to Training Level at local recognized events. “Eventually I realized I wasn’t brave enough to move forward in eventing, so we transitioned to dressage.”
From College to Farm Life
Though Katie wasn’t in a training program, she continued her education through Pony Club, dressage clinics and riding horses for others in the community. She was set on becoming a professional, but her parents had one condition—college. “I had a scholarship to the University of Central Florida where I studied business, but I was also working at the tack store, giving riding lessons, and doing everything I could to save up the money to one day have my own farm,” Katie said.
After she graduated, Katie was able to do just that. “A farm I was riding at came up for sale, and I was able to come in and buy it with my dad,” Katie said. “It was a pretty cool thing to be able to buy my first farm when I was 24. I woke up at 4 a.m. to do barn work, ride and teach lessons, then put lights on the tractor to mow my fields in the dark. I knew it would be a lot, but I’m stubborn and enough of a workaholic that I made it work.”
One day, Katie traveled to nearby Ocala to audit a clinic with Chrissa Hoffmann. “I went to watch and learn, and I loved the way she rode. Later, I had a client interested in a horse she had for sale, and she was so nice and liked the way I rode,” Katie said. “I told her I wanted to take lessons, but I had my own farm and couldn’t afford it. She offered to trade lessons if I could come help her, so two or three days each week I’d load a horse up and drive to Ocala in the mornings. Chrissa was so generous with her time. I would help her get through her horses, she’d give me lessons and she let me sit on some of her horses to learn.”
One horse in particular, a mare named Caprice, would mark a turning point in Katie’s riding career. “She was the first horse I trained all the way up,” Katie said. “She wasn’t the easiest horse when she was younger, and that was the reason I got her. She was a bit difficult, heavy in the hand and she didn’t have a quick hind leg.”
Despite being repeatedly told Caprice could never make it to Grand Prix, Katie was persistent in her training. “I did gallop sets with her to get her more fit and to lift her head. Chrissa was a stickler for riding a horse one handed, so we worked on that. I taught her to piaffe under saddle because she got too claustrophobic with ground work. Caprice taught me to think outside the box, and that horses are individuals,” Katie said. “I got my Silver and Gold medals on her.”
Breeding and Training
As Katie trained Caprice and made her debut in the Grand Prix, her confidence as a rider and trainer began to grow. Outside of their own accomplishments together, Katie was proud to watch Caprice help a young student earn her Bronze and Silver medals. “My student had ridden Caprice for maybe three weeks, and she barely knew how to do flying changes, but I said, ‘Here you go, let’s see you do some tempis!’” Katie laughed. “It’s almost more rewarding when you can put somebody else on a horse you’ve trained and see them succeed.”
Building on her passion for producing her own horses, Katie ventured into something new—breeding. “I bred my Thoroughbred mare to Fabuleux. She was a great mover and had a great trot, and she passed that on to her filly, Falena,” Katie said. After starting Falena herself, Katie took her to her first show as a 4-year-old. By the time she was 6, Falena was ranked among the top in the nation in the FEI 6 Year Old division.
“She scored a 78%, and we were so excited about her ranking, but then she sliced her knee open in the stall somehow,” Katie said. “By the time she healed, the qualifying period was over, so that was a bummer.” Despite the setback, Katie shifted focus to showing on the regional level with her young homebred, and spending time at home to train her feisty imported gelding, Rowan, who’d been working through some obstacles in his young years.
“My father passed away unexpectedly in 2010, so I was wondering how I’d do everything without him,” Katie said. “Around that time, I found Rowan in Europe. He was two and had just been started. I brought him over hoping he’d be my next superstar, but he ended up being one of the most difficult horses I’ve ever had. Everyone remembers our first show because he was a fire-breathing dragon. He took forever to learn flying changes, but he’s spectacular now and he’ll stay with me forever.”
Just as with Caprice, Katie stayed persistent with Rowan’s training, and in 2021, he made his Grand Prix debut. “This September I took Falena to our first CDI at the World Equestrian Center and we won the amateur Grand Prix division! So exciting to do it on a horse I bred and trained.”
Business, Family and the Future
Growing up in central Florida, Katie is grateful for all of the opportunities surrounding her, including the new World Equestrian Center in Ocala. “I’m preparing for my first Grand Prix CDI with Rowan later this year,” Katie said. “It’s nice to have this facility in our backyard, and it helps with the affordability aspect of it, too. I can still drive back and forth to maintain the farm while I show.”
At the farm, Katie’s husband, Mike, plays an important role to help the business thrive. “I couldn’t do this without my husband,” Katie said. “He helps with all of my horses and goes to horse shows. People ask how we do it—we’re together all the time—but we know how to work together without driving each other crazy!”
Being in business close to 16 years, Katie has figured out a formula that works best for her. “I have my training and sales horses, then I travel to a few farms to teach and ride. I also have about eight supportive and loyal clients at my farm,” Katie said. “The group I have now is so wonderful, and that’s what I want to fill my barn with. It makes me want to wake up, go to the barn and enjoy the day.”
Katie looks forward to helping her students grow in their riding, and specializes in helping amateur riders reach their FEI goals. “I have an amateur student with a talented young horse, and she’d like to do a CDI with him, so we’re excited to go on that adventure together,” Katie said.
“It would be amazing to be on a team one day, but I understand that it’s a big commitment,” Katie said. “I have a young horse, Fitzgerald, who I hope to make the Developing List with. I’d love to do some of the big clinics in Wellington. My goal is always to learn and to be the best rider I can be. Every horse I make, it’s a little bit quicker and easier, and I make fewer mistakes. If I knew what I know now, things would’ve been so much easier back then—but that’s part of the process. It’s about learning, growing and looking to the future.”
For more information, visit summerwindfarmllc.com
Photos by Kristen Scott-Crocker, www.sunsoarphotography.com