There is not a shadow of doubt in 17-year-old Katherine Strauss’ voice when she describes the direction she’s propelling herself in to reach her goals. As we speak, she’s literally heading in that direction, on the way to the airport as part of her weekly commute from junior year classes at the Brearley School in New York City, New York, to weekends spent training and competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida.
In 2015, Strauss picked up wins from Spruce Meadows to the North American Junior Young Rider Championships, showing admirable consistency as she ticked off a NAJYRC silver medal, the USEF Prix Des States 2015 Team Championship, and a reserve in the USEF Under 25 Championship last summer and fall.
Less than a month into the new year, Strauss has kicked off her 2016 in strong form, with a WEF Week 2 win in the competitive Artisan Farms Under 25 Grand Prix Series Welcome, and 2nd place in the Week’s Artisan Farms U25 Grand Prix. She rides under the tutelage of a team of Maddens, with equitation expert Stacia Madden and show jumping stanchions John and Beezie coaching her in their respective arenas.
So just what is it like to be coached by Beezie Madden? Who is the horse that has carried her to such success, and does Strauss plan to bypass college for a riding career? During the time it took her to travel the NYC streets from the doors of her high school to a waiting plane, Strauss answered all that and more:
Q: By now, you’re probably used to the commute to Florida in the winter. Is it hard to balance life in two cities, or do you like it?
A: It’s certainly something that I’ve worked at getting better at over the years. As the circuit progresses I get more into a routine. I’ve been coming to Florida since I was in middle school. I’ve always made this commute and in more recent years I’ve started coming down Thursday night instead of Friday to give the horses Saturday off before the classic and to be able to compete in the equitation.
It’s a challenge to balance, but it’s totally worth it. My family and I value education immensely. At the end of the day, having an education is something that no one can take away from you, and I definitely plan to go to college for at least four years.
I go to the Brearly School in New York City, and it’s quite rigorous academically, but I’d consider myself a nerd. I really enjoy school and really enjoy the classes. And I try to find ways to incorporate my school life into my riding life. For example, I’m taking advanced biology this year, and for that class I’m writing a grant for PRP injection. I got to talk to my veterinarian Dr. Steele, and one of his assistants about PRP research. It’s just one of those things I’m very interested in that I got to apply in school.
“Every time I go into the jumper ring, John asks me, ‘what is everything?’ and the answer is always ‘smoothness’.”
Q: Your horse All In seems to be a really versatile mount. What can you tell us about him?
A: He is a very special horse to me. I’ve been lucky enough to ride him for almost two years now. He helped me make the transition from junior jumpers to the national grand prix level. I feel so confident on him, whenever I walk into the ring I feel like I can jump anything. He’s got a quirky personality; he’s really serious when we’re competing. He always wears his ears back for example, and it can make him look grouchy, but he’s actually really loving and just has a different way of expressing it.
Q: You’ve got a foot in both the equitation and the jumpers. Can you describe your trainers, and how they help you ride your best in both rings?
A: I do the equitation with Stacia Madden and her team at Beacon Hill. Last year was my third year competing at the equitation finals, and they’re really important to me. They’ve really served as a springboard for me and reinforced what I work on in the jumpers.
My jumper trainers are John and Beezie Madden, who have a close relationship with Stacia. They really balance each other. One example is in teaching smoothness. I work with Stacia a lot on smoothness, which is something I struggle with.
And every time I go into the jumper ring, John asks me, ‘what is everything?’ and the answer is always ‘smoothness.’ Beezie is always talking about how riding is really a smoothness game, a game of concentration not only for the rider but for the horse. When you’re going forward with smoothness, it is just good riding and as for the equitation, the whole look of it is better with smoothness.
Q: With her full-time riding career, it’s rare to see Beezie Madden give a clinic, as she did in January’s GHM Horse Mastership Sessions. What’s it like to ride with her on a regular basis?
A: I feel so fortunate to be riding with Beezie and John. Everything they do in their work is an example of their ambition, integrity, and passion.
People are so used to seeing Beezie just in the rider’s role. And generally, when you’re having a conversation with her, she’s soft spoken. But as a trainer, she certainly takes command of the situation. She’s an incredible trainer. You learn just by watching her. She has a deep understanding of horses, and she is able to communicate that understanding very clearly.
One of the things I’ve tried to get out of the opportunity of working with her is trying to understand what she’s thinking. During the GHM clinic, she and John set the gymnastics course with us the day before we did it, and really explained in great detail all the reasons whey they were having one element or another. It’s amazing to see how much thought was going into to every decision, as well as the decisions she makes with her own horses when she’s teaching and riding.
Q: During week 2 at WEF you won the Artisan Farms Welcome and were 2nd in the Artisan Farms Grand Prix. What does competing in the Artisan Farms Under 25 Young Rider Grand Prix Series mean to you?
A: I think it’s an amazing way to bridge the gap between junior jumpers and the grand prix level. It can be daunting to as a junior rider to watch the grand prix, with all those riders in it whom you have so much respect for.
The series is very dynamic. There are people who are just coming out of the junior jumper division and people who are mostly focused on the grand prix level, or have young horses they are bringing up to that level.
The series is definitely a target of mine this year. I care deeply about the U25 division. The next event is the team event, which I’m really looking forward to. Having a speed, a normal jumpoff class and now the team round, the series really has a taste of every different format.
Q: Who supports you the most in your riding?
A: That’s a difficult question; there are so many people! Without the support of my parents, my riding would be extremely different. Living in New York City, there are no barns nearby, and the lifestyle in the city is not suited for horses. But they spend countless hours, long drives to the barn, and so much of their time supporting me. Prior to me entering this sport, they had no involvement in it whatsoever. I’m so fortunate that they’ve taken an interest in it and supported me.
And John and Beezie and Stacia, they are so supportive. They have this certain passion about the sport that’s almost difficult to put into words. It’s inspiring to see someone be so passionate about what they do, day in and day out, every day.
Q: What of the future? Are you thinking beyond your junior career yet?
A: I’m certainly starting to shift my attention towards the future. Riding is what I’m most passionate about, I dream of jumping the biggest tracks, the biggest championships in the world.
But before fully committing to those goals I want to finish school, continue riding while I go to university, and then re-evaluate and go from there.