A Day In The Life…Catherine Chamberlain
By Shannon Fox
We are so excited to be interviewing one of our 2KGrey ambassadors and dressage rider, Catherine “Cat” Chamberlain. After a highly successful career in the JR and YR dressage division, Cat has recently made the jump to the professional ring while continuing to compete in the U-25 Grand Prix. Some of her accomplishments include: winning eight medals from NAJYRC, capturing the 2010 JR Reserve National Champion and 2015 YR National Champion titles, placing 6th while representing the US in 2015 at the CDIO in Hagen, Germany, becoming the 2015 USDF Year End Intermediate II JR/YR Champion, and finishing 6th in the 2015 Young Rider Grand Prix Brentina Cup Championships. She is also a USDF Gold, Silver, and Bronze medalist and is very active in the dressage community as a board member and volunteer.
We interviewed Catherine to take you through the day in the life of a young professional, as well as how she approaches every horse show and handles competing multiple horses in the dressage ring. We love Catherine not only for her super sweet personality and insane riding skills, but also because she’s all about girl power and female empowerment (just check out that list of equestrians she admires)!
SHANNON FOX: What has it been like, making the jump to the professional ring, any big successes or learning experiences?
CATHERINE CHAMBERLAIN: It’s been very exciting yet nerve racking making the jump to the professional ring. I’m ready for the challenge but it has definitely put me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to test myself in new waters. A big success I had was winning my very first CDI Intermediate I class on Kim Pribble’s Avesto van Weltevreden, a.k.a. Vito. It was so surreal and gave me the confidence and motivation to keep pushing for more.
SF: What is your normal training schedule like?
CC: My horses normally work five to six days a week. I like to start off the week with a lighter day where I allow them to stretch and loosen up. Then I’ll do harder work outs for two days followed [by] a fun, light day and finish up the week with one or two more intense days. That way their bodies have breaks in between to recover and they have time to relieve tension mentally as well.
SF: What do you do the week of a show, especially the day of?
CC: During the week of a show I make sure to ease up during the first half of the week so my horses don’t get too tired before show day(s). Then I’ll slowly build up to the competition, trying to guide them to peak during the optimum days that week. I’ll also just try to be as organized and prepared as possible as I feel like I ride better when the horses are relaxed and everything is under control.
SF: What do you focus on in your warm-up for competition?
CC: During my warm-up, I try to focus on my horse [being] as focused, ride-able and supple as possible. I never try to drill any one movement over and over, but will make sure to go over any “problem” areas we might have in the ring so the horse is prepared for what’s coming. My goal is for the horse to be ready and sharp on the aids without getting too tired before we even get in the competition ring.
SF: Do you use any confidence building techniques or visualization for yourself or for your horses to combat nerves?
CC: For confidence building, I try to use positive encouragement and positive thinking to put myself in a place where I can believe in my abilities. You have to first trust yourself before you can expect your horse to trust you. I also like to visualize my tests and focus on how I want to ride all the details such as good corners, half-halts and preparation for bigger movements.
SF: What’s your after-test process like? How do you measure if your ride was a success?
CC: After each test I think back and first focus on whether or not I liked the overall feeling of the test. Meaning the way the horse felt in the hand, how supple and honest they felt on the aids, etc. Then I think back to each movement and make a note of any mistakes or errors we have. My measure of success is if the horse performed the test to the best of his ability and if we both focused and put our effort together as a team. My measure of success is never based on score or placing alone. For example, a 65% might be one horse’s maximum effort while another horse is capable of a 75% at their best.
SF: How do you factor the judge’s comments into your journey to improvement?
CC: I always appreciate getting constructive criticism from the judges and use their comments to help me determine which areas I should focus my training on the most. Judges go through years of training to get where they are and many have a great eye for detail. So if I’m consistently getting comments on needing straighter flying changes or better bend in my lateral work, I will use those critiques and focus on those areas in my training while striving to improve.
SF: How many horses do you have competing this year?
CC: This year I have about six horses that I’m competing regularly. Vito, an eleven-year-old Dutch Warmblood that I’ve been competing in the Small Tour CDIs. Sophina, a.k.a. Sophie, my own seven-year-old Westphalian Warmblood that I’ve been competing in the USEF Developing Prix St. Georges classes. Receloso XXXV, Steve Strunk’s nine-year-old PRE stallion that I’ve been competing in First Level. Sunny, Vickie Hendershott’s Thoroughbred that I’ve been competing in First and Second Level. Don Armstrong, a.k.a. Lance, Jane Hayes’ four-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding I’ve been competing in Training Level. And finally Brando, Kim and Mark Carter’s four-year-old gelding that I’ve been competing in Training Level. It’s a very fun and diverse group of horses.
SF: Where do you train out of right now and how much traveling do you do for shows?
CC: For about the last three years I’ve been training out of Adventure Farms under David Wightman and Kathleen Raine. I’ve just made the move to work with Nicholia Clarke at Dressage Unlimited in Temecula, CA. Luckily, Southern California has a great selection of shows and most of our competitions are only up to a couple of hours away. We usually travel to about one a month during show season.
SF: How do you coordinate showing multiple horses at one horse show?
CC: Showing multiple horses at one show can be challenging as I’m often doing a lot of the grooming and barn work as well. I think the key is to be very organized and have a structured plan and timeline so that you have enough time to get ready, focus, and concentrate on each horse individually throughout the day.
SF: Which horse are you competing right now that’s been your biggest success story?
CC: It’s so hard to pick just one, they have all developed so much and I’m proud of each ones’ journey. I have to say I’m really proud of how Vito has come along. He came to our barn in December of 2013 with a late flying change and by 2014 he was successfully showing Third and Fourth Level. In 2015 I competed him in Young Riders where he had multiple wins in CDIs, got to represent the U.S. at a CDIO Nations Cup in Hagen, Germany, won team gold and individual silver at the North American Championships and won the Young Rider National Championship. David Wightman and I put a lot of effort into him and it’s been quite the ride!
SF: What are your must-have items for your horses and yourself at shows?
CC: My must-have items include my lucky 2kGrey Horseshoes riding jeans for the warm up day of the show. I also love pairing my 2kGrey Pas Op show breeches with my Harley short coat for a stylish and sharp look in the ring. For my horses, I have to make sure I have a surplus of treats to reward them for a job well done, along with my top EcoLicious Equestrian grooming products to bring out the beautiful shine in their coats.
SF: What are your favorite 2K Grey products that you use outside the show ring?
CC: Outside the show ring, my favorite 2kGrey product is the wonderfully patriotic Olympic Full Seat riding jean. My favorite 2kGrey look would have to be the Swirls riding jean paired with their crystal belt and denim embroidered jacket, talk about style and comfort!
SF: You’re friends with some other young professional equestrians and rising stars, what is the community like?
CC: My experience in the community has been so wonderful. All of the other professionals have been so supportive of one another and it’s really refreshing to see. It’s so nice being friends with a lot of the girls as we can talk about plans and goals for the future and share our journeys and how we got to where we are. I love the team spirit and support system that’s developing.
SF: What other professional equestrians do you admire and why?
CC: I really admire Debbie McDonald because of her longevity in the sport. She had a top career as an international rider and has now gone on to be one of the best coaches in the U.S. Same goes for Christine Traurig. I also really admire Charlotte Dujardin and Laura Graves for developing such beautiful partnerships with their horses and being able to be so successful at such a young age. Lastly, I admire riders such as Catherine Kassidy who have been able to make a great transition from the Young Rider and Under 25 ranks into the senior field.
SF: Do you have any advice for any other young riders who are hoping to turn professional?
CC: My advice would have to be to find your passion and run with it. Working with horses can be tough, but it’s such a fun and rewarding career. Don’t be afraid to find your “niche” and create your own path of success within that. For example, some people really love working with young horses and starting [them] from the ground up, while others thrive in the tough FEI competition world. Others love to do it all from start to finish. If you can find what you are passionate about and make a career out of it, you will spend your life loving your job and that’s a really great thing. Also, allow yourself time to transition from a young rider to a professional and expect some bumps in the road. This sport is full of ups and downs and you just have to enjoy working with the horses through success and failure.
SF: What are your short term and long-term dressage goals?
CC: My short term goals are to start building up my business and creating a happy clientele of horses and students. I also am aiming to compete in the Under 25 Grand Prix over the next few years. Long term, my dream is to be able to compete internationally if all of the details fall into place. I also really love the journey of starting a young horse and bringing them up through the levels, so I would like to focus on creating a successful program for developing top horses from young horses to FEI in the future.
We have no doubt you’ll meet all your goals and more Cat, thanks for being a great ambassador for 2kGrey!
You can follow along with Catherine’s journey on Instagram: @Cat_Rose_Dressage
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