Sunday, Apr. 21, 2024

5 Questions With: Shawn Casady

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Like the late and great Johnny Cash, Shawn Casady’s been everywhere since his impressive junior career as a catch-rider. He moved to the Netherlands to work for Alan Waldman for a year and a half; he worked for John and Beezie Madden; he accepted a job with Michael Dorman and Ronnie Beard in Wellington, Florida; he filled in for Hardin Towell in Florida when Towell broke his foot; and the list goes on.

But in 2018, he competed in Thermal, California, with Dorman and Beard, and then worked with Tina and Craig Yates at Highpoint Farm in Rancho Santa Fe, California.

“I took the job offer and really enjoyed living out here,” said the 28-year-old. “I had a really nice group of horses with them that were competitive wherever we went to horse show. It was just a cool place to be and to live. I grew up skateboarding and surfing in Florida, so it kind of sparked my interest.”

Shawn Casady and NKH Cento Blue won the $100,000 ATCO Gold Tour Grand Prix CSI3* at Blenheim Spring Classic II. Amy McCool Photography Photo

When he traveled back to the East Coast to fill in for Towell, he kept California in his mind. And then in 2020, he got an offer. “I was bouncing around: catch riding, driving down to Aiken, going up to Ohio,” said Casady. “I was bouncing all over, and [trainer] Neil Jones gave me a call.”

Between Jones and then picking up a few other clients, he made Santa Barbara, California, home.

“I was able to group a bunch of work together in a general area and make it work,” he said. “In that way I was doing my own thing without having my own full business.

“I love the ocean; I love spending time in the mountains, and I love riding horses. And it’s all right here,” he added. “I still have to travel a bit for horse showing, but as a place to base and to live and to wake up and draw some sort of inspiration out of something every day, I find it to be a unique place.”

At Blenheim Spring Classic II in San Juan Capistrano, California, Casady showed why his catch-riding skills stay in demand. NKH Cento Blue came to his barn shortly before the show from Erin Davis-Heineking. He’d shown the 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Centadel—Glorida-Blue, Chacco-Blue), bred by Ulrich Henschke, one week during the Desert Circuit (California). At San Juan Capistrano Casady showed him the first week in the two-star before graduating to the $100,000 ATCO Gold Tour Grand Prix CSI3* on April 15.

“I jumped him in the two-star and took a couple classes to get to know him,” said Casady. “He was clear in the grand prix in the two-star. I had the time but ended up having the last jump of the jump-off, which is always a bummer. But it was good; it really gave me an idea where I was at with his monster of a stride.

I ended up just overdoing the last line a little bit. I was already doing a leave-out; I just kind of overdid it. He just covered so much ground.

“It kind of helped me going into the second week with the first class being a speed,” he continued. “It gave me a better idea of where I was in that and helped me make a plan. We ended up winning that class as well as the grand prix on Saturday.”

As he builds up more of a business in California, Casady holds big, long-term goals, all while focusing on the present and trusting the process.

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“I’m just focusing on the moment,” said Casady. “I’d love to develop a string that can take me to bigger horse shows: I’ve never been to Spruce Meadows; someday [I’d like to] do the World Cup and ride for the team. That’s the level I want to be riding at, but I feel like my first order of business is creating a program and a team. And then if that develops, the horses will come.”

1. With your catch-riding resume, what advice would you give to get to know a horse quickly to get quick results?

As a catch-rider, you typically know how to win already. So it’s not so much about putting the pressure on the win, but just to keep dialing in the ride just as much as you can each time without thinking too much about winning. The more you can get in tune with the horse, and you feel confident in them, and they have confidence in you, naturally you will start getting results.

2. What hobbies do you have outside of the horses?

Whenever there’s waves, we all like to go surfing. This winter has been absolutely insane out here. I’ve been spending a lot of time up at Mammoth Mountain in betweendays of horse showing. I have a Lance truck camper, so I’m able to be really mobile and go on these little strike missions. If there’s waves up north, I’m able to go up there. If it’s snowing in the mountains, I’m able to get myself there if I have time between horse shows and training. I’ve been very lucky to have some good friends up there that help make it possible for these little missions.

When I first moved out here, I lived really close to a climbing gym. I was climbing quite a bit, but that’s always been hard for me to do a lot of because it requires two people when you’re climbing outdoors most of the time.

[My friend and I] did a week in Yosemite one summer. I had no idea how grand that valley really was. Pictures don’t even do it justice. We did the shoulder of Half Dome, which isn’t the Northwest Face [that has] the sheer vertical face. But there’s this cool, kind of knobby route over on the shoulder. It starts out pretty steep, and by the time you’re halfway up, you’re just walking up this super steep slab for [what] feels like forever.

I love the ocean, but I think the mountains, that’s really where I’d love to be.

3. In one interview you said that you’re going to try to get as far as you can in this sport without compromising your morals. What do you mean by maintaining your morals, and why is that important to address?

I think it’s an easy sport to sell your soul in. For me, it’s about becoming the best horseman that I can become. I’d like to believe that if I give everything to the horses, they’ll give everything to me. I take care of them, and they’ll take care of me—because it’s kind of what I’ve done my whole life. I’ve sacrificed everything for it and then been trying to put everything into it. I like to do things a certain way with horses, and I was brought up by some really good horsemen. So it’s just important to me to keep that going.

Because I really do love [the horses]. When you keep that love as a priority, it ends up attracting the right people, the right horses, the right situations. It’s a bit how it gets manifested. And I have fun doing it. Show jumping is fun, and that’s why we do it—why I do it—and I want to keep it that way.

4. What do you wish you could tell your younger self?

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Just not to worry so much, to believe in myself and have that confidence.

Growing up, between Charlie Moorcroft, Bill Schaub, Ken Smith, they told me I had feel. They kind of left me alone and allowed me my own system to figure things out. When I came out of the ring, it was always a mutual conversation. It was always how we do it. They allowed me to have a lot of freedom in that thought process.

But then I started to take some of these other jobs. It was a little bit difficult, because then all of a sudden, I’m getting these unfamiliar inputs. It created a little bit of a doubt in myself. I knew that I was still capable, but it was like, “Maybe I’m not that good. Maybe I’m not good enough.”

It’s very hard for me to listen and to think while I’m riding. I’m so in the moment that it’s kind of action, reaction. And then when you get all that instruction and talking all of a sudden— being a young, hungry rider, you want to listen. You want to try to get better; you want to take the criticism. Looking back on it, I never felt like it went backwards, but I really struggled with that.

The more that I’m able to believe in myself and feel confident, the better the horses feel, [and] the better the results are. I’ll tell my younger myself to just do what I was doing. Keep believing in yourself.

5. I noticed you’re not really on social media. Why have you decided to unplug in that way?

I really don’t like it. I don’t like talking about myself. I don’t like posting about myself. I get that it’s advertising and all that, but in my fantasy world, my riding is my advertising, and my time on a horse is my advertising. In my fantasy world, that’s enough.

It’s 2023, and it’s obviously a huge part of the industry. There’s been a little bit of pressure to participate in it. But I’d rather watch surfing and skiing videos than everybody bragging about how their horse jumped clear. It’s such a platform for people to show what they have. To me that doesn’t matter.


This article ran in The Chronicle of the Horse in our May 8 & 15, 2023, issue. Subscribers may choose online access to a digital version or a print subscription or both, and they will also receive our lifestyle publication, Untacked. 

If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.

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