With a full-time job and a young family, Katharin Gualtieri didn’t make jumping around grand prix classes her goal, but over the last three years, she’s entered an elite pool of amateurs competing amidst top professionals on Castalano, a 17-year-old homebred gelding.
“I’m the only one who’s ever jumped him,” said Gualtieri. “I’ve certainly had trainers on the ground help me, but he’s been all mine, and I’ve made him what he is. It’s kind of neat. He’s not a horse that I thought I wanted to keep, but he just turned out to be so athletic that we just kept him. No one ever thought he’d become what he is.”
Gualtieri grew up in Colorado riding hunters, equitation and jumpers and training with John McConnell. She never had a big budget for a horse, so she would bring along young ones and sell them when they got as far as they could. Her father, Bruce Albrecht, grew up on a dude ranch, but he went to medical school and gave up riding for a while. When Gualtieri started asking for lessons at age 7, he joined her in the sport and became interested in breeding.
Gualtieri went to Colorado State University to get a degree in microbiology and got a job at a hospital while she started bringing along Castalano (Capone I—Gaston’s Girl, Allowance), an Oldenburg her father had bred. His dam was a Thoroughbred, and his sire was a grand prix jumper shown by Kyle King.
Also known as “Tony,” the gelding was odd, according to Gualtieri.
“He kind of looked like a gorilla at first, the way he bobs his head and roots,” she said. “He’s the rudest horse you’ve ever seen with his head. Sometimes we weren’t even sure if he knew he was pointing at a jump, but he always figured out how to get over it. I think it was more that he was so athletic that he was trying to find a way to make it more interesting. People would say he looked like he had Tourette’s.
“We just started putting the fences up,” she continued. “We were like, ‘Well maybe he’ll pay attention if he hits a jump and it’s bigger.’ It was sort of like, well he’s weird and unorthodox, but man he can jump big, and he’s super careful. He doesn’t spook at anything; he doesn’t stop. He just loves to jump.”
As she moved up the levels, her trainer at the time, Michael Dennehy, saw something in Tony and encouraged Gualtieri to keep going. The high junior/amateur-owner jumper divisions were “a bit lacking” in Colorado, so Gualtieri entered some small grand prix classes.
Tony kept jumping and moving up, and he’s now competed at the international level in strong company. “He’s done four seasons now at the grand prix level,” said Gualtieri. “We went out to Thermal [California] and made it to a couple of jump-offs there. We went to [Las] Vegas and did the World Cup stuff there [in 2017]. One year we did six grand prixs and made it to the jump-off in all of them. It was a dream come true.”
Gualtieri is 6’2”, and Tony is about 16.1 hands, so they make an odd couple, but they’ve found what works for them.
“He just doesn’t look like much, but he turns heads,” she said. “Richard Spooner and Will Simpson and Mandy Porter and all kinds of people have told me how awesome they think he is. He’s been in good company, and taken me, an amateur—I never thought I would do an FEI-level class, and he and I did it together, and it was pretty neat.”
Gualtieri, 39, is a full-time lab manager and junior embryologist, and she has two children with her husband Greg Gualtieri—Jacob, 5, and Sienna, 7.
She admits it’s challenging to compete at a high level, so she sometimes hires a groom so she can run from work to the show and walk her course quickly before she rides.
“The nature of my job, I can’t just take a day off because I want to go to a horse show,” she said. “I work in a fertility clinic where you never know when ladies are going to ovulate and need things. I’m just starting to learn the embryology part of it. I’ve been doing the andrology [male reproductive science] part, dealing with sperm analysis and washing and getting that prepared. Now I’m learning how to deal with the eggs and the embryos and learning how to grow them.”
Katharin keeps busy riding a couple of 4-year-old homebreds as well and sells a few once they’re started. She’s hoping to keep going with Tony for as long as he wants to.
“It’s funny. People all the time are like, ‘He does it for you. He does it all for you, and he wouldn’t be the same horse for anyone else.’ I think there’s just this mutual trust between us,” she said. “I know he’s going to go out and jump the fence and give it his all as long as I give him an opportunity to do that and stay out of his way. I’ve certainly been offered money for him, and people say, ‘Oh you could buy such a nice horse for that money.’ I could, but you can’t buy that trust and confidence that we have. You couldn’t put a price tag on that.”