Amateur Nicole Kurtenbach Kramlich celebrated her two-year wedding anniversary at a horse show. While she showed her pony at the Washington State Horse Park, her husband Derek was fishing at Lake Cle Elum; they spent evenings watching the grand prix and a hunter derby and having at least one “fabulous dinner.”
“Including him in my sport has helped my continual involvement in the horse community, something we now enjoy together,” Nicole said of how she balances riding, work and home life, adding, “His love for the great outdoors made it easy to get him in the saddle.”
|Sharing her passion for riding with her husband Derek
(right) has helped Nicole Kurtenbach Kramlich balance
horses and life.
Nicole, 33, has been riding since she was 3 years old, and she has brought along and sold “probably close to 40” equines over the years, most of them ponies.
Her job in outside sales for a pet food company has her on the road three weeks a month, but, she says, she’s always home on the weekends, squeezing in time for hunter shows, eventing, trail rides and even fox hunting on her latest pony project, a 13.2-hand bay named Applesauce.
Nicole found Applesauce on a Facebook page that goes in after auctions and posts horses that would be going to the meat buyers. She said the pony had been handled but, “I don’t think she was really broke.”
She’s had Applesauce for about two years and has shown her in the hunters—where Nicole’s passion is. She says she will take the pony eventing next year because although the hunters are Nicole’s love, they are perhaps not where Applesauce’s passion is.
The pony is also a “dream to foxhunt,” Nicole says. In addition to growing up in Pony Club and having ridden on her college equestrian team, she’s a longtime member of Washington’s Woodbrook Hunt Club—a drag hunt because the state doesn’t allow live hunting with hounds, she said.
Woodbrook is said to be the oldest foxhunt west of the Mississippi and takes place primarily on the Army’s land of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Nicole’s pony projects all learn to canter down trails with dozens of other horses around, then hang out by the trailer while the hunt has breakfast.
|Nicole Kurtenbach Kramlich’s pint-sized project, like
Applesauce, have kept her in the saddle despite a
full-time career and busy family life.
“I have gotten ponies from all different walks of life,” including garage sales, Nicole said. “I take them on as my own horses, put lots of miles on them and rehome them—I find some little girl to brush them and love them.”
And why ponies?
Partly, Nicole laughs, it’s because ponies are cheaper to have and maintain, especially in her self-care boarding situation. And, she said, “I gravitate to their personalities. You can never have enough tricks in your bag. They keep you humble.” And, she added, ponies are closer to the ground when you fall off when breaking the green ones.
So with an ability to buy and sell pony projects, why stay an amateur?
“Sometimes when you turn your passion into a profession it loses its luster,” Nicole said. “I have a career and keep my horses my pleasure.”
Two weeks before Nicole graduated college she got a phone call from a well-known Northwest hunter-jumper trainer. “It was the opportunity of a lifetime to most girls that age,” she said. The trainer asked her to come be in their program, and sometimes, Nicole said, “I think back and think, ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda,’ but I love horses and want to keep them my hobby.”
Her hobby requires the dedication to ride, in Washington’s often rainy weather, in the evenings after work when she’s not on the road, and on weekends in a little uncovered sand arena lit by floodlights on the side of the barn. “For Christmas I bought myself a round pen for breaking green horses,” she said.
With Nicole’s busy schedule, her family is a large part of her hobby. Her mother, Linda Harer, is a member of Back Country Horseman of Washington, a group dedicated keeping the state’s trails open for all users and educating horsemen who use the trails in leave-no-trace practices. Nicole says Linda scouts out good trails for Nicole and husband Derek, who also helps out with horse care when Nicole is on the road.
Balancing work with her riding takes “really good time management,” Nicole said. “Trying to incorporate your family as much as you can makes life a lot easier—getting my husband involved, getting him his own horse.”
She said when it comes to riding, the amount of personal enjoyment and ability to decompress from the from fast-paced speed of life means, “If there is a will, there is a way. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”