For most riders, winning 30 days’ advanced training with a top instructor would have been opportunity enough. Not for Kate Haley.
As the winner of last year’s U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Emerging Athletes Program National Training Session, Haley earned a spot in the 2011 January’s George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Clinic, $3,000 toward new show clothes from Dover Saddlery and a month’s worth of training with an approved instructor. When Haley hit up USHJA EAP Committee Co-Chair Melanie Smith Taylor to ask which trainer would be a good fit, she looked beyond the allotted 30 days.
“I told her I’d be willing to work for it, that I really wanted the chance to learn more,” said Haley, 19. “She said she’d ask around and see who needed help. She knew Callan [Solem], and thought it would be a good fit. It was.”
Haley headed to Callan Salem Show Stables in Chester Springs, Pa., to serve as a working student for three months and squeeze in her 30 days’ worth of training along the way.
Solem summed up her reaction to Haley in one word: impressive.
“Opportunities are what you make them,” said Solem. “The beginning is just showing up and being detached from the outcome. I’m skeptical of the kids who email me or send me Facebook messages saying they want to be a working student. So many of these kids’ first questions are about what’s in it for them. Kate was the exact opposite.
“Someone like Kate is going to make it on her own if she decides to do this anyway, but I can give her a shortcut,” she continued. “She’s got the right personality and plenty of talent. I can pass along more knowledge to her and translate what I’ve learned for her.”
A Great Opportunity
Haley attended EAP clinics during their debut year in 2009, progressing to the Nationals in Reno, Nev., and left feeling inspired to return better prepared.
“The first year I didn’t know much about it, and I didn’t know what to expect,” said Haley. “The second year I brushed up on reading to get ready for the written test—which is hard because the questions are so broad. And I spent extra time in the barn to get ready as well.”
When she arrived at her second Nationals in Buffalo, N.Y., in November of 2010, she was ready to go. She earned the top spot after drawing a tough horse, then impressing the clinicians and EAP committee with how she handled him.
Haley started with Solem the week before Upperville (Va.), and travelled with her to shows such as Lake Placid (N.Y.) and HITS Saugerties (N.Y.), with a few weeks between at the home farm. She borrowed a project horse from Michael Dowling, one of her Intercollegiate Horse Show Association coaches at Centenary College (N.J.).
Over the summer, that horse, 5-year-old Foolish Pleasure, progressed from the 1.00-meter jumpers to placing in the high adult amateur jumper division. Haley could see her hard work in gymnastics and flatwork pay off when he was sold to a new owner after the summer.
“Callan was great to work with because not only is she a great rider, but also she really loves the horses,” said Haley. “She’d come to the barn on her day off to give them treats. I learned so much from her. She was strict but took the time to explain everything to you. When I was confused she never yelled, and she was always helpful. That style really worked for me.”
A Busy Summer
Haley wasn’t an A-circuit newbie before starting at Solem’s. She grew up showing hunters, eventually swapping to mainly equitation under the guidance of Chrissie Hannon of Skibbereen Farm.
Before she got to Solem’s, Haley had proved a contender in the show ring, attending Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals three times and winning the open equitation on the flat class at IHSA Nationals (Ky.)
But working with Solem gave her a chance to take advantage of her international experience while learning the ins and outs of managing 20-25 top horses, including several grand prix mounts.
“It was really cool to set jumps for the big classes and come to the ring to watch them go,” said Haley. “I’d never known how much work it was to get those horses ready, with the magic pads and blankets and Game Ready [therapy]. You get a much better appreciation for what goes into those performances.”
When she was on the road, she began her days by helping feed and clean stalls, then she longed, bathed and groomed her assigned horses. She brought horses to the rings at show time and squeezed in a ride on her own horse between classes. After the day was over, everyone pitched in to feed and do evening chores.
The long and occasionally busy days didn’t faze Haley. According to Solem, Haley has the ingredients that plenty of other hopeful young riders lack: work ethic, an emotional maturity, willingness to learn and love of the sport. She demonstrated this right from the start. Though they’d never met, Haley showed up to Devon (Pa.) all day every day to watch her new trainer school and show the horses.
“Kate was exactly what that program was trying to accomplish,” said Solem. “She’s a really talented young rider, but I think more than anything, I was crazy about the fact that she was a really hard worker. Kate’s horsemanship is what sets her apart. There are a lot of talented, good-riding kids out there, but there’s so much more to it than that. You have to be able to work and give to the horses and the situation you’re in.”
Loving The Lifestyle
Solem would know. As a junior she worked at a grocery store to earn enough money to attend equitation finals on borrowed horses, eventually finding a spot as a working student with Carol Thompson. She worked for Thompson for 14 years until last April when she started working for Colin and Virginia McNeil’s Callan Solem Show Stables.
“You have to love this,” said Solem. “There are a lot of good riders, and it’s always 20 hours a day, six to seven days a week. It has to bring you joy to see their faces hanging outside the stalls when you come home. If you choose this lifestyle, it’s important that you want first and foremost to care for them and give your best to them.”
Haley’s not sure if her professional future lies in the stable or not—she’s in her sophomore year pursuing dual degrees in business and equine science at Centenary. But her experience at Solem’s confirmed that the lifestyle’s just right for her.
“Things would get busy, and there would be days when the work was hard, but for me it was never an issue,” said Haley. “Some days it would just feel like there were a lot of horses going at once. But I loved every minute—I never wanted to be anywhere else.”