Friday, May. 24, 2024

Katherine Bardis Is Finding The Right Balance

From pony hunters to grand prix, Katherine Bardis' progress has been steady, deliberate and focused. And last year she culminated her junior career by being named the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association's leading junior jumper rider.

Although Bardis was born into a horse family, she wasn't allowed to ride until she was 10.


From pony hunters to grand prix, Katherine Bardis’ progress has been steady, deliberate and focused. And last year she culminated her junior career by being named the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association’s leading junior jumper rider.

Although Bardis was born into a horse family, she wasn’t allowed to ride until she was 10.

“My dad had trotting horses, and my mom rode Western when she was younger. I went to the track with my dad and hung around the stables, but I wanted to ride, and part of the attraction was that I wasn’t allowed to ride,” said Bardis. The day she turned 10, she insisted on riding lessons.

Bardis spent five years riding under the careful tutelage of Tracy Cotchett, who had a barn near the Bardis’ home in Pebble Beach, Calif. Her first major win was the NorCal Pony Medal Finals.

“Gosh, that seems like so long ago. It seems kind of silly now, but it was a really big deal at the time,” she said.

But that win reflected the strong riding skills that Cotchett was imbuing in her young student. “Tracy really gave me a great foundation,” stated Bardis.

Bardis graduated from a pony and moved on to horses to compete in hunters, equitation and lower-level jumper classes throughout Northern California. She won the NorCal Junior Medal Finals, at 3’6″, and then turned her sights to the jumper ring.

In 2003 the Bardis family went to Spruce Meadows, in Calgary, Alta., to see some of the best show jumping riders and horses in the world competing at one of the most spectacular venues in the world. And while there, they met Richard Spooner. He invited them to visit him at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center to look at some jumper prospects.

“And they were the most amazing horses I had ever sat on,” said Bardis.

They purchased two horses, and suddenly she found herself working with the top grand prix rider. “I really wanted to do the jumpers, and there wasn’t much opportunity in Northern California,” she said.


Bardis kept her horses with Spooner and met him and her horses at shows. She also zipped down to Burbank, a one-hour flight away, to spend long weekends schooling with Spooner whenever he wasn’t showing.

“Katherine’s development in a relatively short amount of time has really impressed me,” said Spooner of his young student. “She came to me having ridden in equitation, children’s jumpers, and with a little bit of four-foot experience. Now, just a few years later, she’s doing grand prix.”

Bardis values her relationship with Spooner. “Richard is right there with me. If I’m having a problem, he gets on and demonstrates what he wants me to do. It clicks when I see it. I really respect what he teaches me, because I see him doing the things he’s telling me to do.”

As Bardis began really focusing on showing, she found that there weren’t enough hours in the day for school and riding. So she and her parents met with her school’s dean to come up with a solution.

“I have two main priorities week in and week out: school and riding. I try to balance them,” she said.

Bardis attends class three days a week at the academically demanding Santa Catalina Academy and then jets off to ride and show. “Some of my teachers make me turn in all my Thursday and Friday work before I leave for a show, and a few give me the weekend to get the work done,” she said.

When she’s not in the show ring, Bardis is often tucked away in some quiet corner at the horse show studiously doing her work. She only has time to socialize with horse show friends when her schoolwork is done and her horses cared for. “On school days, I’m usually up until 10:00 p.m. doing my work. I have to do a lot of my learning on my own. It’s kind of like being in independent study,” she said.

Her junior year in high school was her most difficult. “It’s a big college year, and I had to petition several deans to be able to miss classes. Sometimes I got penalized a grade by some of my teachers because I missed classroom discussions,” she said. “I don’t think many of my teachers really understand the sport, but over the years they’ve seen my dedication, so at least they have come to respect me.”

And if those teachers were to see her in action, they’d be impressed. This year she stepped into the grand prix ring and has ridden solid, competitive rounds.

“I did some Friday grand prix classes at Indio [Calif.], and I even won two futures classes,” said Bardis proudly. In April, Bar-dis finished second and fifth in the grand prix at the Oaks Spring Classic II (Calif.).


“It was only my second Sunday grand prix, and to finish in the money with both horses was really exciting!” she said.

Still, she said she finds the greatest fulfillment from the journey. “I love the process of training,” she said.

“Katherine has done a great job,” said Spooner. “She’s not interested in the lime-light; she focuses on the horses. She has a fantastic feel for a horse, and she has the ability to focus and a good work ethic.”

Bardis laughs at the praise. She claims she has to work hard at all of it. “School is hard for me. It doesn’t come easy,” she said.

She insists that she’s not a “natural” at riding either, but that she’s willing to do whatever it takes to reach her goals. So she’s glad she’s been accepted by Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles. The proximity of the school to the Southern California horse shows will make the logistics of academics and showing a bit easier.

Bardis started off the year by winning the $25,000 junior/amateur-owner jumper classic at the HITS Desert Circuit in Indio before making her move into the grand prix ranks. It was part of her preparation for another goal for 2006–returning to the North American Young Riders Champion-ships. “Last year it was my first year, and I’d never jumped such big courses. It was a real eye-opener,” she said.

If she makes the Zone 10 team this year, Bardis believes she’ll be much more prepared. She’s also aiming for the PCHA Grand Prix Rider Rookie of the Year award.

Each of her parents–father Chris and mother Sara–is very supportive, but Chris has turned into a show jumping aficionado. He still owns racing Standardbreds, and now he also keeps several grand prix jumpers for Spooner to show.

“My dad is obsessed,” said Katherine. “But I love it that he’s so excited.”




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