Katie Laurie has a life of contrasts—from a Southern Hemisphere childhood in New Zealand, she now lives in snowy, distinctly Northern Hemisphere Canada; from a family of show jumpers, she married a saddle bronc rider—but it seems to be a recipe for success. Laurie, who rides at the international level for Australia and represented the country at both the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Agria FEI Jumping World Championships (Denmark), most recently topped the $50,000 Brown Advisory CSI2* Grand Prix at the Desert International Horse Park in Thermal, California, on Feb. 5 with Cera Caruso, a 15-year-old Australian Warmblood (Casall—Belcam Cymphony, Capone) owned by Carissa McCall.
Laurie is based near Spruce Meadows in Okotoks, Alberta, where she lives with her husband, western trainer Jackson Laurie (they met at a show in Sydney—“he was there doing rodeo in the saddle bronc, and I was doing the show jumping”) and their children Grace, 8, and Royce, 6.
Briefly escaping the Canadian winter, she brought a strong string of horses, anchored by her own 12-year-old world championship partner Django II (Lordano—Flower Power, Brilliant Invader), to kick off her year at the winter series in sunny California.
She stopped to talk to us about her international background, the horsepower in her pocket, and raising a family on the show circuit.
Please talk a little bit about Cera Caruso, the horse that you rode to the win last weekend.
“Elvis”—he’s really cool. I’ve ridden him for quite some time now. I ride for the McCalls, a few of their horses from New Zealand; they’re really good owners.
Carissa started him off in New Zealand. He always definitely had the jump and was careful, and she always had big hopes for him, but he’s also always been pretty good at throwing in a quick spin when you least expect it. It’s funny though; he’s not a bad guy. It’s just when his blood gets running, he gets so excited, and if a horse comes towards him or something, he’s like, “This is a great excuse to spin around fast!”
A bit similar when he decides he wants in from the paddock: He flicks a switch and is like, “Must come in right now!” and turns into a lunatic, and then a kite on the end of a rope.
The first time they ever asked me to ride for them, it was another horse and Elvis. And Elvis was such an annoying horse when he was young, and he was so wild, that I actually said no to riding him to start with. Then I carried on riding some of their horses, and I’m very glad I got to ride him. He’s been an amazing horse.
You ride him with a rubber snaffle and no martingale because “he has his own way of going” and clears the jumps. How have his quirks led you to make different decisions as part of his training process?
Riding-wise, he’s very brave to the jumps. I think if you tried to overbit or school him too much, he would lose his fight to win.
He likes the rubber bit because he can lean on it, and it doesn’t offend him. At home though, he’s so quiet—and actually, heading to the ring, he’s always ears forward and so happy!
What about some other horses in your string that you’re looking forward to showing?
In the FEI division, I have “Django.” He is older now and more experienced, so he’s jumping some of the bigger grand prix classes.
I’m really excited about McCaw MVNZ [another of the McCalls’ horses, a 10-year-old New Zealand Warmblood (Corofino II—Heidi LVP, Cassini II)] in this circuit. He jumped the last at 1.50-meter, and he’s really ready to step up and do some of the bigger classes now. He’s an exciting one to look forward to. And then I have another, related in the same line as Django; she’s just going to start stepping up to the 1.40-meter.
You grew up in New Zealand, you ride for Australia, and you live in Canada. Can you tell me how all those places fit together on your lifeline?
My dad [Jeff McVean] used to ride for Australia; he show jumped in Europe for a long time, and at times was in the top 10. My mum is from New Zealand, so when he retired, we moved there, and I grew up there.
But then I married an Australian as well, so we ended up living in Australia. I guess that because my husband was Australian and my dad was Australian, I probably felt more Australian, so I decided to change teams.
And then, we had both spent quite a bit of time in Canada in our lives, and there was an opportunity to move, so we decided to go. I guess it seemed like a better place to be. We’ve been based there for three years now.
How is raising children in Canada different from your own childhood experience in New Zealand?
Especially where we are in Canada, western riding is much bigger than it is—or certainly what it would have been—when I grew up in New Zealand. I grew up going to the weekend shows, going with my parents.
Grace is pretty keen now. She went to some shows last summer and won at the .60- and .70 meters. And in the winter, they go to some of the western things, like barrel racing and do all that fun stuff as well.
How do you manage juggling a full-time, top riding career and motherhood?
The kids stayed [home from Thermal] this time because they’re in school, and we are just doing three weeks. So I’ll go back during the off week, and then another three weeks, so it’s not such a long time away from them.
But they spend their summers going to horse shows, but also doing other things, like skiing. Between me and my husband, we are very busy.
He breaks in and trains horses; he mostly prefers cow horses but has broken in a lot of warmbloods, Thoroughbreds, and so on. I ride mostly for owners now, but have two of my own horses, one of them is Django. This sport is so expensive that you need the backing or a team to be able to keep going.
When I’m home, I’m pretty busy all the time, and now that I’m away—I’ve got most of the horses with us at the show—he’s home, managing the rest of the farm, caring for the kids, making sure they get to school and all the other stuff it takes to have a family.
I know you were supposed to go to the Tokyo Olympics as part of the Australian team, but unfortunately that didn’t come to fruition due to a teammate’s infraction for a drug violation. But you made it! Tell me about how that all happened.
It was me and Edwina Tops-Alexander who went. There were so many things combined that were going on with all of it. But for my part, I just stuck to the fact that my horse [Casebrook Lomond] was my horse; he was doing great but did not travel well. He struggled with the travel and the heat, and that became the major downfall. [The pair retired in the individual qualifying round.] It was great to be there; Edwina was great; the Australian dressage and eventing teams were also great. It was still a good experience, but you always hope to compete better the next time.
What have you been working on since?
Django was only a 10-year-old [the year of the Tokyo Olympics], and he went straight into [Spruce Meadows] that year and got second in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, the five-star grand prix. He’s been the main horse now—the focus, I guess. He went to [the Agria FEI Jumping World Championships]; he’s jumped solid and pretty well at all the big shows lately.
Also, we try to have a quite nice family life at home at the same time; [we] try not to always be on the road. We’ll come [to Thermal] and do this, and then go home for the summer, and show nearby home—Thunderbird (British Columbia) and [Spruce Meadows]—to still keep a normal and family home life at the same time
What’s up for your 2023 season?
For Django, we will aim for the four-star classes here at Thermal. Then Australia might send a team to the Thunderbird Nations Cup, which would be great, so hopefully the Nations Cup and the five-star classes in the summer at Thunderbird and Spruce Meadows.
I’m hoping to get the other horses solid in the FEI divisions here, then we will go home and have a bit of a break.
We just have the Spruce Meadows series over the summer, which is just 20 minutes from home, then probably for fall, we’re back to the Thunderbird series, and then around again to Thermal.