How do you go from working student to assistant trainer for one of North America’s most successful show stables?
For Katie Uloth, based out of the Ballard’s Looking Back Farm in Tottenham, ON, the answer is that there is no secret to hard work. Her philosophy when she came to Ballard as a working student 14 years ago was simple: “If there was a job no one wanted to do in the barn, I would do it,” she says. “I would come early, stay late, anything. I worked as hard as I could and as much as I could. Now, we run the business together, and it works really well for us because our stable can go to two different horse shows in one week,” she explains. “It means that I can be at home teaching lessons and Erynn can be at a horse show in the US with a group of clients and her grand prix horses.”
Katie can now be found competing and winning on a group of horses in the pre-green, 1st year, 2nd year, and regular working hunter divisions. In 2019 she was champion in the Combined Working Hunters at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair aboard Caren Morassutti’s Me Too, won a class in the same division aboard Knightwood Stable’s Round Midnight, and qualified two horses to compete at Devon, PA. (now postponed due to COVID 19).
With results like that, it’s hard to believe the professional ring wasn’t in her sights a decade ago. “I didn’t see myself in the position that I’m in today,” she admits. “I was going to be completely fine with just doing warm-ups and schoolings on Tuesday.”
Katie was taught to ride at the age of five by her mother, who was the trainer at Temperance View Farm in Athens, Ontario. She made her start in the show ring on the Trillium Circuit, often riding greener horses looking for mileage.
Although her trajectory isn’t typical of most upper echelon ‘A’ circuit trainers, early lessons in smaller rings taught valuable skills. “My mom was a huge influence on me when it came to deciding that this was what I wanted to do with my career, but at the same time she never pushed me and always allowed me to find my own feet. I never did Eq finals, I never showed in the bigger jumpers or had a fancy junior hunter ‒ my ring time was very limited in the beginning.”
She met Ballard at a clinic when she was 16 years old. From her initial position as a working student at Looking Back, Katie moved into the role of taking care of some of Ballard’s higher level horses. After four years as a groom, she began taking care of Erynn’s FEI horses, “a whole new world I knew nothing about,” she says, laughing.
Katie notes that time in the saddle and lessons with Ballard were always provided, although in the beginning she was admittedly very green. “But,” she says, “I saw it for what it was, which was an opportunity and a chance to become a better rider. From there, I gained more knowledge and became a better rider.”
She started being given the opportunity to ride the horses on schooling days at horse shows, when Erynn would often have upwards of 25 horses to take into the ring. She considered it a major accomplishment, and she kept working. “The Ballards have always supported me in everything I have done, and when we had some young horses that I worked with at home, they then gave me an opportunity to show those horses,” she explains. “From there I got to do some of the older, more experienced horses in schooling classes before our students would show them on weekends. It evolved from there. The more time I got in the ring, the easier it became for me and allowed for me to get the stage I am at today.”
Katie believes the most important lesson she has learned from Ballard are the basics of good horsemanship and value of a good work ethic. “Erynn taught me everything I know at this level. She gave me all of the basics, she taught me how to properly lunge a horse, she has taught me to be patient with a horse, she even taught me how to properly clean tack, but the biggest thing I have learned from Erynn is work ethic. Erynn is an incredibly hard worker, she is always at the show early and is always one of the first people to get on a horse. If a new course needs to be set, we set it. If fifteen horses need to be ridden in a day, we ride them. If a horse needs to be picked up in the trailer and brought to the show, we jump in the truck and go and get them. I think Erynn is not only incredibly talented, but her work ethic is also what has enabled her to achieve some of the tremendous things she has in her riding career.”
A willingness to seize any opportunity to learn is a skill Katie has not left behind now that she is a successful professional. During the 2019 fall indoor season in the United States, she watched every professional hunter round from the sidelines to learn from the world’s top hunter riders. She encourages younger horseman with professional aspirations to look for any opportunity to learn and be prepared to do the work and put in the hours.
“If you’re a young professional, the industry has lots of opportunity for you,” she believes. “Start by working hard, everyday. It’s not an easy industry when it comes to the amount of work that is done, but it will be worth it. If you can find a job as a groom for a professional with a great reputation, maybe with the potential of a small amount of riding at some point, take it. Set jumps for them whenever you can, watch everything in the schooling ring, ask questions, and be a part of it. The more you immerse yourself in it, the better; the more you can learn, the better.
“If you stay dedicated, more and more opportunities will come your way. There is opportunity out there for everyone: it just takes a bit of digging, trust, and hard work.”
Hometown: Mallorytown, Ontario
Favourite Netflix show: Downton Abbey
Last book you read: Educated by Tara Westover
Fave food: Mexican for sure
Embarrassing moments in the ring: Too many to list, but doing three in a two-stride is never pretty.
Coffee or tea: Coffee
Favourite band: Fleetwood Mac
Any competition superstitions?: Oh gosh, yes. Certain shirts are lucky, certain gloves are lucky, if a horse has done well one day, the next day I like all of the equipment to be the exact same as the day prior.
If you could ride any horse in the world: This is a tough one, because I already feel lucky to ride the horses I do, but if I had to chose one it would be [Jennifer Hannon’s hunter] Mindful.
What couldn’t you live without: The horse Me Too, and sunscreen!