As the daughter of Canadian Olympian Lisa Carlsen and EC Jumping Youth Development Program Advisor Dayton Gorsline, it comes as no surprise that Cassie Gorsline is quickly climbing the show jumping ranks – but the 18-year-old is doing it on her own terms.
Growing up, Cassie’s parents encouraged her to try other activities including soccer, gymnastics, swimming, and dance. By the age of 12 however, the horses and riding had won out for Cassie, and now, as she concludes her final junior year, it’s horses that have shaped a significant part of her life and horses that she sees in her future.
Not Quite Love at First Sight
Early on, it was not just her parents’ encouragement to try other sports that kept Cassie from pursuing riding, it was her own lack of interest.
“She always had a pony,” said Carlsen of Cassie, whose first pony was a 28-year-old retired mare named Jazzy. “Jazzy was a great little pony for getting led around on; that was sort of her first introduction.”
By age five, Cassie had progressed to another older successful show pony named Buzz, and another pony followed soon after that. Cassie’s interest however remained minimal.
“She wasn’t so into it, so we weren’t looking to get her anything fancy; they were all inexpensive ponies,” said Carlsen. “Buzz was great. He was also 28 or 29, so he was old, but he did the automatic changes. He was basically a really great retired school pony. Cassie wasn’t so keen herself though.
“She was very quick to have Dad do everything,” continued Carlsen. “She would say, ‘Dad, tack up my pony,’ and he would. Then she’d get off after about five minutes of riding, throw the reins, and run into the house!”
By the time Cassie was 12 however, her interest level – as well as her work ethic around the barn – had changed drastically.
It was around that time that Cassie’s family moved south from Edmonton, AB, to Okotoks, AB, and Cassie was faced with the decision of pursuing riding or her other passion at the time, dance. With hindsight being 20-20, it’s easy to guess which one Cassie chose.
“I chose horses, and I haven’t looked back!” said Cassie.
In the six years since making her choice, Cassie has quickly progressed in the sport, with highlights of her young career including representing Canada at the 2017 North American Children, Junior, and Young Rider Championships and attending the German Friendships that same year.
“German Friendships was probably the most incredible experience of my life,” said Cassie. “You’re partnered up with a German rider and ride one of their horses; we were kind of like a two-man team. You met people from everywhere, and I became really good friends with people from South Africa. It was incredible just how many people you got to meet. Truly, you were there for the experience and for the horsemanship. It wasn’t about winning, it was about creating friendships and having a really fun time. I think that was probably one of the biggest highlights of my riding career – getting to experience that.”
Scaling New Heights
Throughout her junior years, Cassie has been trained predominantly by her parents, with guidance from numerous other top professionals at horses shows, including World Champion Gail Greenough, Mark Hayes, Olympic team silver medalist Jill Henselwood, Kelly Koss, 10-time Canadian Olympian Ian Millar, and, most recently, U.S. Olympic individual bronze medalist, Norman Dello Joio.
“They’ve all been there to give me advice along the way or have coached me along the journey,” said Cassie, who is quick to recognize this wealth of knowledge and experience surrounding her as one of the many benefits of being “a trainer’s kid.”
“I think one of the really cool things about having parents in the riding world is that I’ve gotten to go to events like the 2019 Pan American Games with my mom being on the team,” said Cassie, who accompanied Carlsen to last year’s Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru. “It was a big, cool experience to be a part of that. I also get a lot of first-hand knowledge from really amazing riders, and that’s awesome with having parents like mine. You get a lot of different perspectives in the riding world, which is really neat.”
Another positive of having equestrian parents? The opportunity to acquire their horses, which is how Cassie came to have the ride on her current jumper, Viva la Vida.
“My mom actually found ‘Viva’ on a trip to Europe when Viva was a five-year-old,” explained Cassie of the now nine-year-old Hanoverian mare (Uccello x Le Primeur). “We brought her over, and my mom developed her until last summer. I was fortunate enough to get the ride on her. It’s been a really fun progression. The mare stepped up into her first 1.40m in California and kind of melted right into that mold. She was champion one of the weeks. She really found her footing and was just beautiful. She’s been a lovely mare from the beginning.”
“I brought Viva along to the 1.20m, 1.30m level,” said Carlsen, who was a member of Canada’s fourth-placed team at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, and claimed team gold at the 1987 Pan American Games riding Kahlua on both occasions. “It was Cassie that started her in the 1.40m; she jumped her in her first 1.40m. I was really proud of Cassie for that.”
In addition to Viva, Cassie also currently competes in the equitation aboard Gotye, a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding.
In 2019, Cassie qualified for the Running Fox CET Medal National Final aboard a seven-year-old mare, Miss Iron Maiden, before trying Gotye and ultimately competing the gelding in the national equitation final at Toronto’s Royal Horse Show.
“I was really proud of Cassie last year qualifying for the CET Medal on a seven-year-old,” said Carlsen. “It was a very green horse, so that was a proud moment. We didn’t take her to The Royal in the end just because she was so green, but I was definitely proud of how Cassie did with her.”
After competing Gotye in both the CET Medal and enjoying a top 10 finish in the Jump Canada National Medal Final at the 2019 Royal Horse Show, Cassie continued riding Gotye to great success in the equitation divisions throughout this winter’s HITS Coachella Desert Circuit in California.
“He’s quite the character!” said Cassie of Gotye. “He’s a really sweet horse and very kind and lovable. He had never done any of the equitation stuff before; he was a jumper, but he right away fit the mold of an eq horse beautifully.
“I was very fortunate to get the horse for the year so I had him in California, and he was amazing,” continued Cassie. “He qualified for the Ronnie Mutch Equitation Championship to be held the last week. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do it with COVID-19 being an issue, but he performed very well there. At home, he picks up on things very easily. He’s a really fun horse to work with.”
Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic not only cancelled the Ronnie Mutch Equitation Championship, it put a halt on many of Cassie’s goals for her final junior year.
The young rider, however, has remained positive, with her sights set on future goals beyond 2020, which include furthering her riding career and advancing her education by studying psychology at the University of British Columbia.
“Being my last junior year, I had hoped to go to Young Riders and do the Jump Canada Medal at The Royal; all of that fun stuff!” said Cassie. “Unfortunately, all of those plans got squashed, but at this point, I keep looking forward to next year. Hopefully, I can jump the higher division of Young Riders, and I’ll still have the CET Medal Final to work toward. So, while this year’s goals kind of got crushed, there are bigger and better ones to work toward in the future.”
With the ability to set aside the disappointment of this year’s competition season and focus on preparing for the future, Cassie demonstrates she has what it takes to succeed in the sport.