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Herd Member | Kate Kudelko

Hi Herd! My name is Kate Kudelko (@painted__dressage on Instagram). I'm excited to tell you a little bit of my story. The most incredible part about working with equines is undoubtedly the lessons that each individual horse has to teach you. I’ve been blessed to have 3 long-term horses that have each taught me countless lessons in developing perseverance, ambition, and courage.

Perseverance 

   My journey in the horse world started when I was 11 years old—with an introduction much less traditional than many others. In January of 2011, I started taking weekly riding lessons at a local stable. On April Fool’s Day of that same year, my parents purchased my first horse, Watson— a stout little paint horse standing at a whopping 14’3 hands. We didn’t have his papers and knew relatively little about his past other than the scars that covered his body. A few months prior to my family purchasing him, Watson had been rescued for meat price from an auction by a woman who would frequent the auction houses and find horses to give a second chance. Watson was very green broke and couldn’t pick up his left lead canter for the first year of owning him. He was nervous and spooky but was as sweet as could be. I initially started in hunters for my first year of riding, as all of my friends were in the hunter/jumper world.

   In 2012 I decided to embark on my journey in the dressage world alongside Watson, and I became hooked. I was told by my peers that Watson was “too much horse for me,” “not a real dressage horse,” “an ugly mover,” and that “I should sell him so I can get a real dressage horse.” It was hard to push through these comments—especially as an impressionable 11-year-old—but I wanted nothing more than to pursue my goals with Watson in the dressage world. I eventually found myself at First Choice Equestrian Center—where I still train a decade later under my coach, Bobbie Gutman. She developed both of us from the ground-up and helped me achieve my dream of taking Watson down the FEI centerline. Alongside Watson, I earned my USDF Bronze and Silver Medals, attended regional championships, and won IRHR’s end of year FEI Champion award. Nobody, including myself, expected this little paint pony who was sold for meat price to end up becoming my FEI dressage horse. One of the most important lessons that Watson taught me was to never overlook the underdog, because sometimes they are the ones with the most to offer.

Ambition

   In spring of 2017 I began my search for a youngster to take up the dressage levels as Watson inched closer to his 20’s—and very much deserved a fabulous semi-retirement from the upper levels. My trainer and I had found a little filly that I absolutely loved. A week before we were about to do her pre-purchase exam, I received a phone call that would change my future. 

   My grandmother’s good friend, who I had never previously met before, reached out to see if I would be interested in bringing her FEI schoolmaster—Mr. B—back into work after having almost 5 years off of serious training. Mr. B is a 16’2 hand Swedish Warmblood and was 18 years old at the time. He had previously competed through Intermediate II at the CDI level with her trainer and had all the bells and whistles of the Grand Prix. We held off on purchasing the filly after speaking with Mr. B’s owner and decided on a training schedule. B’s owner was gracious enough to trailer him over to my coach’s barn for lessons, but after a few months, she offered to sell Mr. B to me for the price I was willing to pay for a youngster. I was incredibly lucky for this opportunity and would never have been able to afford a horse of his caliber otherwise.

   The journey conditioning Mr. B back to the FEI levels was interesting, as the first year together was focused on getting him back into shape and re-establishing the foundational building blocks of our work. While 16’2 hands doesn’t make him abnormally tall, he’s a very stocky and powerful mover that had developed a knack for plowing onto the forehand and trucking around like a freight train. If there’s one horse that taught me the importance of transitions and exercises to improve longitudinal suppleness, it was B.

    At the time, I had recently been diagnosed with a handful of GI issues and weighed in at 87 pounds from not being able to eat very much. I felt lethargic and sick to my stomach most days, which was definitely an obstacle I had to face when bringing such an athletic horse back into work. B was with me alongside my recovery process while I was learning how to mitigate my conditions, and it was pretty incredible to watch this horse come back into shape while I also improved my health.

   Mr. B ended up taking me to regional championships at the FEI Prix St. Georges, where we placed 3rd. I also had the opportunity to ride in my first international level class at Global and place 2nd in the PSG. The summer before I went into my sophomore year of college, I took Mr. B down his last FEI centerline—competing the Intermediate level at 21 years old. While he qualified for regionals that year, I decided that it was his time to retire from the FEI after giving me so many incredible opportunities. I will always be thankful for this horse’s lessons, and for helping build my ambition as we came back into work together.

Courage

In January of 2021 I had to make a very big decision. Do I stay an adult amateur, or do I go professional? While the task might seem simple enough, convincing yourself that you are worthy of being labeled as a “professional” in your industry is a daunting decision to make. As I hovered over the “submit” button on USEF’s website to officially claim myself as a “pro”, I was also awaiting texts from a woman up in Texas regarding a Quarab filly that I was interested in purchasing for my new sales program. I believe that things really do happen for a reason, because that little filly would become one of the most cherished pieces of my life.

   I purchased Delilah as a coming 6-year-old who was relatively unhandled, had never seen a farrier, was about 300 pounds underweight, filled with worms, and wasn’t broke to ride. My goal was to put some groceries on her, put her under saddle, and teach her basic w/t/c before selling her. All of my goals were accomplished… minus the “selling” part. The feeling you get when you find a ‘heart horse’ is simply unrivaled and as our relationship grew, the more clearly I realized that she was meant to stay in my life for the long run. I wish I could put my finger on the exact “gut feeling” you get when you find that special horse, but it’s very much real. There’s no other feeling like it in the world—even if it includes getting stepped on, run over, and thrown in the dirt from time to time. Fast forward almost a year later and Delilah is now schooling all of the 3rd level dressage work, with an aptitude towards the collection and passage work of the upper levels. I don’t have a single doubt in my mind that she will be my next Grand Prix partner, but for now, I still enjoy every moment of developing my incredibly talented friend up the levels.

     Delilah has taught me that regardless of the hardships the road has to offer, allow yourself to daydream of the goals that you might think are presently unattainable—because you can’t make something a reality if you don’t have a dream to guide you. 

You can follow my journey on Instagram here: @painted__dressage