Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Interview with Katie Frei

Photo Courtesy of Tara Katherine Photography
Katie competing at Rolex Kentucky 3 Day
Photo Courtesy of Tara Katherine Photography
Headquartered at her farm Yellow Rose Eventing in Florida, Katie Frei will be competing at the 2014 Rolex Kentucky 3 Day in April with her horse, Houdini. I caught up with Katie right after she arrived at the Fork 2014 CIC3*/CIC2* & HT and she filled me in on her background and what is keeping her up at night about the upcoming Rolex Kentucky 3 Day.

Tell me a bit about your childhood and when you started riding.

I grew up near Kalamazoo, Michigan where my parents still live. My parents were in pharmaceuticals but bred racehorses as a hobby. They sold some horses at Keeneland and raced some. None of ours made it big on the track but it did get me some good horses to ride!

At about six I started riding, I had a Shetland pony named Woody who was the most rotten pony ever. I wanted so badly to have a pony hunter with all the bling but my parents said, “no, we have thoroughbreds and that is what you will ride.” I’d go in the hunter ring and my horse would lap the others. I tried the hunter ring, dressage, even fox hunting but was not successful at any of them. Then at about 8 or 9 I tried a baby novice event and won. I finally found the discipline my horse was good at so I stuck with it.

What is your daily routine?

I have a couple of working students and we all begin our day at 7 am. We have 16 horses in work, mostly young horses that are 6 and below in age. We feed, bring in, turn out, muck stalls to start the day. I try to be on my first horse by 8 am.

When I had my business in Maryland it was more of a teaching based business. I love to teach but it didn’t give me enough time to ride so when I moved my business to Florida I shifted my business model to more of a sale based so most of the horses are for sale – some owned by me and some owned by investors. The working students have their own horses too of course.

I have some very good clients who will fly to Europe .. or send me with their checkbook … we pick out a horse and put some time into them and then we sell them. It’s a bit nerve racking spending someone else’s money but its worked out well.

The day never really ends. We ride until dark or later. Clients sometimes are here late in the day to try horses and sometimes we don’t’ get to ride our personal horses until we’re all done. It’s great, but busy. We try to do fun things when we can like go to HITS to watch the Grand Prixs, go out to eat, things like that. But really we have fun all the time – I have a great group here.

Speaking of eating, when do you get a chance?

<laughing> We don’t! Its coffee in the morning, grab something when you can and some wine or beer at night.. Pretty much a liquid diet!

What is Houdini’s daily routine?

Houdini goes out for turnout each night. He’s a real wimp though and can’t go out by himself so I got him a present this year -- a mini named Spartucus who bosses him around. He comes in occasionally with tiny scrapes – at knee height! The turnout really helps with his mental health.

Each morning the girls (working students) lunge him for 20 minutes to get some of that extra energy out so he is more focused when I ride him – except for Sunday which is his day off. I am a big believer in a program. They need a program. They need a plan….. You can’t go out and say “hmmm what am I going to do today?”
Katie and Houdini

So Mondays are for fitness unless there is a show the previous Sunday and then they get the day off. We will either do trot work or hack. Tuesday is flat work. Wednesday we jump. Thursday is for fitness for some horses or we flat school. Friday we jump some smaller jumps – a grid or some poles. Saturday we gallop on my track or do cross country. Sunday is the horse’s day off but not for me! -- I have to be a farmer and fix everything that is broken on the farm. Owning your own farm is a lot of work!

How long do you work each horse?

Usually about 40 minutes for each workout. Sometimes we do two sessions a day. Because we are a sale based barn we need to be flexible – you never know when a client might show up.

What did you do in your last schooling session?

Well since we are at the Fork right now I only have two horses with me so its like a vacation! I have Hannibal who is a homebred and he is doing the young horse class and of course I have Houdini with me. His (Houdini) class isn’t until Friday so today (Wednesday) we just did a relaxed canter. We got here yesterday and I try to get on them as soon as we get someplace because I think it helps them relax and get out the tension they got while trailering. Helps them relax at night and eat better. So even if it’s a long trip I get on. Sometimes it doesn’t work out if we arrive late at night but I try.

You had a good run with your horse Sir Donovan. Where is he now? Is he still competing?

I sold him to Peter Barry who is friends with Boyd (Martin) and now Boyd has the ride on him this Spring. He is a HUGE Irish horse and was way too big for me since I’m only 5’2”. Boyd can ride him better with his long legs and they are doing very well together. <A few days after we talked, Katie filled me in on some news… “Update on this.. a friend of mine in Michigan just bought Sir Donovan! Phillipa Humphreys will now have the ride on him and I am thrilled for them.”>

What staff do you have?

I have two working students -- Vanessa has been with me since September. She graduated from Clemson and we just found her a new horse in the fall from the track. Catherine has been with me about a year and is taking a gap year away from college. She just completed her first one * and did great! They have a lesson every day and are great people. Its not a paid position but they have all their expenses paid. They share an apartment here on the farm, have a credit card to buy groceries and their horse board is paid as well as their shipping to events. We have a great time together!

How does your husband put up with all that estrogen?

Sven is gone all day managing his own family horse business near HITS Ocala. They breed about 40 foals a year. He used to ride his stallion Quebec (Quick Star) at the Grand Prix level but spends most of his time now selling horses and running his family business, EWSZ.

The horse business is not an easy one. Tell me how you are succeeding.

If you are smart and business savvy there is potential to make money in this business. Good horses sell themselves… especially when they are attractive and sensible and talented. We were able to buy our farm and have everything we need and the horses have everything they need. It does help to have great equipment and product sponsors and good owners who go in partnerships with horses.

Its nerve racking spending someone else’s money on a horse as an investment but I’ve had a good record. I like being successful for my owners and getting them a good return on their investment and work hard to make sure it happens.

How do you keep you sponsors happy and how did you get your sponsors?

You have to beat the bushes a little bit. Sometimes they contact me but I have a good friend who is smart at marketing and she put together a cd and video about a sponsorship package and that worked well. It’s something that is hard for me. I’m pretty modest so it’s a bit harder for me to get sponsors. It’s probably why you couldn’t find much about me in writing – I’m not one to say “look at me; I’m the best rider ever.”

I do have some great sponsors though. Heritage has the best gloves ever and Bob Bitzer sends me all I need. Houdini can’t function without his RevitaVet and Tom Neumann is always very supportive of us. I recently became a Devoucoux rider and I am thrilled with their saddles.

Rolex Kentucky is coming up. What is keeping you up at night worrying?

I want my horse to have a good experience. No matter what capacity that is. I don’t want my horse to walk away with less confidence than what he came with. Go there and learn something. Even if the weekend doesn’t’ go my way and doesn’t meet my expectations, I want him to take something good from it.

Houdini is very genuine. A little odd. A little strange. But a huge heart. He struggles a bit with his self confidence – he tries very hard. If I fall off he goes back to his stall and sulks and feels bad. Even if it’s my fault, he will come out of the ring shook up and think he did something bad.

So going into Kentucky I need him to feel like Superman, I need to build up his ego.

I ran him a at a Prelim horse trial before Jersey Fresh and he came out with a ton of confidence so I will do it again for Kentucky to make sure he feels confident. Not to place but so he feels good. If my horse feels good I do too.

He’s a good horse. I want to make it a good experience for him.

What will be your routine at Rolex? When will you get there?

We can check in on Monday. There is no point in trying to sleep the Sunday night – we are too excited – so we will drive all night Sunday and get there Monday to settle in. It’s better for the horses anyway to drive in cool of night.

In the past I have brought some sale horses with me. You’d be surprised how many people are there shopping for horses and the stabling is cheap. Lots of competitors bring other horses that need be worked with them or horses that they are moving from their winter Florida quarters to summer North quarters.

I think this year though I am going to bring Houdini alone because he is like a ‘Stage 5 Cling On’ – he attaches to his trailer mates and then can’t concentrate. Him being alone will help him get in the zone.

Where will you stay?

At events we typically stay in my living quarter trailer but at Kentucky Mom always treats us to a hotel, so why not?

Does your Mom come to the big events?

She actually comes to a lot of them. Even the smaller ones. Dad is a bit more high maintenance and likes the events that have a VIP tent where he can enjoy the free coffee to sit and read the Wall Street Journal.

Who else is coming?

Vanessa will come groom and help. She is great. My husband, Sven, will be there – he is in charge of the worrying!

Best of luck Katie at Rolex -- we will be cheering for you!

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