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Kate Rakowski


About Kate Rakowski

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On Risk Tolerance

I mentioned in my last blog that I have pretty high risk tolerance. Maybe that explains why I quit my teaching job after 24ish years and am leaving the frozen tundra of Vermont to run away to the fantasyland of Ocala. In just a few weeks, I am loading Kissa, aka The Princess, aka the Bad Baby, aka the Mullet (there’s a story to this one) and heading south for the winter. You may very well ask why and that’s fair, but you know that relationship status on Facebook “it’s complicated,” yeah that.

Hopefully I’ll have time to fill in some of the gaps of our life as she grew up but here are a few pictures because, well, look how cute she was.

Kissa at about a month old. Photo by Kate Rakowski.

Photo by Kate Rakowski.

She takes her naps very seriously. Photo by Danica Messerli.

Starting under saddle at age 3. Photo by Danica Messerli.

Now she’s 6 and I’ve described her current level as “schooling training, still getting eliminated at elementary” for almost 2 years now — yup that’s right in the last two years we have not made any reliable, steady, consistent gains. That’s not to say that she hasn’t learned anything or that I haven’t figured out more about her, but we are still schooling Training, getting eliminated at Elementary. I’ve had some major meltdowns (it’s OK to sit in the truck hysterically bawling in the feed store parking lot right?), some terrible clinic experiences and some glimmers of progress here and there but mostly I’ve been doubting everything I do with her. I used to think I had learned a little in 40 some years of working with horses but this one has let me know that Bo don’t know Diddly.

The highlight of the summer was two stops at fence 2, including me falling off so slowly that I actually just stood on the mini-coop we were not jumping, then a third stop at that coop before I just skipped it and moved on to have four more stops around a grasshopper cross country.  Lest you think I was asking too much, we had schooled most of those jumps at least twice before. That’s right, on Wednesday she jumped them like a dream; on Saturday she was non-functional. Why? Beats me but maybe because my mom’s horse who used to live with us a year ago was there in warmup! with her! and other horses! Do you understand how teenage girls work? If not, I’ll give you a hint, only if all their current friendships are functioning and stable (approximately 10% of the time). Did I mention that most of my teaching was in middle school and now I have a teenager of a horse?

So, over the course of the last year, I’ve come to realize that I don’t really have a jumping problem, I have a horsemanship problem or maybe a horse management problem. And I want to find a solution, but I also want to jump and she’s super good at it when she wants to. 

Photo by Bekki Read.

Photo by Bekki Read.

So, who do you learn from if you need horsemanship and eventing help? After doing two clinics with him this summer and reading his book, I decided Tik Maynard was my guy. So, I sent him an email (yup, just cold emailed him) and asked if I could come down. He’s been super kind and helpful and put me in touch with people and I’m doing this thing. I might sort of be channeling my inner teenage girl to match my horse. I think Tik still thinks I’m a little crazy and he’s not really wrong but, as midlife crises go, this is pretty safe and less expensive than a high end Tesla. I hope I will have fun, skip winter, and learn to work better with my horse. I’ll keep you posted.

About the author: I am currently designing the perfect mid-life crisis after 24 years of teaching mostly in middle school. I grew up at my mom’s 40-horse barn where I got started on a little white Shetland named Snow White. I was young enough that I don’t remember learning to ride, learning to post, my first canter or any of those milestones. I did learn a lot and spend about 30 years riding, training, judging and teaching hunters, jumpers and equitation. Ten years ago, I moved to Vermont, discovered eventing and have wondered why I didn’t start sooner. I’m running away for the winter and will figure out what to do with the rest of my life when I get back. There are few things that I know, but one of them is that it will always involve horses.

A Barn Fire, a Bid and a Baby: How Kissa Came to Be

Photo courtesy of Kate Rakowski.

School teachers know that skipping an assembly on a Friday in May to hide in my classroom and troll an online auction fundraiser for Boyd Martin after his barn burned down is really for the benefit of the 6th graders. So, what could I do to support him that would maybe bring some benefit to me? I’m too far away for lessons, too poor for high end items; I know, I’ll bid $380 on a breeding with Ronald Zabala’s show jumper stallion, Wonderboy. My Vermont Sport Pony (some may use the term Morgan) doesn’t want to jump and I don’t want to do saddle seat so I kind of need another horse. It’s only been 30 years since we bred and started our own; I can do that again.

I won the breeding — one dose of frozen semen, no live foal guarantee so I needed the perfect mare. Not a 10 year old maiden, not a 20 year old who hadn’t had a baby in 8 years. The perfect mare. And I found her! An OTTB who had been dropped off as a rescue: 12 years old, two previous babies, well-bred (Stormcat Granddaughter, what was I thinking?), moderately successful ($170,000 winnings seems pretty great to me). The fuzzy cell phone pic looked like good conformation with big lop ears which I love.

Vet checkup the next morning showed that she was ovulating now. Cue many Facebook posts about follicle size, semen shipping across the country, and sperm motility that made my non-horsy husband very uncomfortable. Three days later, at the reproductive specialist vet clinic, I had to explain that I had never met the mare, never met the stallion, never met the owners of either mare or stallion and never met the vet that did the work — I don’t recommend this method unless you have a really high uncertainty tolerance.

The ultrasound pics on Facebook with no explanation gave my mother-in-law some hope for a grandchild but the mare settled and had a happy, easy pregnancy. She was pleasant to have around and got along well with my lame, and slightly neurologically damaged OTTB gelding.

I planned to start sleeping in my truck bed above the small paddock about 10 days before she was due. School ended Friday; the milk test kit only barely registered Saturday morning and I worked all day at the tack shop so I was tired and wanted one more night in my regular bed. Big mistake. 5:30 Sunday morning groggily heading upstairs, I looked out the window, baby standing up and mare herding the gelding away from her. “Oh shit! … No wait, if she’s standing there, it’s OK.” Baby was still wet and mom hadn’t even passed the placenta yet so I figure she wasn’t more than a half hour old. My not-a-morning-person husband still talks about how he woke to me screaming at him to carry/usher the fresh baby up to the clean straw bedded stall while I led the mare.

Photo courtesy of Kate Rakowski.

Photo courtesy of Kate Rakowski.

Photo courtesy of Kate Rakowski.

She’s been pushing the envelope since she was born 10 days early. Her show name is Cattitude and no name has ever fit a horse so well. She’s 6 now and we’ve had adventures, challenges, and growth in all its convoluted and roundabout ways. I still haven’t made it to a clinic with Boyd to tell him the story and introduce him to my good fortune that came out of his bad fortune, but word from those who know him is that he’d like our story. Stay tuned for more of the story of our life together including several near death experiences for both of us, some successes, a lot of frustration and still some hope that she will eventually grow up to be as good as I know she could be.