At a newly-turned 18, it might seem a bit early for Kacie Doyle to declare that she's found her horse of a lifetime, but the San Diego hunter/jumper rider has no doubts about it.
Her horse, the 15-ish Jet Jones had been on her radar screen for some time, but did not officially become hers until March 2012. In seven short months they went into the Greater San Diego Hunter/Jumper Association Championship show as equitation long shots and came out as champs. The biggest coup was winning the prestigious Jean McGinnis Open Equitation Challenge, a two-round class that attracted 70-plus trainer, amateur and junior contenders last fall.
Prior to pairing up with Jet, Kacie had earned herself a nice reputation for riding hunters, but equitation had not been her thing on the San Diego County show circuit. She arrived at trainer Jennifer Willson's barn six years ago with lots of raw talent, but no formal instruction and not much polish. Jennifer sized up Kacie's potential quickly and put her on a variety of horses. Jennifer's training program at CJ Ranches in Ramona is known for working wonders with horses that many might overlook as hunter/jumper prospects. These include off-the-track Thoroughbreds and horses deemed difficult and/or damaged.
Kacie thrived in that environment, riding everything she could swing a leg over, investing the time and effort that differentiate real horse people from those content to show up, ride and go home. Her developing skills and horsemanship talents were a big help in bringing along and marketing for-sale horses owned by CJ Ranches. Trend Setter and What's All the Hoopla are some of the equine show stars Kacie helped develop. A downside to these diverse riding opportunities was that she'd rarely kept the same horse very long before it was time to step up a level.
Kacie got her first horse when she was 10 but describes Jet as her "lucky number seven." She'd seen him on the San Diego County show circuit several times and longed to try him. "He'd shown a lot and was a super nice horse, but he had a bit of an attitude," she explains. His reputation included both brilliant rounds and walking into a show ring, standing up on his hind legs and "waving to the crowd." He passed through several riders, with Kacie consistently expressing her interest to Jet's trainer Kelly James along the way. For a long time, the funds just weren't there and Kacie became blue each time she learned he was out on trial with a prospective new owner. Somewhere along the line, however, Kacie got the chance to sit on Jet and knew instantly that her instincts had been right: he was her horse. The fates aligned and he became so in early March.
The smitten owner admits "he's my first real show horse." Even though she adores him, she says it's hard to explain what's so great about Jet. "Now that I've finally been able to really build a bond with him, he will jump through fire for me. When he is on, he is unbeatable." The 17.1hh Holsteiner is just plain "incredible," she concludes.
Kacie knew that all along and, at the GSDHJA Championship show, she and Jet provided indisputable proof. In addition to winning the Jean McGinnis Open Equitation Challenge, the pair racked up top ribbons and trophies in both the hunter and equitation ranks. They earned red ribbons in the 3' Modified Junior/Amateur Hunter Classic, and third in the GSDHJA Flat medal. Kacie won the Equitation Over Fences, Junior Amateur Working Hunter Classic and the 3' Medal. She is especially proud of securing the Medal victory after coming into the class's work-off with no expectations of a win. The GSDHJA's 3' Medal has been in her sights for several years. "I've always loved the courses and sometimes I've wanted it so bad that I wind up jinxing myself!" But not when it really counted in her final junior year. "It was a very emotional time for me!"
Having turned 18 on Nov. 27, missing the junior cut-off date by four days, Kacie is an amateur now. She predicts this transition will coincide with more frequent appearances on the A show circuit. She's dabbled successfully there in the last year and looks forward to testing herself against Southern California's best more often.
Already, she has earned the eye of seasoned horsepeople, including California Riding Magazine's owner Cheryl Erpelding. "When my friend Annie Worthman moved away in the summer of 2011, I gave the ride to Kacie to finish up the Baby Green year with my horse, Riding Magazine's Latest Edition," Cheryl says. "It's been great to watch her do such a good job on young green horses and see her have an outstanding year on her amazing horse Jet Jones."
Kacie has greatly enjoyed getting some instruction from Grand Prix living legend Hap Hansen. Alexus Willson, Jennifer's daughter, has been working increasingly with Hap and Kacie joins in whenever possible.
She remains, however, most grateful to her core group of supporters: her parents, Jennifer, friends and fellow riders at CJ Ranches. "I've had the support of a lot of people behind me and I've been very fortunate to have a great trainer in Jennifer." One example of Jennifer's foresight and generosity is the show funds she establishes for key riders, including Kacie. CJ Ranches is often home to racetrack Thoroughbreds in need of a new career. Most of these are assigned to a suitable student to care for and ride as if it was their own - minus the bills, which enables talented students of modest means to continue competing and/or to save up for a horse of their own. It's a great reward, and especially for juniors who aspire to be professional horsemen.
Schools in Texas and New Mexico were the intended recipients of the applications Kacie was working on as 2012 came to a close. She's not sure which school she'll attend, but she is sure of several college-related things: The school she attends will have a riding program and an equine studies program or an academic track, like business, that will help her as a trainer. And, for absolutely sure, she'll be taking Jet with her. "I told my parents either my horse comes with me to college or I don't go," she asserts. Keeping him close and in her care is the only course for her horse of a lifetime.