June 2016 - CPHA Spotlight: Kathryn Burdett-Griffiths

Diversity at Sunset Equine Farms creates a balanced, happy program.

by Kim F. Miller

Balance is a work and life goal many aspire to, but few achieve and perhaps especially in the competition-focused horse world. Young professional Kathryn Burdett-Griffiths has pulled it off.

Kathryn and her longtime partner Ledinos.

Trojans celebrate their second place finish at the IHSA Regionals, where they earned their berth for the IHSA Nationals in Kentucky in mid-May.

A top junior and amateur jumper rider raised in DiAnn Langer’s program, “Kat” excelled in the jumper ring, where she continues to compete at a high level. But somewhere along the line, she realized that the process of horsemanship was more important to her than the end result—at least as measured by show ring success. Thus began a branching out now reflected in her multi-faceted Sunset Equine Farms in Shadow Hills, near downtown Burbank.

About 10 years ago, Kathryn made the shift from amateur to professional, based out of her family’s five-acre property. She offered hunter/jumper training along with rehabilitation and retirement, a sideline that arose from success bringing some of her own horses back from injury.

Four years ago, she took on the coaching role for the USC equestrian team, an Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association club squad. A victory in the Regionals, then a second place finish in the Zone championships sent USC to this year’s IHSA Nationals, which were held May 14-15 in Kentucky. Equally important, under Kathryn’s watch, the team has grown from 15 to 34 members, from A show circuit veterans to those with no prior experience. The coach is especially happy that the Trojan roster includes many who are dedicated to helping the team grow long beyond their own years of eligibility.

Kathryn has stepped up her commitment to the sport by joining the California Professional Horsemen’s Association’s board of directors, at 34 becoming one the association’s sought-after “young bloods.” She also earned her USEF small “r” judges card for the jumpers, hunters and equitation divisions—typically officiating at 10 shows per year.

(left) Kathryn with USC team riders.

Kathryn with her mom, Karen, and longtime groom Jose Gonzales.

Along with everything else, Kat keeps competing at a high level. Because the USC team is very time intensive through the school year, peaking in the spring, she gears up her current string of jumpers for summer shows. Ledinos is a familiar face on the West Coast circuit. Kat has had the 17-year-old since he was 6 and together they’ve earned good finishes, including a second place at Flintridge last fall, in the lower-height Grand Prix. Strong, fit and game, he’s a testament to Kat’s horse management routine.

Her newest mount is California, who she found in Germany, where she’s had the chance to ride with German international star Christian Ahlmann on a few occasions. She competed California there last summer up to the 1.3 meters. Kat hopes the mare will be another prospect for the entry-level Grand Prix, ideally starting this summer.

In developing and maintaining her diverse program, Kat says her training clientele has naturally distilled into to a low-key group of owners whose main priority is enjoying time with their horses. They are flexible about show schedules and supportive of the USC team being based at Sunset. Several lend their steeds to the squad.

“It’s a healthy group of people that is kind of hard to find in our business,” Kathryn acknowledges. When prospective clients approach, she emphasizes the “no drama” aspect of her program and is not shy about encouraging some to “take their happy or their crazy someplace else.”

Kathryn’s parents Ron and Karen live on the property, as do Kathryn and her husband Roger Griffiths, so a family atmosphere is another priority.       

Trojan Horse Riders

Coaching the USC team has been an inspiring eye opener. “I was really fortunate to grow up showing all over and at the best shows,” Kathryn says. “That gave me a great depth of knowledge, yet when I showed up at my first IHSA competition I really felt like a fish out of water. It has been a treat to work on the more grass roots side of the sport.”

“USC is a very hard school academically and this is their release, their fun,” she continues. “To stay committed to the team, you really have to love it and be extremely passionate about horses. The girls are that way and that works well for me because what I love is the whole process of riding and working with horses.”

Although earning at spot at the IHSA Nationals was a big goal for this year, providing team members with a comprehensive equestrian education is perhaps more important to Kathryn. The educational sessions Kathryn arranged this season reflect that. County Saddlery rep Reed Huyette spoke on saddle fit; sports psychologist Tonya Johnston gave a mental skills presentation; and BioRider Fitness’ Bridget Braden-Olson drove up from San Diego to spend half a fitness-focused day with the riders.  Kat also recruited Karen Healey to give USC’s eight Nationals-bound riders a final polish before they headed to Kentucky.

Juggling work with college studies, team members don’t have a ton of time to spend at the barn but Kat crams a lot into every visit. Those who do well on her regularly-offered horsemanship quizzes earn a free hack day. A team field trip to the Los Angeles Masters last fall was typical of the activities she organizes to expose members to all levels of the sport. “I’m always trying to get them as much horsemanship knowledge as I can.”

Kat joined the CPHA board because she wanted to get more involved in the sport on a broader level and she likes the fact that CPHA is an organization of professionals helping other professionals. “They have some great new classes, like the CPHA Style Of Riding, and ideas for developing better riders. My hope is to help the organization become stronger.”

A strong support system helps Kat keep everything running smoothly. Jose Gonzales is her groom of many years and much more. “He’s like family to me and has stood by through every up and down of my career,” she says. “I wouldn’t be where I am without him.” Mom and Dad get the same praise. Ron was a successful amateur jumper rider for many years and Karen continues to be the ultimate horse show and barn mom.

“My dad helps out around the farm and my mom never missed a show when I was growing up and she continues to be that way now,” Kathryn reports. Although Kat graduated from Pepperdine University, Ron and Karen have become big USC fans, at least of the equestrian team. “They’ve kind of adopted them,” Kat laughs.

(above) Kathryn and husband Roger Griffiths support each other in their respective 'crazy passions.'

Husband Roger Griffiths is a big supporter, too. It helps that he is as deep into his career in motor racing as she is into her life with horses. “We get each other’s weird, crazy passions and we’re very supportive of each other.”

After the IHSA Nationals, Kat looks forward to re-focusing on her own riding. She’s excited about competing at the Paso Robles Horse Park for the first time over Memorial Day, and at Blenheim EquiSports’ shows in San Juan Capistrano and Del Mar.

When the fall rolls around, she’ll pull back on the pursuit of her own riding goals and shift emphasis back to those of the USC team, all the while maintaining her rehab and retirement horse care work. The diversity at Sunset Equine Farms “broadens my perspective on everything I do,” Kathryn explains. “I like having that healthy balance and I never feel burned out on any one thing.”

This is the fifth profile in our new CPHA Spotlight, in which we’ll feature a professional member of the organization each month. The CPHA provides a forum, voice, and many valuable programs and benefits for equine industry professionals throughout the region, including those who live elsewhere but compete and/or work within it regularly. Members can be trainers and anyone else who earns at least half their income from working with horses. CPHA also hosts prestigious medal classes and finals for juniors and amateur members. For more information on the organization’s good works and getting involved, visit www.cpha.org.