California Riding Magazine • August, 2008

Horse People: Katie Johnson
San Diegan fulfills dream of making the North American Young Rider Team.

by Elizabeth Allen

A young toddler can barely dare to dream about what they want to be when they grow up. Katie Johnson of El Cajon, however, was already living her dream at just 3 years old. By then she could perform every dressage maneuver on her stick horse with the help of her mother, Elizabeth, an accomplished dressage trainer. Now 19, Katie has reached her lifelong goal of becoming a member of the North American Young Rider Team after years of hard work, training and competing.

Over the years, Katie has trained and shown various horses who have helped her on the road to competitive success. Since 2001 she has competed at every level of dressage with numerous horses in the CDS Southern California Junior Championships. Last year she was the High Point rider in Training - Second Level, as well as the Training Level champion, riding Urbana, a horse owned by Pam Tarrel. In 2006, she was a member of the USEF National FEI Junior Bronze medal team and was 4th Level Southern California Junior Champion on Meeko, owned by Elizabeth Johnson.

However, this year Katie was having trouble clicking with the horse she was leasing in preparation for the Dressage Affaire CDI. So, on the last weekend of March, three weeks away from the Del Mar National Horse Show, Katie acquired Millenium, aka ‘Milo,’ through a lease from owner Pam Schachter of Palos Verdes, CA. Katie could sense Milo was special and even though they were just getting to know each other, the pair was able to earn a respectable score at Del Mar. They continued showing together, competing at five shows in just eight weeks, in all kinds of weather and all over the state, in order to continue their qualifying quest for the Young Rider team. At the last qualifier Katie was finally awarded the third spot on the four-rider team.

Katie owes her success to Milo. “He has such a great heart, is so honest, and loves his job,” she explains. “I was so lucky to find him. Pam Schachter has been so helpful and really made it happen for me. I couldn’t have done it without Milo and Pam.”

Working With Debbie McDonald

Between teaching and training along with her mother at Hazy Meadow Ranch in Lakeside and Bright Valley Farms in Spring Valley, and taking care of the horses at their own ranch, Artisan Dressage, Katie barely has time to take a breather during the day. Yet she still makes time to train and work for Olympic-bound dressage star Debbie McDonald when she comes to Epona Farms in Thousand Oaks for the winter. Katie had the chance to meet Debbie at a clinic two years ago and Debbie invited Katie to come watch her during the winter off-season. Katie is now taking lessons and working as a groom for Debbie and hopes to continue doing so. “Everyone who works for Debbie, from the other grooms, to the assistant trainer, to Debbie’s husband, is so giving and supportive,” Katie emphasizes. “Debbie herself works hard and truly loves her horses. This makes her just amazing and the nicest person in the whole world.”

Throughout everything Katie feels fortunate to have a mother, Elizabeth Johnson, with whom she works so well, and supportive family and friends behind her. Some of the group Elizabeth calls “Team Katie” will travel out to Parker, CO July 29th-Aug. 3 to be there for Katie at the North American Young Rider Championships.
Every day has been worth it to Katie, including every competition, training and all the hard work as a groom with Debbie McDonald. “Every day I feel so lucky to train with Debbie and have a caring family. It’s just so amazing and I’m so happy that everything is going great right now,” Katie reflects. “It takes a big team of people to make all this happen and I would like to thank my mom, dad, and sister, Pam, Debbie, Button, Linda, Tiffany, Carol, Ellie, Cheryl and Beth for all your hard work and support.

“Also, California Riding Magazine, Carter’s Hay & Grain, Dr. Gary Amaral, farrier Chad Evans and Mary’s Tack and feed for their sponsorship and support for the Region 7 Junior Young Rider Team and me.”

Katie hopes to continue the Young Rider Team for one more year provided another mount can be acquired. She then intends to travel to Europe, compete for the Brentina Cup, and one day make it to the Olympics. She adds that Milo will be offered for sale at the end of the Young Rider season. She will miss him and never forget his contribution to her dream.

For more information about Milo, please e-mail Katie at