California Riding Magazine • August, 2013

California Riding Magazine Interview: Kate Hartmann
Elevate Equestrian proprietor explores crossroads of classical dressage and
holistic and natural horsemanship.

by Kim F. Miller

Kate Hartmann and Wintergold, aka Tucker. Photo © Lori Rocereto

S ome years ago, veteran East Bay Area dressage trainer Kate Hartmann found her way to the world of equine rehabilitation, communication, holistic medicine and natural horsemanship. She came to it from a classical dressage prospective, having trained with Hans Mueller and Inge Purnyia in her formative horsemanship years. "Later, I was just lucky enough to meet the right people and horses to head me in the direction of a more complete understanding of the nature of horses and how to incorporate that into my training."

On her march through the equine world she came across a myriad of horses who were in pain emotionally and physically and struggled to do their jobs. For help in discovering the root cause of these horses' problems, she instinctively sought out vets and trainers and "out of the box" thinkers such as Linda Tellington-Jones. "I was totally fascinated by what I was learning," she explains, "and I began to surround myself with more of those kinds of people."

Today, Kate operates her Elevate Equestrian primarily at Three Horse Farms in Danville, and gives lessons at Greenville Equestrian Center in nearby Livermore, where she was based for many years. She is also willing to travel for lessons, clinics, consultations and seminars. Her main focus is balancing the horses' needs, the rider's goals and how to get them both headed in the same direction. Kate rides and competes her own horse, Wintergold, and will jump on a student's horse as needed, but she no longer takes in training horses as a substantial part of her business.

California Riding Magazine editor Kim F. Miller enjoyed chatting with Kate about her adventures coloring outside the lines of conventional dressage and the benefits that has brought to Kate,
those who ride with her and, most importantly, their horses.

Kim: I suspect there are multiple meanings in your business name: Elevate Equestrian. Tell me about that.
I picked it because it has meaning in dressage, but also because I want to elevate people's thinking about how they are training their horses, and also to take their connection with their horses to the next level.

Kim: When you began poking around the animal communication and natural horsemanship worlds, what epiphanies
first emerged?
That we as humans must remember that the horse is its own species, not an extension of the human. A horse cannot think out a problem, they react or respond to it. That's why we train them to do something, rather than educate them how to think about it. Also, I learned that horses rarely behave badly because they are nasty characters. More often than not, the root of bad behavior is fear or pain, even if it is so buried we have to really search to figure it out.

Kate Hartmann and Wintergold, aka Tucker. Photo © Lori Rocereto

Kim: Are natural horsemanship techniques compatible with the pursuit of competitive dressage goals?
Absolutely! If we train our horses according to their natural way of learning and recognize that they do not have the intellectual capability to learn as we do, we will spend much more time showing and having fun and less time being frustrated. They may not be gifted in the brain department but their beautiful, spiritual nature is able to rise to the surface when we respect their inherent nature. That is when you can really have presence in the arena!

Kim: To what extent do you see the competition-oriented horse world being open minded to taking the time and effort necessary to really learn about each animal as its own being and what that horse needs to succeed in his job?
I see it all the time in my own little world, and I think the general equine world is moving in that direction. I think part of that comes from the high visibility of all kinds of horse rescue and equine welfare efforts. An awareness of what's best for the horse ahead of our own goals is becoming more prevalent.

Kim: What's the main focus of your coaching?
Having the horse as a willing and joyful participant in the journey of the rider's short and long-term goals. My goal is to help
people learn to ride the horse they have. Most people have their horse for a particular reason. Maybe they loved his face or couldn't resist buying a horse with such a beautiful tail.

Whatever the reason, they may not be having the great experience they looked forward to having. I do my very best to make the horse/rider combination work. If you want to keep your horse, I will teach you how to ride it.

Kim: How do you begin the process of getting a horse and rider on the same page?
First and foremost, history! Information on the past gives me huge insight into the current situation. I really need to listen to the rider's feelings about where they are in their riding and how their horse is doing. Right or wrong, the rider's perception is key to the success of the learning process.

I then want to just observe the horse's behavior in general. For example, horses really express themselves while being groomed, and that gives me a lot of information, such as whether the horse is respectful of the person's space, which areas of the body the horse enjoys being rubbed and which areas are touchy or sore, etc.

Kate and her horse, Tucker. Grooming is one of the best times of the day!

During the first lesson I am a diligent observer of both horse and rider. I look for a level of understanding between horse and rider, frustration levels, willingness of the horse, accuracy of the rider's perception of her own skills and that of her horse. I also look for signs of pain or asymmetry in both horse and rider. All these things enable me to evaluate their progress or identify things that may be blocking it. And always I want to learn why horse is behaving the way he is. When we get to the bottom of that, we are already 100 steps ahead of the game.

Kim: Can you give me an example?
I had a particularly fearful student who absolutely loved her horse but was terrified of her. Selling her was "not on option." This mare was grouchy, irritable, spooky and would sometimes run off with her rider. We worked her up from head to toe at the vet clinic, evaluated her food, her exercise program, her living situation, her tack and her training program, with the willingness to change whatever we needed to change her behavior. Long story short, this horse had severe ulcers, had missed a big chunk of basic ground training and was extremely sensitive to her owner's emotional state. We all managed to put the pieces together and get the right people involved for all those pieces and the next year they went to Regionals and were Reserve Champions.

Kim: How do owners typically react to the things you discover about their horses?
Usually they've known somewhere in their gut, although they may not have known how to pinpoint it or express it. When I give suggestions, it often prompts an "ah-ha!" moment. They usually know something is wrong, but they don't understand what their horse has been saying.

Kim: Where are you in your own riding and competition goals?
I have an 8-year-old Winterprintz "baby" named Wintergold, aka "Tucker." He had significant stifle problems as a five year old and had surgery. The surgeons predicted he would never be able to work above First Level. After he healed, I gave him two years of careful rehab and here we are showing Third Level and schooling some Fourth Level movements.

Kim: It sounds like rehab has become a significant part of your program.
Yes, I have a lot of experience now, with my own horses and my client's horses. I have been helping a local veterinarian, Diane Isbell, DVM, with long-lining horses for strength and training in the correct use of their bodies. These are some dressage horses and some race horses off the track. That's been really cool! Diane is very open minded and forward thinking. She uses a lot of new technology and visits Europe often, bringing back techniques that have been successful there. She is also showing me how to observe a horse's movement in different ways to understand what may be hindering that horse from moving optimally.

Kim: You were one of the first members of the California Dressage Society and you've been in the horse business for a long time.
Yet you have the enthusiasm of a newbie. What's up?
: I am having a blast! Just when you think you are old and have "arrived," you realize you haven't even begun! I am constantly learning more and I love it.

For more information on Kate Hartmann and Elevate Equestrian call 510-364-2247 or visit or