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Catherine Tyree: “My relationship with my horses is much more important than any round”

Wednesday, 10 July 2019
Interview

Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping Catherine Tyree with Bokai. "He’s the kind of horse that you can bring to any show and know you have a shot at a good result," Tyree says. Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

“I love the sport, I really don’t see anything else I want to be doing. I’m a bit of an addict really – I love watching a good class and the really good riders,” Catherine Tyree smiles as we meet up at North Run South in Wellington, Florida earlier this year. 

The 25-year-old has come off an impressive 2018-season and judging from her results 2019 seems to be continuing equally successful, with Tyree recording big wins at the Winter Equestrian Festival, the CP Palm Beach Masters Winter Classic, Devon Horse Show and Lake Placid. 

Tyree grew up in Chicago, where her mum used to ride at a stable an hour outside of the city. “She used to bring my sister and me with her to the barn, and one day she let us get on – now she probably wishes that she had not done that,” Tyree laughs. “That’s how it all started. I got my first pony, his name was Blaze – and for the first few years I just messed around, having fun. Then we made our first move to a trainer just a bit outside Chicago, Katie Kappler, where we rode for ten years. She brought me all the way from short stirrup to national Grand Prix classes. In 2012, which was my last junior year, I made the move to Missy and John at North Run.”

When arriving at North Run, much of Tyree’s focus was on equitation – something that has served her well later on in her career. “In the equitation, everything is very track-orientated. Looking back, I’m happy to have spent so much time on those basics because they are fundamental in what I do now. The skills developed in the equitation have helped me be quicker in Grand Prix classes, speed classes and jump-offs. There are a lot of extra horses within the barn that I’m able to jump around the same type of courses I did when I was doing the equitation. It’s nice to have the chance to keep working on the basics with a lot of different horses without having to call on my own every time I feel the need to practice something,” Tyree explains.

Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping "No matter what’s in front of him, he just does it,” Tyree says of Catungee. Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

At only 21, Tyree jumped her first World Cup qualifier. Nearly one-and-a-half year later, she made her senior Nations Cup debut for Team USA in Wellington with a double clear round aboard Bokai. It was an emotional moment for Tyree, who one year earlier was put through every rider’s nightmare when losing her 11-year-old mare Freestyle vh Polderhof in a freak incident at the same venue. “We believe it was caused by a pulmonary aneurysm,” Tyree tells about her mare’s sudden collapse in the ring. “Everything happened so fast. One second, I was walking before the jump-off, and the next, we were on the ground. I remember just hoping Freebie didn’t roll over on top of me. However, my leg got stuck under her. After a few minutes, everyone was able to get me out from underneath her. At that time, I really had no idea what was going on – all I could think about was her. I didn’t realize anything was wrong with me until the medic said I needed to go to the hospital,” Tyree tells looking back. “My foot was broken in eight places. I had to have surgery to have screws put in and was out of the sport for five months. There was a time when everyone was unsure if I’d be able to ride again, but here I am.”

Tyree’s return to the saddle was a result of a long period of rehabilitation. “Luckily, I was able to do most of my physical therapy at Athlete’s Advantage in Wellington, Florida with Ed Smith. It started with basic movement exercises, just trying to get mobility and flexibility back. That was the main focus of the winter. At the end of the winter, I had to go back to college in Chicago, so I continued my therapy there,” Tyree tells. “After 14 weeks of being on crutches, I finally took my first few steps. Three days later, I was back on a horse and one month after that, I was in the show ring.”

It was no easy comeback though, and it took quite a while before Tyree felt 100 % on a horse. “My balance was completely off, and I didn’t feel very secure as I rode. It was frustrating and painful at times, but I never let it discourage me. I told myself that the hard days wouldn’t be permanent and just kept pushing forward,” she says.

The horrific incident is something that has shaped Tyree’s way of thinking when it comes to her horses and her own riding. “It made me realize that nothing should be taken for granted. Now, I make sure to live in the moment every time I go in the ring. I think that it’s easy to get side-tracked by the competitive aspect of this sport and to forget how much these horses give to us. Day in and day out, they give their all simply to make us happy or to fulfil our goals and dreams; we are so lucky to work with them. My relationship with my horses and having the chance to be around them every day is much more important than any round. For me, what makes this sport so special are the relationships I get to develop with these animals. My horses have become a part of me in a way that nothing else could,” Tyree smiles.

Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping "My horses have become a part of me in a way that nothing else could,” Tyree says – here with Enjoy Louis. Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

While it’s obvious that Tyree’s determination has played a big part in her success, she is quick to credit her horses and trainers for her good results. “Our program is very focused on the horses. Missy and John are true horse people and know my horses so well. It’s important that the horses are in the best condition they can be in – to us, that means they are sound, fit, and happy. When it comes to riding, everything comes back to the basics. The day-to-day riding is more focused on flatwork – there isn’t a lot of jumping that goes on when we’re not at a show. Both Missy and John stress the importance of the horse’s rideability – whether it be going forward, slowing down, or turning. Having this control is what gives you the ability to answer whatever questions are asked when it comes time to show”.

When talking about her horses’ show programs, Tyree details, “I try not to show my horses too much. Over time, I’ve learned that it’s important to pick and choose where I go and with what horse. I try to make sure that the horses get a few longer breaks throughout the year to help keep them fresh. It’s easy to keep showing, but making sure the horses are happy and get the rest they need is really important. My goal is to keep them around for aslong as I can.”

Ahead of this year’s winter circuit, Tyree made the switch to become a professional. “Missy approached me about riding more at the barn. I know all the horses and the program, so it seemed like an easy transition. I love riding and being around the horses – I’m happy to ride eight or nine and then be in the barn all day. I love to learn and I’m very lucky to have the chance to be around people who are very good at what they do, to be exposed to the daily routine and to see first hand what it takes to manage all of the horses. I’ve definitely learned a lot in the past few months since making the change. Everyone in the barn always has the answer to my questions, often coupled with other pieces of information that I never would have thought about or considered.”

Learning by watching the world’s best is also something Tyree finds invaluable. “I love watching other people in the ring,” she says. “I primarily show in the states, so I’m around Beezie and McLain a lot, both of whom I have a great amount of respect and admiration for. They have an edge that is indescribable – it always looks effortless as they go around. I also watch a lot of the European shows online. There is so much to be learned from watching the best riders and what makes them stand apart from the rest.” 

Tyree’s dedication to the sportis confirmed by Missy Clark. “Cat loves the sport, she studies it, she knows it and that comes across in her attitude,” Clark says. “She is here all day, every day, putting in a full day of work. She often rides seven to twelve horses a day, and spends a lot of time on her own horses. Cat is always here to do the list for the next day. Her hard work reflects in her results.”

Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping “There is something really special about bringing a horse along and having them reach different milestones in their career with you," Tyree says when speaking about her hugely talented 9-year-old BEC Lorenzo. Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

“Reaching the highest level of the sport is something that I never imagined to be possible,” Tyree says. “I owe it all to the horses that I’ve been lucky enough to have and to learn from.” 

Currently, Tyree’s string consists of the veteran Enjoy Louis, her top horse Bokai, the speedy machine Catungee and the up-and-coming BEC Lorenzo. 

“Enjoy Louis is 15 years old now. I got him four years ago, and he was my first real Grand Prix horse. He’s the one who really got me started – I jumped my first five-star Grand Prix and my first World Cup qualifier on him. Louis has done so many things for me that I never thought were possible. Everything that I have done has, in one way or another, been because of him. I owe him a lot and he owes me nothing,” Tyree smiles. 

“Then there is Bokai, who is 13 now and who I’ve had for three years. He’s the kind of horse that you can bring to any show and know you have a shot at a good result. It does not matter if it’s indoors, outdoors, on grass, on sand, in a small ring or a big ring, speed class or Grand Prix – he’ll do it all. No matter what, he goes out there and fights for every jump. Bokai made my dream of wearing the team coat a reality, and together we have competed on three Nations Cup teams for the US, with two more coming up this summer. He’s just such a great horse!”

“Catungee is also 13 and I got him two years ago. I bought him with the idea of using him as a second horse at the bigger shows. However, I’ve called on him a few times now to jump three and four-star Grand Prixs and he has exceeded all of my expectations. He has the best personality and is so fun to ride – he’s very quick, careful and has the biggest heart. No matter what’s in front of him, he just does it,” Tyree tells. 

“I also have BEC Lorenzo, who turned nine this year. I got him right at the end of his 7-year-old year, and he is the first younger horse that I have gotten with hopes of bringing him along to a high level. In the beginning, it was a bit up and down as it can be with younger horses. I took my time with him and stepped him up very gradually during his 8-year-old year. At the beginning of his 9-year-old year, everything suddenly clicked. So far, he has won three Grand Prix classes this year and jumped his first 4* Grand Prix a few weeks ago. That was something that I didn’t expect to happen so soon. He is one of the smartest horses I’ve worked with and I am really excited about him!”

Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping “I owe it all to the horses that I’ve been lucky enough to have and to learn from," Tyree says about her success. Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

The process of bringing a younger horse up in the classes is something Tyree has enjoyed, and sees herself doing more of in the future. “Working with Lorenzo has exposed me to a different side of the sport that I hadn’t been involved in before. I am extremely lucky to have Louis and Bokai in my string, both of which had already been there, done that before I got them. But with Lorenzo, it has been different,” she smiles. “There is something really special about bringing a horse along and having them reach different milestones in their career with you. Those small steps up mean a lot when you’ve been working hard at it. I’ve learned a lot while working with Lorenzo and would love to do it more – maybe with an even younger horse so I can learn about producing one from the beginning. I love having the opportunity to compete at the top level and I want to do whatever I can to try to stay there, but I’ve realized that bringing a horse along to any level is equally as gratifying,” she explains.  

Through all the ups and downs, there is one lesson Tyree has learned: While things might not turn out how you hoped, you should never give up. “You can just be on this unlucky run, but what is so important is to not lose sight of the end goal. During these times, I just keep going, work hard, and not let it get me down. And then it turns around. This is a humbling sport and you have to remember that you are going to lose a lot more classes than you are going to win,” Tyree smiles. “The ups can be few and far between. What I feel has helped me is that I have learned to keep a very positive mindset while focusing on what I want to do, and if things don’t go my way, I just keep at it!”

 

 


Text © World of Showjumping 

Photos © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

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