The showing rider draws huge inspiration from her mentors and has big plans for the working hunter scene. Alex Robinson checks in with Katy Green to find out how she juggles business and competition
We’re always told that to be successful you should surround yourself with those who inspire and encourage you to be the very best version of yourself. This is something Katy Green has done her entire life.
Looking ahead to the 2021 season, Katy has her carefully selected string of athletic working hunters ready to hit the circuit. While her natural gift for scouting out show ring talent can’t be denied, she is quick to credit her mentors for steering her in the right direction.
“Good workers are hard to find,” explains Katy, 35, as we chat remotely one morning in between Katy’s yard jobs and dropping her four-year-old son Freddie at school. “They need a decent brain, be able to jump 1.25m with ease, give an amazing ride, move and have fabulous conformation with no lumps or bumps; it’s almost impossible.”
Katy, who runs her schooling and training business as well as her own horses from her 26-acre set-up in rural Warwickshire, started her working hunter journey on ponies before making the jump on to horses when she was 17 while working for Louise and Robert Bell.
“I had a really bad fall across country when I was a teenager; my pony fell and got stuck under a fence and I went underneath him,” she remembers.
“That was the reason I started workers. I had some fantastic ponies, including a Connemara who was second at Horse of the Year Show [HOYS] and a 15-hander called Highland Harry; he was a Highland/thoroughbred and was a little sod but was the best £5,000 we’d ever spent as he taught me everything.
“He won the Desert Orchid supreme at the British Show Pony Society [BSPS] summer championships and was third at HOYS, to name a few. I took him with me to Louise and Robert’s yard.”
At the time, Louise – who has now switched to dressage and still teaches Katy on the flat – was the working hunter star of the circuit.
“I owe Robert and Louise everything; if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be doing this now,” continues Katy. “Louise works her socks off and her work ethic is infectious. Her horses were immaculate in every way. I’d love to be as good as her; I don’t have as many Hickstead wins under my belt as she has, but I’m working on it.
“Both Robert and Louise were hard on me, but they encouraged me to start the horse workers and are ultimately how I caught the bug.”
After her stint with the Bells, Katy studied business and marketing at Oxford Brookes University before embarking on a career with horses full-time.
“My parents told me I needed something to fall back on,” she says. “My mum, Jonita, jokes that I’m one of the best qualified s*** shovellers around. After I graduated I tried accounting in London but I lasted only one day, so I came home to work with horses for
a year and I’m still here.”
While she has an unrivalled zest for the working hunter, Katy has focused her business on schooling, teaching and bringing on young horses, running her own horses alongside for the show ring. She has also dabbled in working hunter pony production, with 15hh Royal International (RIHS) champion All Fired Up (Jon Allen) and big-winning 14hh Star Smokey (Leyla Wheelwright) spending time on her yard.
“As you can jump a maximum of only two horses in a class and can take only one back in for final judging, someone is always going to be disappointed if you have working horses in for clients,” she explains. “A few years ago, I had a fabulous horse called Franks Blue River in for production. He qualified for all the championships, but went lame the following year and it was so gut-wrenching; it broke me a little to realise a horse you’ve worked so hard with is now no good.
“I needed to find ways of doing what I wanted without the pressure. It’s hard as it means I have to pay for all the entries and fuel, but I can do it in my own time without that reliance. It’s not the same for the flat producers; they can have various types of horses at one time, but worker production is different as there’s only one class. Maybe in the future it’ll change, but for now this works for me. Before he passed, this was also something Rory was keen to change.”
The late Rory Gilsenan is another equestrian legend Katy mentions with huge admiration. Rory, one of the sport’s most popular figures with an incredible tally of wins to his name, died last April, having had an aggressive brain tumour. Katy remembers her first encounter with Rory fondly.
“I think I was about 18 and I was riding in one of my first horse worker classes at Moreton-in-Marsh show, ” she reminisces. “The commentator came up to me to ask some details about my horse and Rory made a rude joke which sent everyone into hysterics. After the class, he came over and gave me a big hug; that was our relationship from day one.
“He took the mickey out of me and always gave me grief for not selling my horses, but he was awesome and always looked out for me.
“I’d often go over to his yard for a jumping lesson and would spend about three minutes riding and the rest of the time we’d drink tea and laugh. Before a championship he’d say, ‘Right Greeny, let’s do this; I’m going to beat you today,’ and he usually would. He had a magical gift with horses; he could make anything look good.”
Katy and Rory became a formidable team in 2016 when she was pregnant with Freddie and asked Rory to take on her rides for the season. By October, their form book included a host of accolades including a second at HOYS and a one-two in the working hunter championship at Royal Windsor with Vulcanite (Aoife) and I’m A Diamond (Jack), respectively.
“In January 2016, I rang Rory and said I had a proposition for him. In true Rory fashion he shouted, ‘F*** me Greeny, you’re either up the duff or injured.’ We’d go here and there in the lorry, Rory would ride and I’d drive. He didn’t charge me once. He was phenomenal, the big brother I never had. I still hear his voice in my head saying, ‘Will you ride that bloody corner properly and stop checking it.’
“I want to fight for our working hunter scene like Rory did. Whether you were a professional or a local rider, he wanted everyone to enjoy it. He’ll be very sorely missed.”
With concern about the rider drop-off rate after working hunter ponies, Katy has plans to keep pushing horse workers into the spotlight. Top of her list is to reinstate the grand prix working show horse final held at the Sport Horse Breeding (GB) National Championships. She speaks with vigour and positivity as she describes her plans.
“It would be a pull for worker riders to come to Addington for the show; an extra class, a completely different course to jump and decent prize money,” she says. “My next aim is to push for separate lightweight and heavyweight finals at HOYS. At present it’s a fabulous course and a real spectacle but once again, from a rider’s point of view, you’re limited as to how many you can ride.”
Although she admits she doesn’t usually enjoy change, Katy would also like to see new judges step into the spotlight.
“The stamp of worker we see today is so different to 15 years ago, so it would be interesting to see how younger judges would look at things,” she says. “The courses are more technical so the horses aren’t necessarily those heavy Irish types, but are more sporty and athletic. Times are changing and judges should be changing, too.”
Katy’s current team of five is flourishing. Alongside her three open contenders – 18-year-old gelding I’m A Diamond X (Jack), 12-year-old mare Vulcanite (Aoife) and her 11-year-old gelding The Prof, who was supreme of the entire field at the 2019 British Show Horse Association (BSHA) championships – Katy has two exciting novices waiting in the wings, seven-year-old AOC Quality OZ and five-year-old Kuriheka Temptation.
“I don’t jump the older horses too often; they’re jumping machines and don’t need the ring experience,” says Katy, who has regular lessons with showjumper Adam Botham. “I aim to qualify them for HOYS and the RIHS and one or two for Windsor. I really love working with the young horses. Of course I love to win and I want to finally reign at HOYS one day, but for me it’s all about finding the next hidden gem. The most rewarding part of the job is when a young horse you’ve had for a long time and worked hard with jumps his first clear round. I’m sentimental with them and those moments mean everything.”
But results aside, showing is about family, friends and old-fashioned fun for Katy. Last year, her mother Jonita – who helps Katy on the yard every day – was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“Last year was hard for us and it made me realise that while horses are everything, there are other things in life which matter more,” reflects Katy. “We were lucky to have amazing friends who helped us out and thankfully we got through it and Mum is fine.
“I’ve missed everyone terribly this year, so 2021 will be about getting out, catching up and having a laugh. We’re one big family in the workers.”
Katy’s own development from aspiring young rider to one of the very best in the game means those starting out will always have someone to turn to. Her passion is for the sport is clear to see in her own performances, as well as in her ambitions to keep promoting horse workers as a viable option for those coming off ponies.
“At the end of the day, it’s bloody good fun. And I want to keep it that way.”
Ref: 7 January 2021
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