Barn Aisle Chats is a new series where we’ll meet equestrians from all walks of life and disciplines. Today, we chat with Kate just as she takes a big step in her adult life.
Kate Gardiner, CEO and Founder of Grey Horse, a full-service communications firm, and lifelong equestrian, recently got married, and like many of us, she wanted her heart horse, Copenhagen, in attendance. Today, we chat with Kate about her lifetime of loving horses and what it meant to have Copenhagen at the ceremony on the family farm in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Amanda: Tell us about your childhood “barn rat” years. How did you get started riding and loving horses?
Kate: There was a stable in between what turned into a bunch of shopping malls in Mokena, Illinois. Mom told me I could have horse camp if I got straight As for the quarter — so I did, precisely for that quarter only — and I started riding just about every week afterwards. I think my parents eventually got me a car specifically so they wouldn’t have to sit outside a barn waiting for me. I leased a horse a few times and then when my parents moved to the countryside in 2003 they bought me Copenhagen as a ‘graduation present,’ which I think was mostly to get me to come back from college more often. So I did and it’s worked for at least 20 years.
A: Tell us more about Copenhagen.
K: He’s a 32-year-old appendix quarter horse gelding named ‘Two Rivers Nick” and was raced on the quarter track in Iowa. Before he was sold to us around age 12, someone bought him and gentled him with Parelli and natural horsemanship for a few years.
He’s had a host of adventures racing around in Kettle Moraine, the state forest near my parents’ house, surviving my various attempts to ‘learn to do team roping’ with the cowboys next door, and then of course taking up a hunt saddle and jumping courses. Then he got EPM and spent about a year in treatment.
The week I was defending my masters’ thesis, Copenhagen got out on the highway with his pony friend Dave and wrought havoc, ultimately being hit by a semi truck in the face with what seems to have been a side view mirror; he broke his sinus and spent the better part of a year [healing] the bones in his face and rebalancing. He’s been a pasture pet for the past few years and last year went to Midwest Equine Dentistry to get his teeth pulled because he had developed EOTRH Syndrome. He’s had an incredibly low-stress life and was an incredible fiery mount for most of the years we’ve been together.
A: I was told Copenhagen always travels with his entourage, Dave the Pony and George the Donkey. Tell us about them.
K: George was a bottle-fed donkey who lived at the vet clinic next door, serving as a loud coyote deterrent and occasional roping dummy. Eventually George decided he wanted to live on our side of the fence — and kept putting himself there with the sheep until we gave up on returning him. He’s quite opinionated and very friendly; at this point he has to be at least 25 years old. Dave was a lead line pony someone just abandoned at the same vet clinic one night; eventually he moved over to our side of the fence primarily because he had nowhere else to go. In his youth he had an incredible hackney-type step and was apparently trained to drive though I never tried him out. His most recent claim to fame was as the flower pony in the wedding — wherein the flower girls fell off mid ceremony due to an abundance of show sheen.
A: Tell us why it was important for them to be a part of your big day.
K: Copenhagen is my longest male relationship at twenty years and it was important to me that he was available to give me away. He’s a sweet kind old man who genuinely loves his paddock and his grain. It was important to me that both he — and my dad, of course — were able to be there to give me away, so to speak.
A: Back to you, what disciplines have you trained for or competed in?
K: I started out doing western/reining and then some rodeo. During college I switched to English and eventually started jumping smaller courses. I was lucky enough to be a part of the club equestrian team at Brandeis in Massachusetts — and also to ride in Wimbledon and at the University of Stirling, in Scotland, while studying abroad. After that I did some dressage and cross country, though I’ve never been a particularly beautiful or graceful rider. During the pandemic I discovered fox hunting and hunter pace culture here in New York — and I love every minute we spend doing that during the seasons here.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with Ericka Rose, who runs a really cool lease program up and down the Hudson River in New York. She brings a string of horses to just about every hunter pace on weekends. She also brings a string of horses to ride with various fox hunting clubs during the week including the Bedford Riding Trails Association in Bedford, NY. During Covid, the Manhattan Riding Club came into being and their business model — which sometimes we call Uber for horses — puts you in the saddle in the easiest way possible for those of us who like cross country and outdoor hunt-style riding.
MRC is the coolest in the context of being one of the only ways I’ve seen that folks who may have competed in college are able to easily get back into the sport. Most participants are people who rode horses growing up, who probably don’t have their own horse currently, or who want to get back into riding. It’s very rare to be able to start riding again at the level you’d like, especially in open country, and it’s equally difficult to find horses that are really ready to take an experienced but out-of-shape rider out at pace. It’s a great program and I hope MRC continues to grow in the coming years.
I’ve also done about 30 treks in foreign countries — including South America, Africa, MENA and all over eastern Europe.
A: Your equestrian pursuits aren’t limited to riding, though. You were a board member of Gallop NYC, a nonprofit using therapeutic horsemanship to help riders with disabilities. Tell us about your time with that organization.
K: I was an advisory board member for Gallop, helping them with development related to their facilities and annual gala. I am always happy to support equine therapy organizations because I love how helpful horse-related treatment can be for differently-abled folks looking for a way to become more mobile.
A: And was Copenhagen the inspiration for the name of your communications firm, Grey Horse?
K: Absolutely. He is gray under all that mud. I swear!
A: Alright, now the rapid-fire questions. Coffee, tea, or soda?
K: Coffee. Never soda.
A: Winter or summer?
A: Sunrise or sunset?
A: Cats or dogs?
A: Black Beauty or Black Stallion?
K: Black Stallion.
Amanda Uechi Ronan is an author, equestrian and wannabe race car driver. Follow her on Instagram @uechironan.