By Perry Lefko
Katie Larsen grew up riding and competing in equestrian events at Caledon and in a roundabout way she has returned to that discipline through the thoroughbred world.
Larsen works full-time in credit adjudications at a bank in Hamilton, but she also runs a part-time business giving recently-retired thoroughbreds a second home. It is called Southern Belle thoroughbreds and, since she started in July, Larsen has found homes for almost 100 racehorses that were based at Fort Erie and Woodbine racetracks. Some are being trained to become equestrian competitors.
And it was all because Larsen was looking to return to her past owning and riding a competitive equestrian horse.
“I grew up in Oakville, riding locally at farms in the area,” she said. “When I was 16, my great-aunt, Mona Campbell, contacted me because she had a horse she was keeping at a farm in Caledon, where Chris Pratt ran his boarding/training operation. She offered the horse, Puck, to me as a project.
“I decided to go up there and start casually riding the horse. Although it was an hour drive every day after school, it was worth it. I began training more heavily with Chris and in addition to my aunt’s horse, Chris gave me tons of opportunities to ride other horses.
“In the winters, he went to Florida to compete and I would stay back and ride the horses at the farm. He had a warmblood mare there named Gwenevier, who I had the privilege of getting to know. She was originally purchased by a syndicate who sponsored Chris in hopes she would be his Grand Prix show jumper.
“She never made it to that level, so she was a perfect horse for me to get into the game. After months of riding her, it turned into a lease and from that my father purchased her for me.”
After beginning at the entry level, Larsen rose two levels to just below the Grand Prix class. She and her horse participated in numerous competitions, including some in Caledon at Palgrave Horse Park. That changed when the two had an accident at the Hendervale Equestrian event, making contact with an obstacle they were attempting to clear. After that both she and her horse were traumatized, and subsequently Larsen dropped down to level one to try rebuild her confidence. When she lost the nerve to compete, it became a financial strain, and she quit the sport.
Five years later, Larsen decided to return to equestrian riding, but didn’t have the money to purchase a quality horse. She decided to buy a thoroughbred horse that had retired from racing and discovered a website, Second Start Thoroughbreds, that sold them for modest amounts. Larsen bought a five-year-old mare called Mia Bella Amore.
She started working with the horse to convert her into jumping. Larsen later contacted the horse’s original owner, Lamar Squires, and asked if she could start learning to exercise thoroughbreds. Then, Larsen noticed many of the horses at the track had the athletic ability that could make them into equestrian horses. She put the word out to trainers looking to retire their horses and told them she could probably sell them through her network. Business started to boom, so she started a business and a separate Facebook page.
“Mia Bella Amore brought me back,” she said. “But it’s baby steps right now.”
Larsen is looking to compete again at Caledon Equestrian Park next summer.