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EC Youth Profile – Kaitlyn Smith

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442 – October 2019

By Megan Ulrich

At just 17 years of age, Kaitlyn Smith has more titles than many who have shown their whole lives. In fact, just this year alone, she racked up two APHA Youth World Championships at her debut World Show and earned an All-Around Youth title at the AQHA Level 1 Central Championships.
When Kaitlyn was eight, her parents weren’t sure whether her love of horses was just a phase or if it might become something more. The family owned two rescue horses, that Kaitlyn loved to feed carrots, but she always wanted a horse she could ride and show. Enter Nadine Turner, a hygienist at Kaitlyn’s father’s dental practice. Nadine befriended the quiet Kaitlyn, and the pair hit it off thanks to their shared love of all things equine. Eventually, Kaitlyn’s parents allowed her to ride one of Nadine’s horses. A few months later, Nadine’s steady gelding, Zaks Chocolate Chips, gave Kaitlyn her first taste of the show pen. As Kaitlyn spent more and more time at Nadine’s barn, it became clear that this was no passing phase. The hunt for a horse began.
The family purchased a palomino, AQHA gelding named Hes Fine Too–a three-year-old Kaitlyn called “Cupcake”–and she began showing him the following year. With Cupcake, Kaitlyn learned the basics of Horsemanship and the importance of assertive riding. Fast-forward a few years and Kaitlyn is now confidently campaigning four horses: AQHA/APHA gelding SouthernComfortZone; AQHA gelding Ona Kruze; multiple APHA World Champion gelding, Seems Like Heaven; and AQHA mare Always Decked Out.
Despite her many titles and the impressive line-up, Kaitlyn recognizes that it’s taken a village of role models and mentors to shape her into the young horsewoman she is today. Humble and grateful, she starts by thanking God for blessing her with the opportunity to be involved in the horse industry. She also credits the support of her “non-horse people” parents, who are always watching from the rail and willing to lend a hand.
“There are so many other people who have impacted me and helped me along the way. There are almost too many to name! My trainers, Tim and Shannon Gillespie, are such amazing people. My horses are thriving in their program, and I learn something new every day.”
She says the culture of “Team G” is welcoming, inclusive and family-like. But the list of those who’ve impacted her doesn’t stop at the barn. “My friend, Shannon Yeaton, has also been such a big help. She’s always the one to tuck a stray hair in before I do my Horsemanship pattern or is my shoulder to cry on after a rough day. She truly does it all with a smile on her face. For that I’m so grateful! Of course, Nadine Turner has always been my biggest fan and support system. Whether I’m in her arena riding in the middle of a hurricane, or in the show pen in Oklahoma City, I know she’s always cheering me on,” she says.
Additionally, Kaitlyn has made lifelong friends in the show pen and appreciates the simple things those friendships offer – from a congratulatory hug to an opportunity to commiserate over a botched pattern. As she adds more accolades to her collection, Kaitlyn also recognizes that she’s beginning to serve as a role model for others in the horse industry.
“The best advice I can give is not to expect perfection when you start out. I still forget that sometimes. Know that you’re probably going to mess up a ride or two – or a hundred – but just take something positive away from every ride,” Kaitlyn suggests. “The other big thing that I can share is that showing isn’t all about the shiny show clothes and saddles. It’s about the countless hours you put in when no one is watching. All the early mornings at the barn just cleaning stalls or taking care of your horse are what make you a winner, long before any showing goes on. You have to work hard for what you want.”
Trainer Tim Gillespie, who has worked with Kaitlyn and her herd for the past year, sees that hard work firsthand and compliments her ability to be a team player and have a positive attitude, no matter the circumstances. “She really has what it takes to succeed. She’s so self-driven, super hard working, and very naturally talented,” he says. “She will ride all day long. You can barely get her to stop. Then, she’ll go home and write notes about everything she learned throughout the day and study those notes. It’s a really refreshing thing to see in this day and age, when a lot of kids think they can just buy a nice horse and go win. Kaitlyn never makes an excuse, is super coachable, and works so hard.” Gillespie appreciates the obvious love Kaitlyn has for her horses, too, noting that she will keep busy all day long at the horse shows caring for her horses, whether it’s wrapping legs or applying liniment. She does anything she can do to keep them happy and healthy.
As she speaks about her horses, the love and appreciation Kaitlyn has for each of their personalities and talents shines through.


“I don’t think I’ve ever swung my leg over a horse with more heart than SouthernComfortZone. He’s pretty much perfect! I’ve had him since he was two, and he’s seven now, so we’ve gotten the opportunity to grow up together,” Kaitlyn says. “He really loves showing, and he knows when the judges are watching, so he really shows off. He’s very goofy and so sweet, and he definitely knows that I’ll let him get away with pretty much anything. But, he’s so honest that he wouldn’t ever take advantage of that. He knows how much I love him. Occasionally, he’ll cuddle with me to show he loves me, too!”

Seems Like Heaven

“He definitely has the most personality of any horse I’ve ever met. He always has his head stuck out in the barn aisle swinging his tongue around! He’s so incredibly talented, and he knows it,” Kaitlyn says. She expresses her gratitude to Tami Dobbs and Shannon Gillespie for the opportunity to show the loud tobiano. “He’s quirky, and he’ll be sure to let you know if you’re doing something in a way that he doesn’t like. He loves Western Riding so much and truly can’t swap leads badly!”

Ona Kruze

Though fairly new to Kaitlyn’s herd, he’s become a fast favorite. “He’s so kind natured and willing. You really can’t make him angry. He always tries his hardest, even if he doesn’t know what you’re asking,” Kaitlyn says. She calls him her teacher in Horsemanship, Equitation, and Trail. “I’ve gotten the opportunity to learn so many new events on this patient, honest horse. He’s saved my butt on more than one occasion.”

Always Decked Out

The sweetest and cuddliest of the group, Always Decked Out is both talented and beautiful, and she knows it, according to Kaitlyn. “She’s a very forgiving, kind horse, and you can tell she really enjoys having a job to do. We’ve grown a lot together over the past two years, especially this year, and she’s taught me a lot about the kind of rider I am or where I’m lacking, in her opinion. But, at the end of the day, she’s just a big puppy dog who wants a treat,” she says.
Despite her many accomplishments, Kaitlyn continues to focus on what lies ahead. She looks forward to growing her partnership with Ona Kruze. She recognizes that the difficulty of pattern classes require a special bond. Additionally, she wants to keep pushing Always Decked Out. “She’s really stepped up this year and become such an amazing show horse, so we want to keep pushing her to be her best, hopefully adding in some new events next year and perfecting the ones we already compete in together. There’s so much horse still in her, so I just can’t wait to see how we come along this next year together.”
Kaitlyn often reflects on her time in the industry thus far, reminding herself of the work she’s put in and the progress she’s made to get where she is today. For others chasing their horse dreams, she offers one final note. “At the end of the day, you just have to be appreciative for the chance to make memories with the best animals: our horses.”

Click here to read the complete article
442 – October 2019

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