Kassy Perry is CEO of Perry Communications. But this week we talk to her about the love of equestrian activities she shares with her daughters, Morgan and Kaitlin.
You got some good news this week.
Kaitlin received an NCAA Division I scholarship to TCU (Texas Christian University). Between that and some other scholarship funds she’s getting a free ride to study political science and entrepreneurship.
Equestrian riding has not traditionally been a big scholarship sport.
I’m sure my parents would have liked it if it had been in my era. It’s been an Olympic sport since the beginning. But it hasn’t been an NCAA sport until the last two or three years. I think part of that is due to some Title IX shifts that they need to increase the number of young women in Division I sports. A number of the big schools now have teams. They’ve established a way that makes a level playing field among the competitors. In show jumping, your equipment is often more expensive than others, and you have two creatures that have to compete well on the same day. At the university level, you compete on the university’s horses, so it levels the playing field. The girls don’t have their own horses.
You did this same sport.
I did, and I still do. I actually was ranked nationally as a junior rider. I competed at Madison Square Garden in New York. You park on the streets and walk your horses up five floors. That was a big deal. Growing up, Kaitlin always had that same goal. She qualified last year, and has already qualified again this year. TCU has already said they’ll allow her to go.
The college level sport is called equitation. It’s judged on the rider’s technique. The sport itself is very similar in some ways to gymnastics and figure skating, because you’re actually doing a significant amount of athletic work but trying to make it invisible. You’re constantly guiding the horse to lengthen or shorten the jump so they land exactly where you want it to. Jockeys and riders like Kaitlin are among the fittest of all athletes, because the core strength it takes to manage a 1,500 lb. animal is amazing.
The sports you mention are ones petite people tend to dominate.
And petite people look best in those riding clothes. Kaitlin is very thin. She’s tall, she’s 5’9”, I think she’s a size 2. Typically riders weigh between 120 and 150. The weight doesn’t matter so much. You don’t have to be tiny like a jockey. It helps if you’re on the smaller side. But these are big horses. Race horses are bred to be very light-boned. They’re what we used to use. Now we use horses imported from Europe that are bigger-boned. They need to hold up to the pounding of jumping. Race horses tend to be 15 hands (60” at the shoulder). Kaitlin’s horse is 18 hands, which is just under the size of a Budweiser Clydesdale, but more refined.
You had a serious injury in 2005.
I broke my back. I was at home on Memorial Day weekend taking a lesson with a trainer. I was warming up my horse and we were arguing about something so I wasn’t really paying attention. My horse misjudged a jump and started to trip and go down and I ended up coming off. I landed on my feet, but because I was coming off backwards and my knees were locked and I was 15 or 20 feet up in the air when I flipped, I blew out a vertebrae. At the trauma unit they said I would never walk again. After I was in a body cast for several months and they did a fairly new procedure where they created new vertebrae – it was very non-invasive, it was a very cool procedure – I was back trying to get back in shape and I was back on a horse six weeks after my surgery because my national points were dropping because I hadn’t shown in awhile.
I tell people there are two kinds of people in the world, the ones who get on a horse and get dumped and say, “What a stupid sport,” and then the rest of us who get back on and have no common sense. That connection with the horse, that teamwork, there’s no better feeling. I still compete. My daughter and I are one of the only mother-daughter teams, and we sometimes compete against each other. We don’t let up on each other.
When my eldest daughter Morgan turned six, she wanted riding lessons, which is very common for little girls. I started riding again. About a year after Morgan started riding she came off a horse really hard going very fast. We got her back on right away, but she was terrified. I started taking the girls in the summer to dude ranches in the west.
The summer of her junior year of high school, we were at a ranch in Wyoming. She got up on the horse and galloped to the other end of the arena. I turned to the head wrangler and said, “My job is done. If she can get on a horse she’s never seen before and gallop off and feel comfortable, I don’t care if she ever gets on another horse again.” Little did I know she’d already talked the owners of the property into a job. She had a job working on the ranch, and the next year she had a job taking families out on 20,000 acres of BLM land with bear and buffalo. Now she’s studying agribusiness at Cal-Poly with an equine science minor, and she just bought her first horse.