Katie Gardner Returning to her Roots

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A third generation horsewoman, Katie Gardner traces her lineage back to her grandmother Eileen Beckman, a member of the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame, and a winner of several Lifetime Achievement awards.

Her mother Randee is a USEF “R” judge in Hunter Breeding, and a renown breeder of ponies out of her Otteridge Farm in Virginia, which has produced multiple Devon and Upperville Grand Champions.

Katie’s heritage is pure horse.

Katie grew up riding ponies and horses, and learned horse care and stable management from both her mother and grandmother

Her passion for theatre drove her decision to attend Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Virginia (now the University of Lynchburg). She threw herself into her education and learned directing, lighting, acting, all of the skills one would need for a career in theatre. Yet she always knew that somehow she would be with horses.

Katie never slacked off on her barn work while in college. In the morning she did her chores before driving to school. After school she came home to do the afternoon chores. Then it was back to school for play rehearsals. A tough schedule, but she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

After graduation Katie got a job, pursuing an equestrian career with a company that sold horse products. Yet while it was a job related to horses, it was a day job. Katie did sales, shipping, phone work. Her apartment was typical first post-college lodgings, but she loved it. Her roommate was great, too.

But her job? She hated it.

“It was always the same thing. Go to work, come home, watch TV, go back to work the next day. I was getting depressed. I didn’t ride for three months, the longest period in my life I went without riding. I was unhappy and gaining weight.”

She even sent her horse, Frank (Frankly My Dear), home to her mom because she just didn’t have time to ride him. It was winter, and when she got out of work it was dark and there was no indoor. Plus the board was more than her share of the rent!

While Katie lived for several months like that, she knew it was not sustainable.

Thinking exercise might brighten her mood, she seized the opportunity when she spotted a Groupon for Zumba lessons and signed up for six lessons at the Lexington, Virginia YMCA.

At her first class, a fellow student who stood behind her during the lesson approached. “Are you a Beckman?” she asked. This is Virginia horse country after all, and the Beckman family is well known, and highly esteemed.

“Yes,” Katie answered.

The woman wondered if she had any availability to start some babies. She sure did! While she hadn’t ridden in three months, she rode five horses the first day, four greenies and one filly named Guinn that hadn’t been started yet. At the end of the day, Katie was completely exhausted.

She was also outrageously happy, and knew without a doubt that this was what she was supposed to be doing.

Although Katie never saw the woman at Zumba again, that chance meeting changed the whole trajectory of her life. She began riding at the woman’s barn several days a week, starting young horses, fine tuning school horses.

“It was a total fated moment that the meeting happened that brought me back to myself and gave me my career in its adult form,” she recalls.

“It was no accident that our paths crossed that day,” states Katie. “Guinn was the first horse I started in my adult professional life. There have been many, many others since, but there will always be a spot in my heart for that first one that came to me on my own…this quiet, level-headed filly.”

In time, Katie re-thought her situation. “This is stupid,” she decided. “I have a ring and a barn at home. What am I doing?” Packing up her apartment, she moved home, taking Guinn along to continue her training.

She also picked up a four-legged staff member on the way: Lacey (Stardust Melody), a kind and talented pinto mare who’d been owned by the woman Katie had worked for. Lacey is now a permanent lifetime fixture at Otteridge Farm and, says Katie, “has raised my whole current group of riders.

“Lacey is never going anywhere and we are so lucky to officially own her. That mare is worth her weight in gold!”

While her mother now focuses on breeding and sales for Otteridge Farm, Katie handles training and showing. It’s a life that Katie loves, and she pursues it in the farm’s stunning location in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, just at the base of the “Peaks of Otter.”

A chance meeting returned Katie to her roots, and to the life that she was always meant to live.

As for Guinn, the horse that started it all, Katie often thought about her. Guinn had returned to her owner after Katie started her. But Katie often wondered where the filly had ended up and how she was doing.

Then a message arrived out of nowhere about Guinn and her current owner, much to Katie’s surprise and joy. Katie and the woman were able to fill in the gaps about Guinn’s life from each end. “She is thirteen now, and in a forever home, and that makes me really happy. When I got her she was an un-started four year old, and by the time she left, a four year old could ride her.”

Katie’s student Casey Reber (well known to Katie’s FB followers as “The Mouse”) started riding with her when she was five. Casey waited for Katie to return from her desk job in Lexington, and resumed lessons with her. She is now almost 21 and Katie considers Casey “her right arm.”

Katie’s students and horses always do well at the Virginia shows, and this year they range from pre-beginner to junior and adult equitation. All of her students are in the top five in year-end standings for the SWVHJA. And she is excited to have a new adult student who just moved in with her two Thoroughbreds.

Ten years down the road Katie is light years beyond her post-graduation blues. “My life is my own to govern, and I really like that. I’m really lucky, a lot of people don’t get to do what they love every day, but I do.”

Her passion for theatre drove her decision to attend Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Virginia (now the University of Lynchburg). She threw herself into her education and learned directing, lighting, acting, all of the skills one would need for a career in theatre. Yet she always knew that somehow she would be with horses.

Katie never slacked off on her barn work while in college. In the morning she did her chores before driving to school. After school she came home to do the afternoon chores. Then it was back to school for play rehearsals. A tough schedule, but she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

After graduation Katie got a job, pursuing an equestrian career with a company that sold horse products. Yet while it was a job related to horses, it was a day job. Katie did sales, shipping, phone work. Her apartment was typical first post-college lodgings, but she loved it. Her roommate was great, too.

But her job? She hated it.

“It was always the same thing. Go to work, come home, watch TV, go back to work the next day. I was getting depressed. I didn’t ride for three months, the longest period in my life I went without riding. I was unhappy and gaining weight.”