byNina Fedrizzi| Mar 21, 2017
You may not know Catie Staszak by sight, but chances are, you’d recognize her voice. That’s because, Catie, 25, is the broadcaster behind many of U.S. show jumping’s top events. As a Grand Prix Commentator/Analyst for ShowNet and a SportsCenter Anchor on ESPN 106.3 as well as TV Team for ESPN West Palm, Catie’s days are spent breaking down the finer parts of a rider’s jump-off track, or a new horse and rider partnership—usually live on the air. During the show year, she travels the country to work major events including the Palm Beach Masters, the Hampton Classic, and the American Gold Cup (oh, and in her spare, spare time, she’s also a regular writer for NF Style!)
But when Catie’s not on the grand prix field, microphone in hand, she can be found pursuing her personal passion—competing in the ring, herself, in the adult equitation divisions. Just this year, in fact, Catie won the Palm Beach Adult Medal during Week Four at Wellington on her leased horse, Agnes Augusta.
In the second edition of our Amateur Profile series, we talk to Catie about the value of hard work, learning to have fun in the ring, and why living out of your car in order to sneak in a ride is a totally acceptable life choice…
NF: Okay, so tell us about your horses…
Catie Staszak: I’m very fortunate to still own my very first horse, Sobrie, a 22-year-old Hungarian Warmblood. I got him when I was six years old, so I’ve had him now for nearly 19 years. He was never a show horse, but he taught me almost everything I know about being a horsewoman. He’s now retired in Palm City, Florida, and I make the hour drive to visit him weekly.
I don’t currently own a show horse, but I’m leasing a wonderful Swedish Warmblood mare named Agnes Augusta. We show in the adult equitation, mainly the medals, and I hope to qualify for Ariat finals this year. I have always loved the equitation and did the “Big Eq” as a junior, and the division allows me to put a great deal of focus on my broadcasting career. I always enjoy myself when I’m in the ring with “Aggie”—it’s a blessing to be able to show in the places I do on a horse I love so much!
I lease Aggie from my amazing trainer, Tiffany Morrissey of East Wind Farms, LLC. I’ve been training with Tiffany for almost five years now. Words cannot express how much East Wind has done for me both as a rider and as an overall person. They are truly family.
What is your typical show schedule like during the year?
It is largely work dependent, but I’m very lucky to be able to show in many of the places where I work! I base myself out of Wellington in the winter. This year, the highlight for me, without question, was winning the Palm Beach Medal at WEF on a Saturday morning before driving across the street to commentate at the phenomenal Palm Beach Masters that afternoon.
I’ll spend my summer at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival in Traverse City, Michigan, showing and commentating. From there, I’m off to the Hampton Classic and the American Gold Cup, but those two are for work only! After that, I get to have my “vacation” at Capital Challenge to focus solely on riding. Then it’s back home to South Florida for some time off from showing and more work travels. I’ll sprinkle in visits to wherever else I’m needed in between!
Sometimes I feel like I live out of my car, packing up to four different outfits a day, showering at the barn, and eating all my meals in my vehicle (thank you Field of Greens and the Chicken Kitchen!) to fit in a ride.
How did you get started in the sport?
I had an opinionated white pony named Snow Day when I was younger who took off with me and stopped at more fences than I can count, but she taught me to never give up! Some of my favorite memories growing up in the saddle were of “Snowy” and racing my friends bareback down the dirt racetrack at the facility we boarded at. I’m grateful to my parents every day that they enrolled me in riding lessons at age four despite them not having equestrian backgrounds. I’ve been riding as long as I can remember!
What was the last light-bulb moment you had with your horse?
The equitation ring can be very demanding. You essentially need to be perfect to win, but who is perfect all the time? I had this long-awaited epiphany this year: Showing is supposed to fun! As a junior, I definitely let the pressure get to me too much at times, but I’ve learned that my best riding comes when my thoughts are not on winning or getting points, but just on putting in a good ride and enjoying every moment. My trainer Tiffany says it best: “Trust yourself, relax, and just ride like you know how, regardless of the situation.”
What is your absolute favorite part about riding?
Forming a connection with my horse is the most amazing feeling in the world. Riding is my de-stressor and my escape when I’m juggling multiple jobs or working long hours.
What is your least favorite part about riding?
What is a typical “barn day” like for you?
It all depends on my work schedule, but as long as I can fit a ride in, it’s a great day! After I finish a hack, lesson, or show, I try to take Aggie for a long trail ride to cool out, relax, and get a change of scenery. I also do my very best to make time for at least 20 minutes of grazing every day—I try to get in as much bonding, quality, one-on-one time with my horse as I can. At the show, I’m then also walking around the grounds, talking with riders, watching, and preparing for my next production piece or commentary.
What do you think is a common misconception people have about the sport?
I started out taking western riding lessons—fringe chaps, cowboy hat and all! My mom never took a formal riding lesson before I started riding; the only time my dad ever rode a horse, he put his helmet on backward. When we got Sobrie, he was a less-than-suitable, recently gelded four-year-old that we rescued from neglect. Basically, I took a less traditional route to the show circuit!
What I learned is, you don’t have to start out a fancy barn. You don’t have to have a family with a horsey background. You don’t need to have an unlimited budget. With hard work and dedication, you can go as far as you want in the sport, both in and out of the saddle. Dream big!
What have horses taught you?
With my schedule, I don’t have time for much of a personal life, but that’s okay. I absolutely love what I do, and I have many goals to chase after! The most difficult part of balancing riding with my career is scheduling. Sometimes I feel like I live out of my car, packing up to four different outfits a day, showering at the barn, and eating all my meals in my vehicle (thank you Field of Greens and the Chicken Kitchen!) to fit in a ride—but it’s one million percent worth it.
Riding has instilled in me enduring work ethic, responsibility, and organization, among countless other lessons that I’m able to apply to my professional life. Of course, I also apply every riding-related lesson I’ve ever learned when walking a grand prix course and evaluating rides when I’m on air doing commentary!
Most importantly, horses and riding have provided me with my greatest sense of pure happiness.
-Photo credit: Bianca McCarty Equine Photo. All photos courtesy of Catie Staszak.
- The Stylish Life of Art Advisor Nilani Trent [NF Style]