Monday, November 2, 2015

Kathy Kusner

I bought a copy of Hunter Seat Equitation for $1.00 at a local used book store and started flipping through it when I got home and was stopped by this photo of Kathy Kusner:

The focus between her and her horse is absolutely unbelievable. I love looking at this photo and spent a lot of time examining it for things I liked. Jesus, that horse though!

And then I got curious about this rider, and did some research.

Kathy Kusner was born March 21, 1940. Her mother was a teacher, and her father, a member of the air force. They had very little money so she worked as a groom for her riding time - in the 1950's, most grooms were black men at a time when segregation was still enforced. These men she worked alongside couldn't ride the horses in competitions, couldn't get food in diners, and more. This sparked a dislike for discrimination of any sort that has spanned her entire lifetime: she founded an organization called "Horses in the Hood" which sponsors riding lessons for inner city kids who couldn't otherwise afford to ride.

She rode anything that she was allowed or invited to ride, so she ended up riding for horse dealers, trainers, and for people who weren't as talented riders as her. She describes it somewhat casually, "eventually I was riding better horses until I was riding one of the best in the country."

She loved racing horses, and in 1968 successfully sued the Maryland Racing Commission to allow her to become the first female licensed jockey. After receiving her license she traveled the world and raced horses all over - she says, "it was like a freak show, I drew big crowds. That was really fun because I wasn't used to getting decent mounts. As I shouldn't be, as I shouldn't have been getting good mounts, because I wasn't as good as the other jockeys."

Mind you, 1968 was also the year she rode in Mexico at the Olympic Games, so it was a busy year for her. Trailblazing women's rights in horse racing and representing her country as a show jumper.  

Her three best horses were thoroughbreds and came to her with a reputation for being difficult.

She rode Untouchable in two Olympic games and says that he was the best horse she ever rode. Standing only 16.1hh, he had the flight and scope of the best thoroughbreds. But he was hot and temperamental, often jetting sideways before jumps and making it nearly impossible to ride for a planned distance.

When Alberi came to Kathy, he was an inconsistent stopper. By taking him all the way back to the beginning and re-starting him over fences, she was able to quit him of the habit and went on to ride to many championships with him.

I couldn't find the whole story on Unusual but did pull this great quote from the Maker's interviews with her:

"I was just riding for anybody, the most raggedy-rough horses.... So I did develop skills that a normal person riding well-schooled horses wouldn't have needed." She later laughs and says she's glad about growing up not in a privileged family because she was allowed to run free.

The thing to take away from Kusner's success (or at least what I'm going to take away from this) is that you have to develop a sense of what is and is not possible with each horse through lots of experimentation and tact. She developed that horse sense by riding for lots of difficult horses and playing with them, trying to bring out their best.


  1. I listened to some podcast interview with her a couple of years ago - she's amazing! I forget her age now, but as of then she was successfully competing in ultra marathons!

  2. how cool - thanks for sharing!

    1. I really enjoyed learning a bit about her history - really fun to look into what shapes these great riders.

  3. Kathy kusner is amazing, her Dianne Grod, and Twinkie Nissen <3

    1. Incredible riders! Tough stuff to aspire towards which I find so inspirational