By Katie Navarra
The Texas panhandle is synonymous with the stock horse. Working ranches are plentiful; cowboy boots and hats are standard attire. Among the cowgirls and cowboys is hunter-jumper competitor Cailin Caldwell. She trailers her horses an average of 200–400 miles on her own to compete in the nearest A-rated shows.
Between the distance to shows and working a full-time job, her opportunities to compete have been limited. But in 2017, she committed to entering as many shows as possible. During the peak show season, she managed to get to at least one A-rated show a month with her Silla Argentino horse, Ad Hoc. “We face a lot of challenges showing out of Amarillo because of the distance we have to travel to venues,” she said.
During their first year back in the show ring full time, she and Ad Hoc entered the low adult jumpers and celebrated several wins in Colorado at the Summer in the Rockies series. “Ad Hoc is a different horse at shows,” Cailin said. “He can be a bit wild, but I’m learning to enjoy his exuberance and am hoping we can be more consistent next year over bigger fences.”
The 11-year-old gelding pushes Cailin to be a stronger rider, but he also rewards her when she gets it right. “I am so fortunate to have this horse, and he has been the absolute best teacher. My goal is to keep improving and moving up divisions as we figure it out together,” she said.
Like most riders, Cailin was a self-described barn rat. She spent all of her spare time at the local stable in her hometown of Seattle, Washington. She rode every chance she was given and spent every minute at the barn, even if it was only to muck stalls. She didn’t own her own horse, so her experience in the show ring was limited as a child.
At 12, she started taking lessons at a hunter-jumper barn. The barn offered a solid selection of lesson horses and a good schedule for participation in schooling shows. As she got older, she entered a handful of the local rated shows.
After high school, she enrolled in the equine science program at Colorado State University. She knew she wanted a career in the equine industry, but realized she wasn’t cut out to be a trainer or professional rider. An internship in Santa Fe, New Mexico, helped her find her place in the industry: She went to Rancho Corazon to learn more about breeding, young horses and management from the McElvain family. “They were very generous with their knowledge and passionate about their horses,” Cailin said.
Working at the world-renowned facility brought her closer to her lifelong dream of owning her own horse. She had her heart set on a mare, specifically Populaire CF, or Claire. As fate would have it, the mare was unavailable and so Ad Hoc, a gelding, became her first horse.
A few months after purchasing Ad Hoc, Claire was for sale. Cailin made the snap decision to buy the mare and, two days after the sale was final, bred her to Dreamscape Farm’s Checkmate.
Cailin wished for a filly and was rewarded with Chai in June 2015. The long-legged foal provided a crash course on raising a young horse. She was a large foal that required precise nutrition because she grew rapidly. “She had a lot of goofy accidents — she got kicked in the shoulder as a yearling and had a huge hematoma,” Cailin said. “She managed to get herself into a lot of trouble in a very safe pasture environment.”
Before Chai was a yearling, she slipped in the pasture and shattered the cartilage on the lateral trochlear side of her stifle. The veterinarian gave her a guarded prognosis for future performance. Luckily, the filly has recovered to the point that she will start training in 2018.
“I’ve put my breeding plans on hold temporarily, but can’t wait to breed again in the near future,” Cailin said. “Since I wasn’t scared off by my first breeding experience with Chai, I think I’m hooked for life. I can’t wait to get back to it.”
At the same time she was earning an education in breeding and young horse management at Rancho Corazon, Cailin found her professional calling in the equine industry. After she graduated from CSU, the stable hired her to manage all of their marketing. She designed their ads, promoted sales horses and everything in between. “The job gave me a lot of great experience and insight and helped me move on to my current position,” she said.
In fall 2014, she accepted a position in the American Quarter Horse Association’s (AQHA) marketing and advertising department. She handles most of the Association’s external advertising and the marketing for internal programs and departments. She collaborates with the art department to create advertising campaigns and messaging and was an integral part of the team that came up with the Association’s “You Hold My Heart” campaign.
“I am continually inspired by the disposition and versatility of this amazing breed because the American Quarter Horse literally does it all; they compete in endurance and dressage, they jump, work cattle, race and so much more,” Cailin said.
Since moving to Amarillo three years ago, Cailin has witnessed a growing interest in the English discipline. About the same time, Brittney Caflisch purchased an existing facility and converted it into a hunter-jumper barn. She added an indoor arena, brought in jumps and has access to fields for schooling. Brittney also started a local show circuit that has helped the discipline expand.
So while the sport grows at home, perhaps soon those 200 miles to rated shows might not be so lonely for Cailin and her fellow hunter-jumper riders. “There are some really talented horses and riders in the area and I think the number of riders will continue to grow,” she said.
Photos courtesy of Cailin Caldwell, unless noted otherwise