"Despite coming from a non-horsey family, I was in love with horses from as early as I can remember. One Christmas morning, when I was 14, I received a bridle in my stocking. It did not matter to me that I did not have a horse to go with it; as a horse crazy kid, that bridle was the best gift I could imagine."
The USA’s Kate Shoemaker is one of the hosts’ biggest hopes of medalling at the 2018 World Equestrian Games (WEG), set for 18 September in Tryon, North Carolina.
Currently ranked fourth in the world in the sport’s grade IV, the 31-year old lives and runs a stable in Peoria, Arizona. She will make her major international debut in Tryon.
Paralympic.org: How did you get into riding?
I was one of those children who begged for a pony from an early age. Despite coming from a non-horsey family, I was in love with horses from as early as I can remember. One Christmas morning, when I was 14, I received a bridle in my stocking. It did not matter to me that I did not have a horse to go with it; as a horse crazy kid, that bridle was the best gift I could imagine. Then a gift beyond my wildest dreams appeared: a video tape at the bottom of my stocking with three bay thoroughbreds to choose from. What a dream come true! Thankfully the trainer (Deborah Long, a friend to this day) of the horse I selected, told my parents it wasn’t a suitable first horse. Three weeks later though we found the horse that started it all: Honky Tonk Blue.
What was your first serious competition and how did you do?
I started competing in dressage and eventing in 2000. I came up through the traditional North American Junior and Young Rider programme before competing in Para dressage 4* level for the first time at the 2015 North American Youth Championships (NAYC). We took the highest score in the competition each day and won gold in the grade IV individual and freestyle, while contributing to the team gold as well. It was my first taste of the medal podium and, needless to say, I am hungry to get back.
What do you most love about your sport?
I am a very competitive person, so having the opportunity to combine my life's greatest passion of horses with the thrill of competing brings me a lot of joy.
What do you find most challenging?
Challenges are hurdles to overcome and a normal factor of life. I try very hard not to define my challenges but to define the solutions to allow me to take the next step.
What are your hopes for WEG 2018?
This may be my first WEG, but don't let this fool anyone. I have my eyes clearly set on the podium, and I will be riding for every mark possible when in the arena. I am blessed to be partnered with a very lovely horse, Solitaer 40 (Soli). It’s our fourth competition season together so we know each other very well.
What does competing at a home WEG mean to you?
It has brought significantly greater media coverage and overall awareness to equestrian sport, including Para dressage. I love the recognition it brings to our sport and hope it inspires the next generation of riders to take the next step, whether that is beginning to ride, aiming for medals, or everything in between. It takes such a large village of people, from my family, my very first trainer years ago, current trainer and everyone up to this point, including my groom, sponsors, teammates, US Equestrian and, of course, Soli.
What has been your career highlight so far?
The moment I received the phone call that I had been selected for the WEG team was by far the greatest moment of my riding career. Before that, 2015 was a breakout year me. I earned my first (Federation Equestre Internationale) FEI gold medals by competing for five judges for the first time at the NAYC.
What have been your favourite places to visit as a rider?
There are too many great places to choose!
If you could have dinner with anyone - living or passed - who would it be with?
This is a tough one, but it I must choose off the top of my head, I would say top US dressage star Debbie McDonald. I would hope to ask her if she would help with my training, but I probably would lose the nerve to ask her before dinner was done!
What is one thing that people would never guess about you?
I owe my dressage training to developing a sharp eye as an equine veterinarian. My passion is for sports medicine and having the ability to recognise lameness and treat horses effectively. These go hand in hand with bringing out the best in our amazing equine partners. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a horse perform at its best! It's the opportunity to give back to the horses for all that they have given me.