A Lasting Legacy

Cathy Hanson has certainly left her mark on the Pacific Coast horse industry

Cathy Hanson has been a mainstay on the California circuit since she was a young girl. Growing up as the daughter of a well-respected horseman it is no wonder that developed into the successful trainer that she is today. She has trained World and Reserve World Champion horses and riders. She graciously served as PCQHA President as well as took on the role of the Youth Advisor for several years as a bright light guiding young minds within the industry. Now she is making the move to Oklahoma, where she will continue to manage Show Me the Money Quarter Horse Show and joyfully be closer to her daughter and grandchildren.

Cathy discovered her passion for teaching at a very young age. When most little girls were at home playing house, she was at home play teacher with her step sister. “I always wanted to be a teacher. I was always the teacher when my sister and I would play school. I made homework and papers. We would do this for hours.” Cathy recalled. Her parents would listen in and smile as they witnessed her talent and passion blossom, much to the dismay of her sibling. Her other overwhelming passion was for horses. “I loved horses, I really wanted to teach, so that just morphed into wanting to be a horse trainer. I knew that from a really young age.” Cathy remembered fondly.

As soon as Cathy was able, she went to work helping her dad out with his training business. He primarily with race horses but they had show horses as well. By the age of 16 she had her first paying client and the rest came naturally. “I knew I wanted to be a horse trainer, but I thought I needed to be more well-rounded. I thought it would be good to learn to ride and train English.” She explained. “I went to a school in England. They have a whole testing program to get licensed. I rode dressage, cross country, learned about horse health, management, and the finer points of teaching.” Cathy was determined to pass the several day long final exam on the first try. Once she did, they had a competition for the students that was comprised of dressage, cross country and show jumping. Being the only western based rider, Cathy wasn’t sure how she would fair. “At that time in England, the western discipline was kind of frowned upon. They thought there wasn’t any training to it. I never told anyone that I rode western while I was there.” She shared. “I competed in the three-day event and ended up winning which was funny because I was probably the only western person there!” Her goal of being a well-rounded rider appeared to be coming to fruition.

She cut her teeth in the Quarter Horse world aboard a cute gelding that her family bred named Sneaky Pete. “Even though I was only a teenager, I showed in the open classes on Sneaky Pete. He was three years old at the time and my dad said that since he was a junior horse, that meant I needed to show in the Open Rider Junior Horse classes. So that’s what I did, I never actually showed in the youth.” She recalled. “It was all about the horse. So, we were going to show him in the classes that best fit him.”

Sneak Pete introduced Cathy to her passion for the western riding class. As a 17 year old girl aboard a 4 year old horse, Cathy showed at her first AQHA World Championship Show and was completely hooked. “I was self-taught and spent a lot of time watching people.” Cathy explained. “My dad didn’t have a lot of show experience but he had a lot of horse knowledge so he coached, mentored and helped me as well. Sneaky Pete was just a natural and such a great lead changer. I remember my dad saying great horses make great trainers and that’s what he did for me.” She learned all about getting into a horse’s mind and teaching them to want to do their job. When she got married, her dad allowed her to take over their show horse barn and pave her own way. She had a passion for western riding and fully went after it.

Not long after she got married, she found her next great horse. Because of her dad’s race horse influence, Cathy and her dad went to the Heritage Place Sale in Oklahoma to pick out their next prospect. This was a huge race yearling sale, but she hoped with her knowledge of conformation she would be able to find a suitable AQHA show horse. “They had yearlings and I would look at their conformation and thought if I bought something with unproven sire and dam it would be affordable. I bought a yearling with not much on the bottom side.” She shared. “She became my first really successful show horse. We did everything from start to finish. She ended up being named Reserve World Champion in the Junior Western Riding.” She beamed at the memory. “Who would have thought, my little race bred horse would do that. It was amazing and I thought oh I want to do that again. It is very rewarding to start something from the beginning and be a part of the process.” She said with a smile.

Cathy’s began adding the trail to her list of favorite events as the years progress. She took lessons from Sandy Arledge to learn the finer points and realized that this was a class she wanted to really dive in to. “We really got into that and it became a bigger part of the program. I really like that it’s a different pattern every time.” Cathy explained. She loved the challenge of developing body control and the connection that putting all the maneuvers together required from a horse and rider. “As they develop you can do any obstacle you want. It’s very challenging and it takes such good communication with your horse to have that partnership like that.” A horse named First Rate Mos really helped put her and her partner Cherie Vonada on the map in the trail. Cherie and First Rate Mos won a Reserve World Championship in the Trail. Trail would prove to be a vital element in their program as time went on.

In 1992 Cathy was blessed with a beautiful baby girl named Taylor. Taylor took a fast liking to the horses and wanted to spend all of her time at the barn with her mom. She was committed to excellence in the sport and wanted to be involved in every step of the process. “We did have conversations where if she wanted to do this she had to be committed.” Cathy recalls of the younger years spent with Taylor. “She was really athletic and I encouraged her to do other sports because I didn’t want her to miss out on the fun things in school but she just wanted to do the horses.” One summer, Cathy had a large group of kids and horses in training. Wanting the kids to experience life as well as the responsibility of caring for horses, she came up with something she called Work and Surf. “They would come and work until noon and then I would take them to the beach and drop them off at the beach for the afternoon. I did it partially so Taylor would get out and do something else.” She said with a laugh. “I felt like because it was my job and I had to be there I didn’t want her to feel like she was forced in to that.” It all proved to be the right choice in the end as Taylor won the extremely sought after title of AQHYA World Champion in Trail aboard a gelding her and her mom trained named Sure Bet Chip. It was incredible for Cathy to watch Taylor’s hard work be rewarded. “One of the things that special was that my dad lived in San Antonio and when she made the finals, he drove all night to see her be in the finals. It was like a full circle thing, he supported me, he sacrificed for me, he supported my dreams, and for him to see Taylor win was really cool.” She said fondly.

Having a barn full of youth as well as a very involved daughter, Cathy naturally took on the role of being the Pacific Coast Youth Advisor. “I was doing a lot of stuff with the youth and doing fundraisers. With Taylor being so active in the association, it was really easy for me to step in.” She said. “It was such a great group of kids in California and when everyone came to the World show it all came together and it was one big family. Seeing all those kids come together and be supportive of one another was great.” She looks back at those memories, and while she was extremely proud of everything the kids did in the arena, she was most proud of who they became outside the show pen and the character that they developed.

Cathy has great advice for younger generations that are wanting to get involved with horses. It all starts at the barn for her. “Don’t just take a lesson, tie up your horse, and leave. It’s so important to develop a relationship with your horse. Get to the barn and spend all day long there, being around it and soak up all you can learn. Get involved with the PCQHA and AQHA youth board of directions, go to the Youth Excellence Seminar. The kids that are in those programs I am so impressed with. They are so well spoken, so involved.” She went on to explain that there are so many opportunities for those who want to learn. She encourages youth to find a program that fits their needs and pushes them to be the best that they can be.

The most rewarding part of being a horse trainer for Cathy has been the pursuit of doing what is best for the horse. That mantra has been her guiding light in making decisions on a horse’s future and training process. “I’ve always been an advocate for the horse. Always do the right thing for the horse.” She said soulfully. “Whether they need a different job or a different goal, it’s what fits that horse’s needs.” She finds the most reward in having developed horses that weren’t forced into something or intimidated. The success is because they know their job and they are happy doing it. “That part always feels good.” She also explained that it is ok to change your goals with your horse. Changing disciplines or changing goals doesn’t mean that you have given up on your horse. “Let your horse be great at what they are great at. Its ok, you aren’t failing just because they won’t do what your goal was. It’s ok to change what that horse does to find an event that they will be better at. People love their horse and take it as a negative, it doesn’t mean you have a bad horse, he may just need a different job.”

Cathy’s next big adventure involves a change of address. She plans to move to Oklahoma to be closer to Taylor and her grandchildren. While this is similar to retirement, Cathy still plans on being involved in the horse community. “I knew I wanted to keep working in the show industry. I am going to keep managing the Show Me the Money show in California. I also plan to work at horse shows either scribing, working in the office, or working the back gate. I want to be flexible and being in Oklahoma with so many horse shows will give me those opportunities.” She is excited because so many of her friends from California often show in Oklahoma so she will continue to be able to see them and maintain the relationships that have influenced her over the years. When Cherie passed away, she knew it was time to make a change. “I never thought I would move to Oklahoma. The sudden illness with Cherie and losing her changed a lot for me. Cherie and I had a great partnership. We had a lot of flexibility.” When she decided on the change she sat down and thoughtfully placed each of clients with new trainers. She is excited to cheer them on from afar.

No matter where she lives, she will continue to impact the lives of people and horses. Cathy’s bright and welcoming spirit is a breath of fresh air at the horse shows. She will inspire those around her to put the horse first, and always do what is right. We will miss her on the West Coast, but we know that they horse community is one big family and we will see her again soon.

By Lauren Crivelli