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Katie Franck – Equitation superstar

Text: Amelia Campbell-Horne

Photography: Merlynn Trichardt Photography

This year has been exciting for Equitation in South Africa, with the sport growing nationally and some exceptional riders rising to the top across South Africa. One such rider who has had a flawless year in the Open classes is young Katie Franck, who for possibly the first time in the history of equitation in South Africa has had a clean sweep of all the ‘big title’ wins that 2023 had to offer! HQ had the opportunity to talk to Katie and hear about her dream year!

HQ: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? 

Katie: I am 16 and in Grade 10 at St Mary’s School, Waverley. I have two sisters, and luckily for my dad, neither of them rides! Over the years, I have participated in many sports at school, such as tennis, swimming, netball, diving, and hockey, but have now narrowed my focus to my passion, horse riding. My academics are also very important to me, and it sometimes gets difficult to juggle my schoolwork with riding, but doing both has definitely taught me how to manage my time!

HQ: Can you tell us about your riding career to date? 

Katie: I started riding with my best friend at the age of five. My journey began at Farnham Stables, where I fell in love with the school ponies, started participating in training shows and enjoyed many pony camps. I then moved to Kinvara with Kate Laird and leased my first pony, Shikane. He was a gentle schoolmaster who took me confidently and competitively around the lower pony grades. When it was time for Shikane to retire, my parents bought me my first pony, Simply Sebastian. We flew around the 80cm and 90cm classes, picking up many tickets. We then moved to Kincardine Equestrian Centre, where I still stable my horses. I started jumping lessons with Joanne Van Achterburgh and flatwork lessons with Kelly Slater. With Jo’s guidance, we bought the special Bodenhausen Le Chocolatier (aka Chuckles). He taught me so much, taking me up the grades and into the open PR classes. Some of our best memories were winning the PR Open Presidents Cup (2020) and the PR Open South African Equitation Championships (2021).

The start of my junior career was not smooth sailing, but valuable lessons were learned. My first junior horse taught me patience and resilience! Then, in May 2022, I got my heart horse, Caritou Z. I remember watching Olivia Van Rooyen compete him and couldn’t believe he was now mine! He has taken me up into the open junior classes and has been the most amazing teammate. That same year, we were the Reserve Champions in the Junior Open 1.35m South African Championship!

HQ: What disciplines have you competed in, and which do you focus on now?

Katie: Participating at SANESA from a young age allowed me to try several different disciplines. However, showjumping and equitation have always been the two disciplines I’m most passionate about. I have worked my way up to the open classes of both these disciplines in the pony and junior classes. SANESA was my first exposure to equitation, and from the start, I was hooked. I love what it has and continues to teach me. Equitation focuses on the rider, and it has always been important to me that I ride correctly using the correct aids. Jumping gives me a feeling like no other, and the great thing about equitation is it combines both jumping and flatwork.

HQ: You’ve had a super year, winning pretty much every Open Equitation major title and qualifying for the Philip Smith Memorial Trophy next year, which is possibly the most prestigious Equitation title in South Africa! Can you tell us about each of those National title wins, and was there a favourite? 

Katie: Easter Festival was the first National Equitation title of the year. I went in with no expectations. Carit and I had competed in a couple of equitation classes last year, and it was still a fairly new discipline for him. My biggest challenge was to keep him focused! He rose to the occasion, and Easter Festival was our first big win. SA Champs took place in June this year at Kyalami Park. This was the title I wanted to win the most, as it was a goal for me to qualify for Philip Smith. I was also hoping to repeat my Open SA Championship Pony Rider title win but in Juniors. It was an exciting competition progressing to a part four. This was my favourite competition of the year, and my championship win hopefully means I will be invited to participate in Philip Smith next year.

Then, a win at SANESA Regionals confirmed our spot at SANESA Nationals. This competition works slightly differently in that you get to plan your own test, a challenge I really enjoyed. Lastly and most recently was our tied first place at the Gauteng Equitation Champs. Jade Anderson and I were within 1.5 points of each other after Part 2. After an exciting Part 3, we were tied and shared the title. I couldn’t have dreamt of a better equitation year for Carit and me, and I would like to thank my coaches, Joanne van Achterburgh and Kelly Slater, for helping us achieve all these milestones.

HQ: Do you have any tips and hints for people new to equitation? And why should young riders try equitation?

Katie: I have been participating in equitation since I entered my very first equitation class at SANESA at the age of seven! Whenever I get a compliment from someone about the way I ride or how well I sit, I always think to myself, ‘I have equitation to thank for that!’ My tip to anyone who does or wants to do equitation is to do it not only for the wins but also for the journey. I am a rider whose flatwork is very important to me, and I love growing together with my horse. This is why I say enjoy the journey, as equitation is a discipline where you and your horse can learn together and better your riding, and it also benefits all the other disciplines you compete in. A bit more ‘straightforward’ advice that I was once given was to ‘walk in confidently and with your head held high’ as that gives a very good first impression for the judges!

HQ: So, you’ve qualified top for the Philip Smith Memorial. It normally happens around Easter the following year, which is still six months away, but have you started preparing and how are you feeling about the event?

Katie: I am very excited about qualifying for Philip Smith next year. With SA Champs taking place earlier this year in June, it means we will have had ten months to prepare in total, a lot longer than in previous years. I have started to slowly prepare and have been familiarising myself with dressage. I am also trying to take any opportunities that come my way to ride different horses. I am sure Kelly and Jo will start with proper boot camp next year! I’m really excited to be a part of such a prestigious competition, as it’s been a dream of mine to compete in it!

HQ: Can you tell us a bit about Carit and the partnership you have?

Katie: I’ve owned Carit for 18 months, and I absolutely adore him! Besides all the achievements we’ve experienced together, what I love most about him is his charming character. He has a huge personality and loves attention. He loves to jump and seems to know when he has done well… He rises to the occasion in a lap of honour, porpoising his way round the arena. His unbelievable sporting ability, power and agility amaze me every time I sit on him.

He also has a bromance going on with his groom, Bright. He will follow Bright anywhere and can spot him from a mile away!

My favourite part of the day is walking into the stables and calling Carit; he pricks his ears and looks at me. He never fails to put a smile on my face.

HQ: Any plans for the coming year? 

Katie: Philip Smith will be a big focus for me in the new year. I would also like to compete more consistently with Carit in the open jumping classes. I have also now qualified for my dual licence, so there are a few adult shows I would like to compete in the next couple of years.

HQ: We believe you have an exciting new horse recently added to your string? 

Katie: Yes, in very exciting news, we have recently purchased a new horse, Hello Wow Z, who joined Karit at Kincardine a few weeks ago. She is seven years old and hasn’t been in the country long. I am really looking forward to starting my journey with her. The plan is to bring her own slowly and bring her up the grades over the next couple of years. There are exciting times ahead!

HQ: Is there anyone specific you would like to thank?

Katie: A huge thank you goes out to my whole team! Joanne Van Achterbergh has been my showjumping coach for about five years now, and she has helped me and watched me grow into the rider I am today. She has been so supportive throughout the highs and lows of my riding journey, and I love learning new things from her on a daily basis! Kelly Slater is my flatwork coach and has supported me through many transitions in my riding career. She has helped me improve all of my horses, and I have learned to love flatwork because of her. To my sponsor EquiBoutique – thank you for always ensuring Carit and I are comfortable and stylish. In equitation, the way you present yourself plays an important role, and I feel like we always enter the arena looking so smart in your high-end products.

HQ: Thanks, Katie, we wish you all the best and look forward to following your journey with Carit and your new girl.