Grand prix show jumper Katie Dinan is looking forward to wearing the red coat that signifies representing the United States when she rides at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Leipzig, Germany, this weekend (April 6-10, 2022). This will be her fifth appearance at the final—she rode Nougat du Vallet in three of those finals and her last time at a final was in 2016. This year, she will ride the 16-year-old KWPN gelding Brego R’N B (Namelus R x Nikita x Gerlinus), whom she’s been riding since 2019.
Practical Horseman spoke with Dinan the Sunday before the World Cup Finals in Wellington, Florida. During the interview, Katie shared what Brego is like to ride, what exercises she works on with him and what she does to handle nerves before heading into the competition arena.
Practical Horseman: How did you start riding Brego?
Katie Dinan: I got him from Holland. He had been showing in some grands prix there and had been doing very well. He was a few times on the Dutch team and he was already 13 [years old]. I was looking for another horse to jump in some bigger classes. My horse Nougat was close to retiring at that point. I had one other horse Dougie Douglas that was jumping big classes, but he was also getting a little bit older.
It was somewhat unplanned, but I actually didn’t even try him. My coach Beat Mändli was there and said, “I really think this will be a good match.” And I just totally took his word for it.
So it was definitely a little nerve-wracking when Brego just showed up at the barn and no one had sat on him. But it was one of those things, I rode him first thing in the morning after he got in, and as soon as I jumped my first few jumps, I was kind of hold back a smile because I was just like, “I really think this is something for me.” Because no matter what they’ve done, it’s all about the match at the end of the day.
Right away, he was really good. We were second in the first grand prix I jumped him in, which was at Old Salem and, and knock on wood, since then, he’s such a gentleman. We’ve jumped a bunch of five stars in America and a few in Europe. We have a lot of big rounds under our belt. He’s been my, top grand prix horse for the last two years.
What is he like to ride?
He goes with his head very high in the air. He’s a little bit like a giraffe. But his head is always right in front of you. His ears are always forward and he just gives you such a good feeling. I could go on all day about how much I love this horse and how lucky I am to have him.
What makes you and Brego a good match?
He’s just super nice to ride. I have a lot of trust and faith in his ability, and so I try to be there for him enough, make sure we have a good rhythm and I do my job as the rider, but really also just leave him alone and not fuss around with him too much.
We do all the right flat work and everything at home, but like once I’m in the ring, I let him keep his head where he wants and let him do his thing, give him the distance he needs in front of the jumps. I just have so much confidence in him, I try not to mess around too much. And I think, he in turn, I hope, likes a little bit that I let him do his thing. He probably knows as much as he’s doing as I do, so I think that works out well.
It is somewhat illogical because Nougat, the first horse that really made my career, was basically like at the opposite end of the spectrum as Brego. [Nougat] was small and a little feisty and a little bit like a rubber ball, and Brego is very big and angular and has a totally different style of jumping, huge stride.
But the similarity with both of them is they have a good rhythm, good blood, they want to do the job to try to clear the jumps. What more can you ask for as far as a rider?
What kinds of training exercises do you work with on Brego?
We have him be out of his stall a lot. He turns out a lot. He goes on long trail rides. Because his head is normally quite high in the ring, when I take him on long trail rides, I really try to let him stretch out, so he stretches out with his head down, through his back. I try to do a decent flat workout. I get a lot of help with that from Beat, who patiently watches me try to flat.
We’ll do a handful of gymnastics at home for his fitness. If we jump a little bigger at home, it’s really more for me than the horse, just so I remember what I’m doing. At this point he’s 16, so it’s really a balance of keeping him fit, but also just keeping him healthy and strong for as long as possible, having a show schedule where he gets the time off that he needs and picking a few good shows in spurts to get ready for. I don’t want to use him too much because I’m hoping he lasts for as long as possible. It’s always listen to him and how much he wants to do.
He does have a lot of blood, and so sometimes when you get on him, first thing in the week, he’ll be like super fresh and just want to gallop as fast as possible around the ring. I think he could go for hours, so then usually I just get tired and he doesn’t. But at the end of the day, even when he’s really fresh, once he starts jumping and jumping in the warm-up, he’s like such a professional that he goes, “Oh, OK, it’s work time. I have to stop and focus.” And even when he’s totally nuts and looking at everything and leaping in the air, I know when I go in the ring, he knows his job. He always tries to find a way to find the solution for the rider, not a problem. Whenever I walk the course in a big class, I’m really happy that he’s the horse I’m on. So that’s definitely a good feeling to have.
What’s Brego like back at the barn?
He’s so cute. He’s a little goofy, and he can be a little head shy sometimes. But then when he knows you, he’s just very affectionate. He’s got a long, big head. He’s such a big horse, but then he’s just kind of like a pony. He just wants to snuggle. And he wouldn’t ever hurt a fly. He’s just a really, really sweet kind of guy.
Was this World Cup in your plans?
I jumped in [World Cup qualifiers in] Tryon and Kentucky last fall, and I had a low placing in both of those grands prix. I was thinking of trying to get some more points, but I actually decided against that because I had only him showing at this level right now. I have some younger horses coming up, but he’s the only one I have jumping at the four or five-star grand prix level. A few of the other qualifiers were a lot of trouble [to get to] and I didn’t want to ask too much of him. I decided to focus more on jumping the grands prix at WEF, and it was a little bit of a surprise to have qualified, but sometimes you plan and plan and plan and it doesn’t work out. And sometimes you don’t plan and it does.
The last class that I jumped with him was the five-star grand prix at WEF 9 and he was double clear, and I found out I qualified somewhat unexpectedly after that. In a way that actually gave me really good confidence going in to the World Cup—to have had two really good rounds, he felt unbelievable.
So even though it was a little bit of a surprise to qualify, actually in a strange way, the plan kind of worked out. That was three weekends ago, and then he had a little bit of a break and then we got him back up and running.
I rode him a little bit before he left. Then they left the middle of last week. He’s in Europe now with Lou Beudin, his groom, with the other U.S. horses laying over there, and then they will drive up to Leipzig tomorrow. And I get there Tuesday morning.
Will it be hard making the change from the big outdoor arenas at the Winter Equestrian Festival to an indoor arena for the World Cup?
Luckily Leipzig is a big arena. I got to go to Leipzig in 2011. It was right before I graduated high school because they had the EY-Cup [European Youngster Cup]. That year, the top five riders from the Under 25 series here got to jump the EY-Cup. So I went and it was my first big European show. So I actually have been to the place before. At that point in my career, it was one of the biggest jumper things I’d ever done. So to get to go back is a cool thing.
Leipzig was a very special place in that way. It’s a really nice big place, a big warm-up, and that helps. It’s an adjustment. I think that’s something all the Americans grapple with every year for the World Cup Final, but at the end of the day, these horses know what they’re doing. My horse is experienced indoors. We don’t have that much experience indoors together, but it kind of is what it is. We’ll ride around a few times, jump the warm-up on Wednesday. Sometimes the arenas that you think are most suited for you and your horse, you end up having a whatever result, and then sometimes when it’s totally not what you expect, it’s good. So I’m going in with an optimistic attitude.
Do you ever get nervous or do you have a routine before you compete?
I definitely get nervous. I think that through exposure, the more big classes you do—you get nervous, you go, you get better at dealing with that. I try to take five deep breaths before I go in the ring. It gives me a moment in between the warm-up and the start timer to gather myself and it calms me a little bit. I try to go over my course carefully after I’ve walked the course and just take a moment for myself if I can.
Not right before the ring but just in general, I try to run a bit, which clears my head. So I do as much as I can. Especially before a big event, to some degree, do other things, so I’m not just thinking about it the whole time. But also prioritizing, like taking care of yourself and getting a good night’s sleep and all these things.
It’s always a work in progress, right? You find things that work and don’t. I’ll tell you how well I’m handling things, but if you speak to anyone in my immediate family, they’ll tell you they’re not allowed to talk to me for 48 hours before a big grand prix, so probably I probably could be reading some articles on how to handle it better. So definitely, I do some deep breathing exercises for myself and spend time with people who bring me up. When things don’t go well, yes, be disappointed, but then you’ve got to snap out of it and onto the next. Things can change so quickly, both up or down, and remembering that in both moments is important.
Can you talk about the team who will be with you at the World Cup?
I also have a really great team behind me. Beat, my coach, who won the World Cup Final before, he’s been there so many times in his career. We’ve been working together for a very long time. I have a wonderful groom, Lou Beudin. Brego is as much her life as he is my life. To have that support is really special.
Any last comments?
I’m really excited to go. It’ll be really fun to wear the red coat again. It’s been a little while for me. Ultimately, I’m just very grateful for the team I have at the barn and my parents who are my biggest supporters. My mom’s going to come to Leipzig. I really like when she comes because she knows me so well. She knows when I needed my space, when I need a hug, when I don’t want to hug. But that’s a fun thing—my mom would bring me to shows when I was doing Children’s Ponies, and now we’re going to the World Cup together, which is really nice.