Kate began eventing when she lived in London and kept her horse near Guildford. She spent the summer of 2003 training and riding with Ann and Nigel Taylor at Washbrook Farm, Aston-le-Walls, prompting her to move her horse up there full time, whilst studying for her A-levels.
Despite being short listed for the British Junior team, she was unable to fulfill this ambition due to a lameness issue. After leaving school she took over her own barn at Ann and Nigel’s, and commuted to Warwick University whilst studying Economics. In the spring of 2005 she moved a few miles down the road to Dassett Fields, where she set up Dassett Eventing, which has grown to become one of the leading producers of event horses worldwide.
Since then, Kate has ridden full time and become a familiar face on both the National and International scene. She has produced horses up to the top level and sold numerous horses worldwide. In 2010 Kate masterminded the prestigious 8/9 Year Old Advanced Class, run annually at Aston-le-Walls, and takes place this weekend. The Class offers one of the most generous prize pools on the National circuit.
Now in its 5th year, we caught up with Kate ahead of a busy weekend at Aston-le-Walls.
How did the Dassett Eventing 8/9 year old Advanced Class come about?
I started it because I wanted to find a way to promote Dassett as a business of producing top quality advanced horses. Eight and nine year olds are young advanced horses and I wanted to associate Dassett Eventing with the high quality end to eventing. Nigel was keen to run it and when BE agreed, we went for it. Since then other people have taken on the idea and it is a great class for preparing for Blenheim.
What are you looking forward to in this year’s Class?
This year’s event has a big charity drive and we are supporting 2 charities. The first is a charity that is close to my family, MPN Voice, as my aunt, Sheena Hawkin, who is a keen supporter of eventing has a type of blood cancer and Ben Hobday has chosen the other one, which is the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. Ben is a good friend of Craig Barr, who works here and we wanted to support him. We have an amazing team here at Dassett and my sister, Alice Rocher, came up with the idea for a rounders match.
Alice spoke to Tom Jones at Aston and together they have arranged it. Our Production Manager, Sue Tomlinson, came up with the Fuzzy Bugs. We have bought 2000 of them and hope that everyone buys one (suggested donation £1) and all the money will go to the charities. Plus for any starter in the Dassett Eventing class who wears their fuzzy bug as they start the showjumping, Dassett will donate an additional £5 to the pot. We hope all riders, grooms, visitors and owners will wear them for 2 brilliant charities.
Tell us about some of the Dassett horses. Anyone’s to watch?
A lot of our horses that we sold with the Dassett prefix such as Dassett Cool Touch, who we sold to Dan Jocelyn, are just coming up to Advanced. Dassett Courage came second at Hopetoun ridden by Blyth Tait. We sell a lot to America such as Dassett Choice and it is fun following their progress.
Craig rides a lovely 6 year old mare called Kilmullen Dassett who I think she is pure class at all 3 phases and I really, really rate her.
Our biggest issue is trying to find enough quality horses to sell. We sell a lot from Ireland and I have a very high bar as to the standards I set and demand a very vigorous vetting. Even when you think you have found them, it can be very frustrating when something turns up after x-rays and scoping.
People specifically come to us with a brief but it is a small market. A lot of clients come to us or I see something that I know would be a good fit. This year has been a fantastic year – the recession hit Ireland so badly and there has been a lag in the breeding out there. People lost a lot of money but this year, if you look at the foals registered, the registry book is twice as thick this year. A lot more entered into 3 and 4 year old sales. Before this year, there were slim pickings at the 3 yr old sales but this year things are really looking up. It’s a good time for sourcing and the sport is raising the bar all the time with high expectations for a top event horse.
How did you get in to riding?
My mum’s parents farmed and I lived in America from the ages 4 to 8. When we moved back to England I just loved being outdoors. I don’t have any immediate link to horses through my family and I used to drive everyone insane in order to get a ride on anything. I passed my driving test 3 weeks after I was 17 as was determined to be independent in order to go riding!
What or who inspires you within the equestrian world? Past and present.
A lot of what I find inspiring is when you see great horsemanship whether it is out training, competing or just watching people achieve things with a young horse. You see it when you watch Badminton or any equestrian sport – the riders with real horsemanship are my inspiration. Sue, here, is very good at reading horses, when to pat them, when to back off, and when I watch natural talent like that it is very inspiring.
Is there an all time favourite competition that you’ve been to? And why?
I am solar powered so I need sunshine! However, I did my 1st 3 day event with Nigel Taylor at Blair Castle, and I loved the experience of a real galloping track and the experience of the main arena so we go back nearly every year. You always get a proper atmosphere there but I also love Blenheim and it is down the road. We are all thrilled for Tom Jackson, a former rider here and still a very close friend, who is now 1st reserve for Team GB at the Europeans at Blair.
Which country in your opinion does equestrian best? And why?
Most definitely the UK. Great Britain has a really high standard of organisers, an amazing team of BE volunteers and it everyone a lovely extended family. I also think the course builders, course designers and groundsman are excellent. We get the best of it all here.
What would you like your legacy to be?
As a proper horsewoman who can consistently source and produce happy, confident, fit and well horses up through the levels
Do you have an equestrian hero?
Probably not someone like a specific rider, but my Great Grandfather William Seward had a horse in the 1st World War and managed to get it back after the war. I always remember all the stories my Grandmother, his mother, telling me about him when I was little.
What is the quality that you most like in a horse?
I could tell you all the technical things that I like – and the ones I would avoid – when you are producing, but you want a horse that will try, want to try and have a good attitude. When the chips are down, you want a horse that digs deep, but you also need a good model: confirmation, type, how they walk out etc – if they don’t tick all the boxes, then I wouldn’t see it ridden. I think you encourage those things through training – and through bad training you can shut that down – but that relationship develops as you train.
Do you have a favourite horse – past or present and why?
I shouldn’t say this but I probably do! Dassett Jack is a notoriously tricky horse that I found as a 3 year old. My mum and dad own him and sadly he has fractured his righthand canon bone so can’t compete this year but I am hoping he will be in work soon. I absolutely adore hime, he is my pride and joy and is a bit of a mummy’s boy!
If you weren’t a professional producer, what would you be doing?
I think I would be lawyer…I am pretty good at arguing and getting my way!
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given? Who gave it to you?
Ann Taylor at Washbrook Farm once told me that you have got to enjoy the journey and I really do. You can work so hard for one event, and such simple or silly things can go wrong, you have to be able to pick yourself up and move on. Enjoying the process and journey can make all that work not seem for nothing when the big day doesn’t go quite to plan!
What would be your message to the equestrian world?
Dassett Eventing isn’t just me. I couldn’t run it without my amazing team. They treat each other and all the horses brilliantly. They see their time here as part of their career and they are the only consistency you have. With so many different horses, different tracks and events having a good support network is crucial and so I would say a big thank you and well done to them.
Do you have a secret superstition before a competition?
I used to have hundreds! Special jods, lucky socks, avoiding a particular fleece to wear when travelling – I have worn them all out so no, not any more!
How do you unwind/relax?
I find it very hard in the season to relax as it is 24/7 but I do love a good Pimms’ in the summer
What do you never leave home without?
Spare contact lenses
What would be your perfect weekend?
Sunshine, a spa and champagne
What are your top 5 indispensable pieces of kit?
Antares tack – it has revolutionised our riding. The whole yard rides in their saddles and they are so versatile and totally brilliant – We are thrilled with the incredible service Paul Morgan from PM Equestrian gives us.
My head girl Charlotte Archibald and the team – I can’t imagine doing anything without them.
Lots of coats – I go everywhere with a lot of spares as I get cold
A spare of riding kit – in case I fall in the water. I never take more than 2 sets as if I fall off twice then I need to go home and try another day!
Our truck, it is a 6 horse whitaker called Big Blue ! Lauren Hammond, our travelling groom, makes sure it is always fully stocked and ready to go.
Badminton or Burghley? Badminton
Sand or Snow? Sand
Tea or G&T? Pimm’s
Bay or grey? Bay
Jilly Cooper or Dick Francis? Dick Francis
Huge thanks to Kate for taking time out at such a busy time to chat to us. Keep up to date with all the news from the Dassett Eventing team on Twitter