Nowhere To Go But Pro: Biochemist Katy Barglow Finds Calling In Training
Katy Barglow never intended to be a dressage trainer. By day Barglow is a PhD level biochemist in the biotech industry, but the full-time scientist who wears many hats - or helmets, also moonlights as a horse trainer looking after a barn of seven horses and ten students. Barglow's love of horses and dressage has never been a question, but when she fell into employment as a trainer and instructor, no one was more surprised than her.
Barglow recalls, "I figured I'd just be a really good amateur. That was my only intention."
(Katy Barglow riding Ferucicco, photo by Terri Miller)
Since high school Barglow always knew she wanted to pursue a career in science, but she never abandoned her horse hobby even when leaving for college at Stanford. Instead, she brought along her then five-year-old Hanoverian, Leo, whom she supported on a shoestring budget.
"I rode all through college more or less on my own. During college I managed to train Leo up to I-1 with just the occasional clinics and things like that. I wouldn't say it was terribly good I-1, but still it was I-1!"
Despite her obvious knack for training, Barglow never wavered from her plan to follow a career in science, explaining that she wanted to preserve her love of horses by always making riding a choice.
"I never wanted it to become something where I have to get up and go ride to pay my bills, as opposed to being excited to get up and go ride."
Following her undergraduate degree, Barglow took the next step towards her PhD in biochemistry, applying to graduate schools across the country. When it came time to choose a school, San Diego's Scripps Research Institute (a highly ranked graduate program specializing in Barglow's chosen field) was as appealing as the campus' proximity to high level trainers.
Barglow recalls, "I came pretty close to going to Harvard and then I realized there were pretty much no barn options within a reasonable distance from campus!"
Upon settling in San Diego, Barglow quickly found a mentor in Donna Richardson, both for her skill as a trainer and her ability to juggle riding with a professional career.
"I heard about Donna as one of the only people who had been able to ride at a very high level while having a day job which interested me. She worked as an ER doctor at the time that she rode on the Pan Am team and won a medal. I thought if anyone can show me how to balance this, it's her."
(Katy Barglow riding Silverstone, photo by Charlene Ku)
Being at Richardson's Fox Run Farm was Barglow's first experience in a truly high performance dressage environment. The former grad student recalls early on when she realized just how much higher the bar was set at Richardson's stable.
"Donna had a really clear program as to how to start the horse and bring them up the levels. She's also a real stickler for position. So she loves telling the story about how when I came to her I couldn't really sit my horse's super bouncy trot. We spent MONTHS doing lunge lessons! Keep in mind that I had been showing I-1 and scoring in the 60's. She told me that if I was going to be able to teach Leo passage I needed to be able to sit his trot and not just fake it. Up until then I had been faking it pretty well!"
Barglow admits there was a method to Richardson's madness, crediting her quest for perfection with instilling a foundation in her own riding that still holds true today.
"It was a really good lesson for me to learn that sometimes to go forward with training you have to go back and fill in the holes."
Barglow's time with Richardson propelled her riding to a new level and presented her with many opportunities that would set the stage for her transition to training.
"As time went on with Donna I started riding more horses for her, and teaching a little bit when she was out of town." In addition, Barglow and her self-trained gelding reached the pinnacle of success in the amateur leagues.
"We won the national Amateur Grand Prix Horse of the Year award which at the time was the height of things you could do as an amateur. So that was part of the reason I decided to turn pro when I did. I figured, now what do I do with myself?"
Shortly after the height of the duo's Grand Prix success, Barglow graduated from UC San Diego and moved back home to the San Francisco Bay Area.
"At the time I left San Diego I had three horses and no intention of training on my own. I had only just begun to toy with the idea of competing in the open division, not because I wanted to train, but because I wanted a new challenge. So I moved up here and started training with Rachel Saavedra which was great because she was willing to come out at 7am and teach me on all three horses before I had to go to work!"
"At the time my Grand Prix horse Leo was coming back from a long layup and I realized he wasn't going to be competitive at that level again but he still had something to teach people. I had long been involved with the United States Pony Clubs, so I advertised through local clubs to see if anyone wanted to lease him and I found a sixteen year old who was interested. I started teaching her on him for free just to help her out and get them going. I had teaching experience through Pony Club doing camps and meetings—Pony Club is a great organization for teaching people how to teach - but Kate was the first person who worked just with me, my first true student. She ended up earning her bronze medal, showing Leo through Prix St. Georges and going to Jr Championships at Fourth level. That's when I realized that I really got a kick out of this teaching thing."
From there Barglow's inadvertent training career snowballed.
"Once other people started asking me to teach them as well it occurred to me that I should probably start charging! One of my early students was a teenager who had a very average horse and when I met her they were doing bad first level, you know kind of in slow motion. That kid on that same horse two or three years later qualified for NAJYRC and went to compete in Kentucky on the California team, and the year after that earned her USDF silver medal with scores around 65% in the Prix St Georges. That's when I thought, 'hey, maybe I'm not all that bad at this!'"
Barglow cites getting to watch her students and their horses transform as the most satisfying aspect of training.
"My favorite thing is taking people or horses that were told they'd never get anywhere and really getting them somewhere. For a pretty small program I think we've had a lot of success. More than 10 riders and 10 horses to the FEI levels, lots of USDF bronze and silver medals, two students to NAJYRC, and wins at CDS Championships/USDF Regional finals."
In addition to coaching Barglow has immersed herself even further into her second career at the encouragement of Richardson, by becoming an 'r' level dressage judge.
"There's so many decisions you have to make in such a short period of time, and I'm very analytical so it's a good blending of the two sides of my personality. Judging isn't an enjoyment in the same way that coming down centerline is, but there's still a satisfaction in doing it well and feeling like you're learning all the time."
(Katy Barglow and her son with Icelandic pony, Magni. Photo by Mattie Terstegge.)
Barglow may be horse trainer by accident, but her success in the field and as a judge has been the result deliberate, hard work. The full-time bio chemist estimates she spends an average of 20 hours each week teaching and riding, spread over early weekday mornings, late evenings, and weekends. Her graveyard hours might not work for everyone, but Barglow believes that for many of her students who are also employed full time, the unconventional schedule is a blessing. It's not unusual for Barglow to wrap up with her final lesson at 9pm, just in time to race home and put her three year old son to bed."
"For me I feel like it's hectic, yes, but it's a good balance. I've never been very good at being bored. I want to fill my time and do as much as I can with everyday. I like being able to go to bed feeling that I haven't left anything on the table."