I was very fortunate to know what I wanted to do from a very young age. Riding on the American show circuit instilled in me a strong focus and determination. Looking back at it now, as the only child of a former hockey player and a horse-loving mother, I guess it was quite natural to want to pursue sports broadcasting and work with horses. Even though neither parent had any serious riding experience or had ever owned a horse.
I took my first riding lesson at the age of four at a backyard farm, wearing a bicycle helmet in a western saddle. More than 20 years later, I’m the broadcast analyst for the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping North American League. I get to travel around North America, and now even sometimes Europe, to commentate and work at some of the absolute best show jumping events in the world. A lot has happened, clearly, in that two-decade span. I have worked hard and was fortunate to meet the right people that helped further both my riding and broadcast careers. But that is for another time. I truly feel blessed.
There’s so much that goes on off-camera and behind the scenes at these horse shows. It’s amazing the amount of work that goes into a broadcast. Weeks, days, and hours are spent preparing for what you see on live streams or television. And while the winner of the grand prix deservingly gets the majority of the spotlight. There are always some up-and-coming horses and riders that excite me just as much as the winner. That’s why I’m here on Huufe. To share with you some of the experiences and insights with you that we don’t always get to share on air.
I just wrapped up a week of work at the inaugural Longines Masters of New York. There have been 25 “Masters,” from the vision of EEM visionary Christophe Ameeuw. The American leg of the three-continent series had been held in Los Angeles for the past several years. The show migrated east this year. To the state that’s home to Broadway, the NYCB Live venue was host to quite a show.
Entertaining us all from choreographed light shows to John “The Igniter Man,” DJs, and stilt-walking women dressed as trees. The Longines Masters of New York pulled out all the stops. I worked with the speaker team of Matt Millin and Max von Zimmerman. Along with good friend Adam Cromarty and the LGCT’s Steven Wilde. It was the first time that I had worked with Matt and Max (jointly known as “MadMax”) but despite this our chemistry was virtually instant. I’m quite proud of the show we put on, and the information we shared with viewers and the audience. I’m grateful to them for welcoming me and truly treating me as an equal teammate.
The Riders Masters Cup is the brainchild of EEM and Ameeuw. It’s a new concept started at their Paris leg (The series begins in Paris before traveling to Hong Kong and then New York), and in New York, it took part for the first time on U.S. soil. It’s modeled after the Ryder Cup in golf: USA versus Europe. Five American riders face off against five European show jumpers in two rounds of clashes. The first is a Table A course, and the second is a Table C, where a rail is converted to three added seconds to the time. During the second round, the riders join me on the stage after jumping to chat live and cheer on their teammates. I must say, this experience was some of the most fun I’ve ever had.
The American team consisted of McLain Ward, Laura Kraut, Beezie Madden, Georgina Bloomberg, and Adrienne Sternlicht (U25). While Europe’s team was led by Gregory Wathelet, Peder Fredricson, Kevin Staut, Harrie Smolders, and Olivier Philippaerts (U25). It goes without saying that it was an all-star cast, and it truly came down to the wire. In the midst of a massive comeback from the USA team, when down 4-1 after the first round (the second round is worth double points), the USA ladies enthusiastically cheered on stage as Madden, Kraut, and then Georgina all won their second clashes.
It was the most physical broadcast I’ve ever been a part of: On my left, Kraut punched me in the arm as she cheered on Madden, while on my right, Bloomberg grabbed my arm and jumped up and down. The crowd got involved, and I grinned ear to ear throughout the entire thing, even when Smolders ultimately outdueled Ward in the final clash to secure the win for Europe. While I love a traditional grand prix as much as the next diehard equestrian, it’s events like this that are needed to help bring in a new audience to our sport.
Ward eventually got his revenge when winning the Longines Grand Prix of New York with rising star Clinta in what was a superb jump-off. But the star of the week, for me, was Canada’s Erynn Ballard. She won the Longines Speed Challenge (this event is really something) and finished third in the grand prix aboard Fantast, a horse she had previously shown just three times. In the press conference following the grand prix, she said the show had made “dreams come true.” She was incredibly kind, gracious, and well spoken, and she rode with such boldness and confidence. She has spent the majority of her life catch riding; it was wonderful to see her shine. Congrats to her!
On the equine side, it’s no doubt that Ward has another superstar mare on his hands. But there was another horse that caught eyes. Daniel Michan Halbinger’s 2* ride, Cosa Nostra. The mare is an 8-year-old that, before the Masters, had jumped up to 1.45m in height. They entered the Masters Power, the Six-Bar competition, and the bay cleared 1.70m without batting an eye. The mare had a jaw-dropping amount of scope and was unfazed by the bold venue. Matt Millin and I were about ready to try to bring her home with us. Unsurprisingly, she was a bit outside our budgets.
I really do love what I do, and I hope it shows in my work. I look forward to sharing more stories with you along my horse show travels!
Catie Staszak is the broadcast analyst for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League. Staszak leads broadcasts from top horse shows and Jumping events across North America, working with FEI TV, the NBC Sports Network, and Carr-Hughes Productions, among others. A competitive equestrian of more than 22 years, Staszak’s passion for, experience with, and knowledge about the sport has led her to pursue many endeavors within the industry. She has also helped cover mainstream sports in West Palm Beach, FL, with ESPN West Palm, WPTV News Channel 5, and WFLX FOX 29 and acted as a SportsCenter anchor on ESPN 106.3. She is grateful to be able to combine her two greatest passions into a career and hopes to help grow equestrian sports’ popularity in mainstream media.