Katie Duerrhammer Riding Stick Horses as Kid, Ready to Give Up Chasing Dressage Dream to World Championship USA Team

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July 28, 2022


Katie Johnson had given up on her dream of a life working with horses when Debbie McDonald called 10 years ago to suggest contacting a woman in Denver looking for a trainer for her children. Katie was burned out on horses after a decade as a working student in the U.S. and Germany, was in a serious relationship with the man she would marry, and definitely not interested in moving from warm Southern California to snowy Colorado.

When she spoke to Kylee Lourie in the Denver area community of Greenwod Village she was struck by the owner’s sincerity and straightforwardness. Kylee, though, wondered whether Katie might not have the experience and knowledge at the age of 23 to take the job. Two days later she called and asked Katie to fly to Denver to check out the opportunity.

It clicked.

Katie focused on training Kylee and the children and the initial reluctance by both women turned to respect and trust although Katie was so hurt by ill fitting saddles she couldn’t ride for two years,

As time went on, Katie’s success in coaching the children led Kylee to become interested in buying a horse as an American team prospect. Katie said she’d never ridden Grand Prix and suggested placing it with a seasoned competitor. Kylee didn’t want a team horse for the sake of it, but for Katie to have a mount at top sport.

It worked out for both. Katie goes to the world championships next week on the American team with Quartett, a horse bought by Kylee and that she will get to compete herself.

For Katie who grew up in El Cajon about 20 miles/32 km east of San Diego and grew up watching her idols Debbie McDonald, Steffen Peters and Günter Seidel compete in Southern California this stage of her career and selection for the American team is “beyond even my wildest dreams.”

“It would be like if you asked me if you could have anything in the entire world what would it be I would have been too scared to say that. This is unbelievable.”

As one of two daughters of a dressage instructor, Katie has always wanted to ride dressage. At two years of age, her parents gave her a stick horse when they went on a three-day cruise. By the time Katie was seven, she could perform all the Grand Prix movements on the stick horse.

Her mother coached her on real horses until she was about 17. So enamored with Debbie McDonald and Brentina, Katie, with the support of her mother, asked Debbie if she could be a working student. She did so for two show seasons in Southern California.

Without a horse of her own, she leased one that was for sale for three months to show it off for prospective buyers. In what she describes as “one of those fairy tale moments” she led her Young Rider team to gold and took individual gold at the North American Young Rider Championships in 2008.

Katie Duerrhammer (2nd from left), or Katie Johnson before she married, celebrating North American Young Rider Championship team gold in 2008. © Ken Braddick/DRESSAGE-NEWS.com

After that, Katie worked for Debbie who was based at the Thomas family-owned River Grove Farm in Idaho. Parry Thomas, whose name is on the famed Thomas & Mack arena at the University of Las Vegas in Nevada, owned Brentina.

No longer with the leased horse for Under-25 competition, known in the U.S. as Brentina Cup, she took her parent’s advice to go to community college at nights and built a small training business.

“As I started to age out and had two courses to go no-one was giving me a Brentina Cup horse,” she said, “so I found a working student position at Gestüt Nymphenburg (near Munich, Germany) in the hope someone would recognize my commitment to horses.

“I just lucked into the most incredible opportunity,”Katie said. “They were phenomenal… amazing people. They took me into their family and their home and taught me everything. When I started I was a working student when I finished I was an assistant trainer with a string of horses and a groom. I was going to stay three months but I stayed a year.”

By the end of the year, she was “a little burned out. And I had no money–negative money.

“I was 23 and thought, ‘If I never braid another horse it’s OK.’ I’d been grooming and a working student for a long time.”

Katie moved home and back to college, being a nanny on the side to make some money.

“It lasted six months and I bought a yearling,” she said. “Getting on with a horseless life was the ultimate fail.

“I’m just going to have one. It’s going to be my personal horse. I’m going to school, going to be a teacher and make money on the side then I can just ride on my personal time.”

She was in a good relationship with an Austrian businessman who became her husband that she had met at a bar in San Diego where Katie was celebrating her 21st birthday. Her husband represents an Austrian high performance metal manufacturing business in the United States.

Then, she got a phone call from Debbie for the first time in a year. Debbie said a woman in Colorado for whom she had taught at a clinic was looking for a trainer.

“I said, ‘great, but I’m in a good relationship I’m kind of out of horses. I have one little yearling that’s growing up. I’m not looking for a job’.” Katie recalled. “Debbie said, ‘just hear me out. She’s an incredible person, she wants someone to train her and her kids. You know so much about that, so I think you’d be a really good fit. Your personalities would fit. It’s in Denver’.

“I’m not moving to Denver!,” was Katie’s emphatic response. “No, I’m staying. I’ve chased this dream so much.”

But she ended up taking Debbie’s advice and talked to Kylee Lourie.

Kylee was “wonderful and very honest” but worried that Katie at the age of 23 may be too young for the program.

“I told Kylee I understood. I didn’t want to go, anyways.”

When Kylee called two days later to go look, “I flew there very convinced I was not going to like it.”

The day she got to Denver, Katie taught 12 lessons–“the girls were incredible. Kylee was just Kylee—lovely and gracious and honest… hilariously funny. And the horses were all kind and sweet and talented. I got back to the hotel and talked to my mom who asked how was it.

“I think I’m moving to Denver,” she replied.

Katie Duerrhammer on Paxton wiping away tears after personal best score for first Grand Prix win at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Florida with coach Adrienne Lyle. © 2022 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

To build name recognition of the farm in Denver, Kylee named it “TyL,”–Thank you, Lord, as “a gentle reminder to everybody that we should be grateful and thankful to have this opportunity, to be with these incredible horses, these incredible people at this beautiful facility, just always remember to give grace.”

Kylee offered to buy a young horse–Nymphenburg’s Sylvester that Katie competed at CDI Small Tour in Wellington, Florida in 2017 and developed to Grand Prix then sold to a youth rider.

The relationship had grown so that seven years ago Kylee proposed buying a team prospect to be developed by Katie.

“It was everything I’d ever dreamed of, but I didn’t want to say I can do it,” she said of the moment that led to a lot of tears.

At first she was coached by Debbie, but when she became too busy as the U.S. team coach Adriene Lyle, mentored by Debbie, took over.

“It’s grown into this very good friendship and incredible training relationship,” Katie said.

With the dressage season in Colorado too short, Kylee bought property in Wellington, Florida seven years ago to become a southern TYL and take advantage of the intense winter competition season and maintain training with Adrienne.

Adrienne goes to TYL in Colorado for summers when she is not competing in Europe to maintain a high performance training schedule that also shares training and support.

Katie Duerrhammer and Quartett being warmed up by her coach, Adrienne Lyle, at the CDIO5* Nations Cup at Aachen, Germany. Debbie McDonald is standing nearby. © 2022 Ken Braddick/DRESSAGE-NEWS.com