Kate Broadbent is one of the top equestrians in the country.
She won two of the most prestigious horse show competitions in the United States in 2003 and 2005. And she placed fourth in the U.S. Equestrian Team Talent Search, which is analogous to the junior Olympics.
She has participated in nearly 200 riding competitions in cities across the country, and she has earned more than 3,000 ribbons, including 500 first place awards. She has won saddles, horse blankets, riding boots, belt buckles, and flowers, and her horse always wins a ribbon and a sash.
The 19-year-old freshman from Salt Lake City, Utah, this year will ride with the equestrian team at Wellesley College. Because the Institute has no team of its own, she will compete as an individual from MIT.
“What I have more than other riders is a sixth sense,” she says. “I have a feel for what the horse is feeling. Horses behave a lot better for me than for other people, because we share a natural connection.”
Broadbent says that because the pair needs to trust each other, she spends hours with the horse, building a relationship. “You need to spend time together,” says this young woman, who has worked up to eight hours a day bathing the animal, brushing his coat, feeding him, cleaning his stall, wrapping his legs, giving him treats, and talking to him.
“I listen to the horse and let him communicate what he’s feeling. Many riders have grooms. The rider shows up at the barn, and the groom hands over the horse. They ride and get off and hand the horse back to the groom, who takes care of him.” But time together pays off.
“For example,” she says, “sometimes I make a mistake and misjudge the distance before a jump. But because we have a close relationship, the horse will make a big effort for me, and he’ll really reach and clear the hurdle.”
At MIT, Broadbent plans to study biological engineering. One day, she hopes to design artificial tendons and ligaments for horses and design artificial casts and recovery systems. The daughter of a pediatrician and an allergist, she says one day, she, too, might become a doctor.
She began riding at age 6. As a kindergartner at the Garrison Forest School, which had stables on the grounds, she watched the horses and was transfixed. Too young to ride, she stood every day by the fence post and watched the older children’s riding lessons. Eager to be involved, she offered to clean out the stalls. Even though she was underage, she asked permission every day to begin riding. Finally, she was told yes.
“It’s been an exponential increase in desire, joy, and commitment ever since,” she says. “Riding has shaped who I am –– the determination, the hard work, the resilience, the struggle. There’s also a lot of pleasure and magic in it.”
Broadbent, who now owns three horses, is considering participating in the Olympics after she graduates from MIT.
The big challenge of the sport, she is saying, is that the playing ground is not entirely level. “This is an expensive sport. Many who compete at this level are millionaires, the daughters of movie stars and famous people.
“If your horse gets hurt, you’re out of luck. But some of these girls own 20 horses. It’s hard to compete.
“Many don’t put much work into it, and don’t want success enough. I do. I really want it. For me, it’s always been about being my personal best. I don’t have to be better than someone else.” Riding, she says, has taught her not only to be in tune with nature and in tune with the horse, but most importantly, to be in tune with herself.
“You have to be a success within yourself. Success is when you’re a confident enough person without needing other’s approval. What I’ve learned most from riding is that you have to feel happy about yourself without the blue ribbon.”