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Kate and Heather Kyros on their International Dressage Triumph

Kate and Heather with Chemistry. Photo: Susan Stickle Photography.

Kate and Heather with Chemistry. Photo: Susan Stickle Photography.

Mother-daughter duo Heather and Kate Kyros had their sights set on International dressage success with Kate and her two warmblood stallions, Chemistry and Intro K.

The Kyros’ and their horses made the long journey from Australia to the Equestrian Capital of the World in Wellington, Florida, USA. And what a journey it has been! Horse Deals spoke to Kate and Heather following Kate’s Gold Medal ride on Chemistry in the Nations Cup CDIO U25 Freestyle.

Kate, how are you feeling about this success, and what was it like riding for Australia? The success at the Nations Cup was unbelievably exciting. Before travelling to Florida, we discussed the possibility of competing in the Nations Cup and what an incredible experience it would be to even be a part of the competition, let alone bringing home a silver and gold medal. It was my first time officially representing Australia in a competition, which included receiving my first Australian Equestrian Team Uniform and sewing the Australian flag onto my saddle blankets and tailcoat. I couldn’t help but think back to when I received my first team uniform for Equestrian South Australia Show Horse in 2014 and how 10-year-old me would be in happy tears if she knew where the next ten years would lead (there may have been some tears receiving the uniform this year). It has always been a dream of mine to compete for Australia and I felt such pride representing our Nation. Hearing the Australian anthem play throughout the arena whilst standing on the podium truly brought tears to my eyes, it is a moment I will never forget.

Heather, describe your emotions watching Kate compete for Australia. I felt incredibly proud of Kate throughout the whole Nations Cup competition. Watching her trot up in the Australian Equestrian Team Uniform and being announced ‘for Australia’ was totally surreal. During the tests, I was very nervous; I know how hard she has trained and how much effort she puts in, and I was hoping she would achieve the rides she wished for. I don’t think I have ever been more excited, happy and proud before in my life than I was when she finished her freestyle. There were tears! Seeing Kate standing on the podium receiving the Gold Medal for Australia and hearing our Anthem playing was so, so special.

Chemistry and Kate fully focused during their test. Photo: Susan Stickle Photography.

Chemistry and Kate fully focused during their test. Photo: Susan Stickle Photography.

Kate you have had a big lead-up to the Nations Cup with regular competition. What success have you had in the lead-up? Prior to the Nations Cup, we competed in three CDI’s, hoping to gain as much competition experience as possible, familiarising both the horses and our team with the grounds and routine. The freestyle competition is not mandatory in January, but as we knew the Nations Cup was approaching, we chose to take part. Both Tommy’s and Intro’s confidence grew each time we entered the arena, allowing us to take more risks for better marks in each test. We had fantastic success in the lead-up, often hearing the Australian anthem playing through the arena multiple times a day. This certainly boosted my confidence to really go for it at the Nations Cup.

Describe the ride that resulted in a Gold Medal winning Freestyle. As we approached the main arena, I was a little bit nervous. USA were extremely patriotic, waving flags and cheering for the combination before us, and I thought Tommy might find this quite overwhelming. Luckily for me, Tommy is incredibly smart. He had learnt from the two days of competition prior that this was nothing to worry about. He was super brave and entered the arena as if he was a 20-year-old schoolmaster, not 11. Our Alice in Wonderland music began to play, and we confidently cantered in the gate for our first halt salute. I knew that we needed to nail all our changes, 26 one-time tempis and ten two-time tempis, and we did. Finishing the tempi changes was a huge relief; Tommy makes them super easy, but it is a lot of counting for me to keep up with. We continued with a clean test up to my final centreline of passage and piaffe pirouettes. As I turned the corner, I said to myself, “Oh my goodness, we’ve got this”. I knew it had been such an incredible ride that my eyes were filling up with tears before our final salute. At that moment, I had almost forgotten we were competing; words can’t quite describe how proud I was of Tommy; he gave it his everything, listening and answering all my aids perfectly.

Chemistry and Intro K, your two Warmblood stallions, have certainly stepped up and have had great success in Florida. What has contributed to this success? A huge key to Tommy and Intro’s success in Florida has been our star groom, Lillie Connelly. Lillie works with us to look after our horses’ day-to-day routines, including feeding, walking, paddock time, farrier, aqua treadmill and massage appointments. The management of horses at this level of the sport is crucial, so having a knowledgeable and trustworthy groom is super important. Activities for the horses besides daily training, such as the weekly aqua treadmill and pulse treatments, are a great way to keep the horses engaged and healthy. Lillie and I have also enjoyed going for weekly hacks out with the horses through the trails that wind through Wellington.

Kate, how do your two stallions vary in temperament, training and the actual ride? Both Intro K and Chemistry are angels to work with in every way. However, they have entirely opposite personalities.

Intro K is incredibly talented making a lot of his training very easy for him. We often call him ‘dude’ as he has a super laid-back approach to everything. This is super for competing in a big atmosphere; he enjoys new venues and crowds. Intro certainly knows he is beautiful just the way he is. He keeps us constantly entertained by checking himself out in the arena mirrors, his obsession with sugar cubes and his always cuddly personality.

Chemistry has the biggest heart; I often say that I could ask him to do any discipline (even barrel racing), and he would always give it his all. In training, we must be conscious of how long we ride him as he will always keep going and will never say no. Tommy is incredibly intelligent, making him a super-fast learner, but this also means he can sometimes overthink and become nervous. Reassuring Tommy is important for his confidence, so lots of pats and bags of mints are given to him every ride.

Intro and Tommy are an iconic duo. They do everything together, from being stabled next to each other to travelling together. We are so privileged to have two stallions who are also best friends.

Intro K and Kate winning the CDI Young Rider Freestyle with 75.745%. Photo: Susan Stickle Photography.

Intro K and Kate winning the CDI Young Rider Freestyle with 75.745%. Photo: Susan Stickle Photography.

Let’s go back to the beginning. Heather were you a rider or was it Kate’s interest that has taken you to the other side of the world? I rode as a child until I was 16 and in Year 12 at school. After that, I moved to the city for university, and other interests took over my time. Kate was born into a totally horse-free household, and it remained this way until she chose to attend pony camp while on a family holiday. Aged nine she trotted off, rising trot, like she had been riding horses forever. It was all she could talk about for the remainder of the holiday. We live near the city of Adelaide, and horse riding is not very accessible. I made many excuses for why she could not go riding until it became obvious that she was not going to give up on the idea. Kate began riding lessons at Megan Jones’ riding school Kirby Park in the Adelaide Hills. Roughly 12 months later, we bought her first pony. It was absolutely Kate’s interest that began the horse journey; however, I think we can both agree to be equally as passionate about the horses and riding now.

Relocating from South Australia to Queensland and now Florida in the US, was this always the plan? Kate is living in Queensland while she attends Bond University on the Gold Coast. She lives on campus and is studying a double degree in Business and Laws. Kate’s father, Dean is a Bond Alumni, and it was always our wish that she would follow in his footsteps to study at Bond. The horses are with Kate in Queensland and we are endlessly grateful to Jemma Heran for welcoming them at her amazing equestrian property which is only a short drive from the University.

The Global Dressage Festival in Florida runs from January until the end of March. The idea to compete here for a season was suggested to us by Australian dressage trainer Bennet Conn back in 2020. Last year when Kate’s new partnerships with both Chemistry and Intro K were going well, we began to consider that the timing might be right for a season in Florida.

What sacrifices have you both had to make to put this plan into reality? The hardest part of being away is missing home, friends and family. Fortunately, we all arrived in December and spent the first month here as a family, enjoying the Christmas school holidays together. Kate’s brother Wil is in Year 11 at school, so Dean flew back to Australia with him in January in readiness for the new school year.

Where are you and the horses located, and what are the facilities like? Our horses are staying at Carben Farm, owned by Australian Showjumper Ben Meredith and USA Dressage rider Caroline Roffman. Their facilities are excellent and include large stables with fans, a covered 60 x 20 mirrored arena and outdoor, both with fibre surfaces, a horse walker, aqua treadmill, sand yards, grass paddocks, multiple tie-ups, wash bays, tack and feed rooms, all set within beautiful, lush green hedged gardens. The back gate opens onto the horse trail, which winds its way through the properties of Wellington. We feel very fortunate to be there as it is a small barn with mostly only horses belonging to Ben and Caroline. This means that Kate rarely has more than one other person using the arena, which allows for great training. There is a wonderful family feel, and we have fallen in love with their stable pets, two pigs, Thelma and Louise and a calf, Cora. It is a little ‘heaven on earth’ for horses and a wonderful home away from home.

Chemistry and Kate after winning gold for Australia at the U25s Nations Cup. Photo: Susan Stickle Photography.

Chemistry and Kate after winning gold for Australia at the U25s Nations Cup. Photo: Susan Stickle Photography.

Heather, what support system did you have planned prior to your trip to Florida? There was a lot to organise to get here safely with a family, groom, two horses and all the related gear. Initially, I reached out to everyone who I thought might have some ideas and information. I contacted Michelle Lang McMahon, who was a fantastic help with information regarding flying the horses with IRT and visa requirements. Bennet Conn connected us with Ben & Caroline for the stable space, and Jayden Brown introduced me to German trainer Petra Hofmann, who spends the season in Florida each year. She was able to assist with contacts for our accommodation. Equestrian Australia was also very helpful. as you need permission to compete internationally from your National Federation and they do all the entries for CDI events outside Australia. I was keen for some continuity in training, so I was delighted when Kate’s coach, Jenny Gehrke, agreed to join us for a month and assist at the first three CDIs. Jenny also introduced us to Lillie Connelly, who agreed to groom for us. Lillie has worked for many years as a full-time professional groom for Willinga Park, so we were absolutely over the moon when she agreed to come.

No doubt there has been some adjustments in the management of your horses being overseas. What have been the changes and how have they adjusted? The horses’ health and well-being are always our highest priority, and we aim to keep their care as consistent as possible. Early on, I researched the feed options available in Florida and was delighted to find a stockist of Hygain products. I am familiar with their range, so as soon as Kate finished competing at Nationals in October, we began to transition them over to Hygain feeds in Australia. I was able to arrange for the horses to board their flight at Toowoomba Airport. This removed three days of road travel to Melbourne and meant that I was able to pack their regular hay from home for the journey. Through IRT, I also had Hygain feed delivered for them into the USA quarantine facility.

We run a monthly set of bloods to keep tabs on their health and to check for anything unusual or different. The grass here in Florida grows in sand and is devoid of many nutrients. We were advised to put them on a vitamin E supplement to counteract this. The humidity and temperature is not too different to Queensland – so we are fortunate because they both cope well and are accustomed to heat. I packed all their supplements from home, some of which I posted. Vet Gold was fantastic and provided detailed product sheets and lab results, which enabled the large buckets of white powder to pass through US Customs without suspicion. We also travelled a month before the first CDI to give them a reasonable time to settle in. I am super proud of both stallions, who have taken the whole experience in their stride and haven’t missed a beat. It is a testament to their temperament and absolute suitability for the sport.

Intro K and Kate as the Australian Anthem plays for their win in the CDI Individual Global Festival 1. Photo: Susan Stickle Photography.

Intro K and Kate as the Australian Anthem plays for their win in the CDI Individual Global Festival 1. Photo: Susan Stickle Photography.

What about adjustments for you both? Wellington is a wonderful place, packed full of horse enthusiasts and equine sports. We feel very grateful to be here, living this experience. The scale of the stunning horse properties needs to be seen to be believed – it is Disneyland for horse lovers. Friday nights are for Dressage Freestyle, Saturday nights are for Jumping Under Lights and Sunday is the day for Polo. Everywhere you look or turn, there are horse lovers (often wearing their jodhpurs), horse stores, and horse events - it is amazing. We are doing our best to soak up every second and appreciate our time here. We have enjoyed getting to know the American culture, including super friendly service, outgoing people and, of course, huge meals. We are now experts in driving on the other side of the road and expecting extra sugar, cheese and whipped cream on everything. Patriotism in America is incredible; the pride they have for their country is admirable, with flags everywhere you look and their anthem playing before every event. I think we will all be coming home with a little Southern American twang.

There are now a number of Aussie riders in Florida Wellington. Is the Aussie spirit alive? We have loved connecting with our fellow Australians in Florida; you can hear an Aussie accent here from a mile away. There is fantastic comradery across all disciplines, and we have enjoyed cheering on our Aussie showjumpers each Saturday night and catching up for dinner with friends from home, new and old. The Aussie spirit is well alive and has acted as a great support system for us. From comparing horse supplements to asking for the best takeaway pizza recommendations, everyone has been super friendly, supportive and helpful.

For Australian riders contemplating overseas, what words of advice can you provide? We have had such a wonderful time and have learned so much from this experience. I would strongly encourage other riders to take the opportunity if possible. Research is key, and don’t hesitate to ask for help and advice from others who have walked the path before you.

It has been quite a journey for you both, from showing in Australia to living and riding for Australia in dressage - when did you both recognise this opportunity? Under the expert guidance of Chris and Vicky Lawrie, I learnt so much about being a good competitor, horse management and competition skills. During my showing career travelling the country with my teams of ponies, we recognised the need for my first hack. This led to the purchase of the renowned Federer. The talent and knowledge of Adam Oliver and Phil Bobic at Universal Stables, combined with Federer’s training in dressage, sparked my interest in learning higher-level movements. After doing my first flying changes, I was hooked, so we purchased Courtland’s Cadman, who was trained to Advanced by Steffi Stevens. We spent countless nights with Heather Currie after school, chipping away at learning new movements leading up to my first official competition when I was 15 years old. Since then, we have focused on competing our way up the FEI youth classes, beginning with the FEI Juniors and now the FEI Young Rider and U25 Grand Prix.

Chemistry and Kate cut a beautiful picture in their final salute. Photo: Susan Stickle Photography.

Chemistry and Kate cut a beautiful picture in their final salute. Photo: Susan Stickle Photography.

Kate, has this experience exceeded your expectations? 100%, Wellington truly is a horse-girl’s paradise. I have had so much fun getting to know the American young riders and meeting so many new people. It is such a great feeling to connect with people with identical interests, passions, and goals. Everyone has been so welcoming. As for my horses, Intro and Tommy could not be more perfect. They have put so much trust in us to take them to the other side of the world. I truly have the best teammates ever.

And Heather? The whole trip has greatly exceeded all my expectations, and I am so glad we decided to come. Kate’s partnership with her horses and her riding has improved out of sight, which was our main goal. Along with this, she now has both horses ranked in the Top 10 of the FEI Dressage World Rankings, Chemistry No. 8 in the U25 and Intro K No. 9 in the Young Rider (U21). Kate will also be leaving Wellington with both a gold and silver medal from the Nations Cup, having ridden for the first time officially for Australia. We have met so many wonderful people who I am sure will be lifelong friends. It has been a dream come true, with memories made that I know I will cherish forever.

What’s next for the Kyros family? A break for us and the ponies is in order, after such a busy time. Kate will have ridden 36 tests over six CDIs in three months by the time we finish at the end of March. Looking further ahead we are always planning for new experiences and learning challenges, so I am sure our next great adventure will be on the horizon very soon.

Kate is proudly sponsored by County Saddles Australia.

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