December 2016 - Katherine Kinnison
Written by AnnA Buffini
Thursday, 01 December 2016 03:03

horse people

Young jumper rider Katherine Kinnison looks to follow in her coach Nayel Nassar’s footsteps.

by AnnA Buffini

Young professional Nayel Nassar mostly focuses on his own impressive international show jumping career. When he does have a student, you know they’re good.

Katherine Kinnison is Nayel’s junior protégé. After a blazing hot 2016, she is on a roll to have an even better 2017.



A native of Utah, Katherine started riding horses at the age of 6 at a camp and never stopped. The now 17-year-old began her career practicing natural horsemanship and flat work with Mustangs for six years. In 2012, she purchased a Mustang named Acorn and dominated the Short Stirrup division. She had officially been bitten by the jumping bug. After selling Acorn, she purchased a sweet grey horse named Sultan, who she competed in 2’6” Modified Child/Adult Hunters very successfully.

However, not everything has been podiums and ribbons for the young jumper. In 2014, her family moved to Southern California to help her dad fight the debilitating effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” Her father succumbed to the disease within a month after their move. Katherine says the daily connection between her and her horses is what helped her cope with the loss of her parent.

She continued jumping with the help of trainers Bernie Traurig and Hanna Mauritzson. Later that year she acquired a horse named High Eagle, with whom she competed with in 3’6” “Big Eq” division.

An Excellent Student

A few months later at a show, Katherine was looking for a new trainer and walked straight up to the HITS Million Dollar Grand Prix winner Nayel Nassar and asked him if he would be interested in training her. Nayel’s interest was piqued by this girl who had the guts to approach him directly. They became a team shortly after that.

One of Katherine’s recent big victories happened at the Del Mar International in October, when she won the $5,000 1.30M Low Jr/Am Jumper Classic with her horse Viareggio, who she began leasing earlier this year. Third to compete out of 40 horses, the pair won the class decisively as no one was able to come close to their scorching time. The performance reflects Katherine’s talent and the skilled coaching of Nayel.

Katherine is an excellent student, Nayel explains. “She works hard, listens and also asks smart questions. She’s very coachable. Ultimately, she’s a winner.”

High Eagle


Nayel’s philosophy is to have a strong partnership between horse and rider and the success in the show arena is a result of that bond. There’s no magic training or big new ideas. His way is patient, effective and has the horse’s best interest in mind. This is also the style of horsemanship Katherine loves. It has a lot in common with the natural horsemanship approach she learned early on and she’s been able to adapt to it quickly.

Viareggio has placed in every 1.30M Low Jr/Am class the pair has competed in this year. Not to mention multiple championships, including at the Oaks International Jumping Festival, Del Mar Welcome Week, Sacramento International Horse Show and Ranch & Coast tournaments.

The two have obvious chemistry and complete trust in each other. Coupled with Katherine’s skilled and competitive riding, they can take the inside turns, leave out strides and take other calculated risks while trying to win.

In 2016, the Kinnison family purchased Zillions Dos Fidalgos, with whom Katherine is competing successfully in the 1.40m High Jr/Am division. Her goal is qualifying for and competing at the North American Junior Young Riders Championships next summer.

Worthwhile Sacrifices

There have been many sacrifices along the way for Katherine. Like many horse girls, she gave up high school dances and fun social events for more hours at the barn. Knowing that her dedication would pay off, Katherine only continued to work harder in her sport and to grow her relationships between herself and her horses.

Coming from a very competitive family, it’s understandable where she gets her athleticism from. Her parents were college swimmers, competitive skiers, runners and avid outdoor enthusiasts. Her brother Christian is an impressive free skier and Katherine also played other sports growing up, but horses have always been her first love. Katherine’s mother Karen says she carries on her father’s legacy as she brings his level of drive and competitiveness to her riding.

When she’s not riding Reggie and Zillion, she enjoys massaging, grazing and hand walking them. Horses dominate her life to the degree that she is finishing her senior year of high school online so she can spend more time with her beloved animals.

The competitive Katherine also has a fun side to her. She enjoys going to the beach, rock climbing, hiking and spending time with family and friends. Her favorite riders are, of course, Nayel, as well as Eric Navet, Beezie Madden, Kent Farrington and Mclain Ward, just to name a few. Katherine’s ultimate goal is to represent the United States on an international level at competitions such as the World Cup, World Equestrian Games and, ultimately, the Olympics. If she continues the journey that she’s on with Nayel by her side, there is no doubt that she can achieve those goals. She is a winner and has the goods to deliver.

Author AnnA Buffini is an accomplished dressage rider based in San Diego. She is the 2014 US Young Rider National Champion and now runs her own training business.