Kate Jackson now feels a sense of accomplishment being Vice President and Competition Director of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. It’s the icing on the cake, the cherry on the sundae, la crème de la crème for Kate who has done so much in her lifetime. Although you would never suspect from her reserved personality and easy manner, Kate has held some of the most prestigious positions of any equine professional.
She served as an FEI Executive Board and Bureau member from 2004 to 2007. She has also worked in many capacities on past Olympic Games including serving as Competition Director of Equestrian Sports and the Modern Pentathlon for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games; as equestrian Technical Advisor for NBC Sports for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games; as equestrian Technical Advisor for the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games; and as Director of the Equestrian Three Day Event competition for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
In addition, in 1996 Kate was the Director of International Competitions for the National Horse Show Association, and in 1997 Executive Director and Secretary General of the American Horse Shows Association. And all of this was the outgrowth of her initial job of being a founding member of the Organizing Committee of the Radnor Three Day Event in Pennsylvania in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
While her high level positions are beyond impressive, it is the woman behind the job and her early passion for horses that is why she has achieved so much. Kate’s early life was filled with a lot of changes of scenery because her dad was in the Army. When he was stationed in Germany she had her first exposure to horses.
“I grew up riding. When we were in Germany I took riding lessons from 7 to 10 years old. I finally achieved getting my own horse when I was about 15 and went off to boarding school,” she explained.
It was at that same time that Kate started competing on her second horse. “I was competing in equitation and then as I got older I stayed with equitation but also added competing in hunters and jumpers.”
When Kate was in her early 20s she began eventing and fox hunting. “I never got very far in the eventing but I enjoyed it.” For Kate, fox hunting with the Radnor Hunt was a real treat. At the time she lived in Malvern, PA which is right in the heart of Radnor horse country. That connection catapulted her into a lifelong career. “The Radnor Hunt was how I got into organizing events,” she explained.
Kate continued her passion for riding but as her jobs got more intense it became difficult to do both. “When I went to Seoul for the Olympics and the last of my horses was boarding at the Radnor stables I decided that was it. Since then I have been so busy with work that I haven’t had the time or the ability to keep horses.”
Taking a peek at her daily schedule will give you a sense of why there’s no room to fit horses in these days. “I get up and walk the dog at about 5:30, and then Kona and I have breakfast. I get to work by 8:00.”
Fortunately for Kate the drive to work is short. “I am very lucky because I live in Griffin Gate, which is only 10 minutes away so I am able to go home at lunch time and walk Kona. It’s good to get home and just do a couple of things”
Kate’s work day is filled with nonstop action. “My job is to handle anything that has to do with the horses or the athletes, which includes but is not limited to quarantine, transportation, housing, and stabling.” Kate’s overall position is overseeing the competition itself. All of this keeps Kate busy all day from answering the 40 to 100 emails she gets in any one day to the challenges of dealing with an event so large.
“One of the big challenges of this job as opposed to the Olympics is that it is so much bigger. There are eight disciplines instead of three. There are 700 plus horses instead of 225 and all the attendant questions and complications that come with size and that variety. I am highly experienced in the Olympic disciplines and I have helped organize driving events. However, vaulting, endurance, reining and para are really new to me and so there is not the instinctive knowledge I have with the other sports.”
Yet Kate admits that each discipline has very capable people in charge and she turns to them frequently, “but it is still challenging to pull it all together.” Yet, Kate’s attention to detail and organizational skills bode well for a job like this and is probably one of the main reasons why she is such an astute event manager.
With such an intense workload, she attempts to keep her day at a reasonable length. “I try to leave here around 5:30 or 6:00 when I go home, walk Kona, have dinner, read a book and go to sleep and get ready for another action packed day.”
Loving Life, Living Work
Like so many people, Kate is most comfortable talking work than what happens in the rest of her life. So when I asked her about high and low times in her life she immediately thought of the many careers she’s had over the years.
“I have been so lucky. I’ve had so many high points. If you asked me that three years ago I would have said Atlanta and before that I would have said Seoul but now I am saying right here, right now.”
That remark piqued my curiosity. I wanted to know about how the here and now happened and so Kate in her always gentle way continued to outline the path she traveled.
“I was with the AHSA (1990s) and as it became the USEF I stayed on in a consulting capacity which was also during the period when the USEF and the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP) were getting together to put forth the bid and so I gave them some advice of various things that I knew about from my experience in previous Games.”
When KHP won the bid Kate was on the FEI Bureau and was glad “to be able to honestly say to my colleagues this is the best venue that I can imagine to have the Games.”
Shortly after that Kate received a surprise phone call from WEG asking if she’d be interested in the job she now holds. It wasn’t what she expected because she thought her knowledge would be used more from a consultant standpoint. After some thought, and conversations with friends she realized this was a perfect “why not” answer to “what now?” She was also well aware that the road ahead would be rocky but rewarding.
At the time Kate had just lost her husband and needed something to fill the emptiness. WEG was the perfect adventure to help keep her distracted and busy.
“Don had died and I was just getting over being at loose ends. I was Group Chairman for the FEI at that point and on the FEI Bureau,” which Kate ultimately gave up realizing she could not do both.
While visions of anything but preparing for the Games are difficult to see now, she does sometimes think about the future when she wants to spend “more time with my children and seven grandchildren.” They range in age from one to 21.
“The 21 year old was born while I was in Seoul on 8-8-88, an incredibly lucky date in Asia. When he was born all of the people in the office in Seoul went ‘wow that is the most amazing date. He is going to be such a lucky young man.’ It is one of the few birthdays I can easily remember.”
Who Is Kate Jackson
And so that subtle shift of the conversation away from work afforded me the opportunity to talk to Kate about the other side of her life.
Kate graduated from Miss Porters High School in Farmington, CT then went on to Bryn Mawr College where she also earned her Master’s Degree in 1964. Then she married, had children and now continues to be the proud mother of the four kids she’s raised: Kathy, Ellie, William, and Evan.
She recalled what life was like as a wife and mom raising her family on the Pennsylvania countryside.
She has fond memories of vegetable gardens and children’s laughter as they played on the farm they called home. It was a peaceful yet active time in her life as both she and the children grew from the experiences they shared.
Her children have had a strong impact on her life as did both her parents. Robert and Jane Evans passed when they were each 84-years-old just 1 ½ years apart. Still today their ethics guide her life.
Kate admits that her parents have “wow, totally influenced my life. One of the things about living an Army life (which we did until my father retired when I was in my 20s) is that you are very dependent on family because you move at least every three years. You don’t have the advantage of lots of friends to hang out with because you are always making new friends and moving to a new place.”
Yet somehow Kate’s mom was able to connect the places they lived in. “My mother was very good at making wherever we were a home, whether it was an Army base or an apartment. There were certain things that she would bring from place to place that were always there in our home. “
Kate’s father had an even greater impact on her life. “He is the one I emulate. He influenced me incredibly in different ways. Dad went to Harvard and was a very well read, highly intelligent diplomatic person. He was a Roman historian and very much like a renaissance man. I still have mental conversations with him when I am trying to figure something out. The loss gets softer but it never goes away,” she admitted.
“Dad had a wonderful knack for reaching out and being interested in people. He would tell me things like when you meet somebody always try to find something nice to say about the way they look or never start a letter with I. He said to always start with you or something impersonal. I have never forgotten that. It’s a really interesting way of thinking. If you start it with ‘I’ you are projecting your will but if you say ‘You will remember we discussed,’ you are putting it into the context of the other person.”
Fortunately Kate has a lasting memory of her parents because she was left with the house she had grown up in for the settled part of her life. “That house was built by my grandmother as her studio because Bearsville is right outside of Woodstock. She was one of the founding members of the artist colony,” Kate explained.
These days that house is very important to her. “It’s a wonderful house on the side of a mountain. I always wanted to retire there.”
Kate jokingly adds that she was able to enjoy the house for about 30 seconds before beginning her job at WEG.
While Kate has had a wonderful life it has at times been riddled with sadness, she refers to the low points as “peaks and valleys.” Just six years ago she lost her husband Don to Leukemia. It was a tough time in her life where her friends and Kona became her strength. Having recently lost my mom, everything she said was a bit too close to home.
“Don’s death and the months leading up to it were extremely hard,” she admitted. Don’s case was chronic with no hope for a cure. “It was not a leukemia that they have found any treatment for. So they could only provide supportive treatment. He was diagnosed Thanksgiving and he died the following August.”
During that year Kate and Don spent their days “going through a life where you are focusing totally on doctor’s appointments. You are completely doctor focused.”
After Don passed Kate recalled thinking, “now what.” I wondered how she did get through it and she admitted that, “My dog got me up in the morning. That sounds like a silly thing to say but you have a responsibility that you have to do no matter what.” Her dog needed to be walked, to be fed and to be loved.
It was also support from “a lot of good friends and my family,” she commented. “And people were patient with me.” For just a moment Kate recognized that I understood all too well the pain she had gone through when she said, “We are going to have each other in tears,” but that is another special side of Kate, that ability to recognize sadness in others.
A Painter, A Gardener, A Mom and A Grandma
If we were both going to get through this interview, we knew it was time to change topics. And I was looking forward to finding out about the other Kate, the one that existed in private. What was it that I didn’t know about the woman I admired and who I had become acquainted with when she’d just started her career with Radnor; a woman I had watched accomplish so much in her lifetime?
“Very few people would know that I hold both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and I am a painter. I don’t do much in the way of painting and sketching anymore at this point but I would love to get back to it because that was one of the consistent threads in my life. My kids always think of me either sculpting or painting but very few people are aware of that,” she revealed.
Kate also loves to read but admitted that she rarely watches TV except for the weather but gardening has long been one of her passions. “I find pleasure in growing things and it’s very quiet and soothing.” It wasn’t until after she married and had property that gardening crept into her life. “We never gardened when I was young because we never stayed in one place long enough but when I moved out to Pennsylvania after I was married, we had a farm and I started a vegetable garden. I found it incredibly peaceful and satisfying to grow things, feed the family and can and pickle. It’s great fun. “
In her home near Woodstock Kate plants flowers because growing vegetables on the north side of the mountain just doesn’t work, “but I have three tomato plants on my deck here,” she revealed.
Beyond the art and gardening Kate also enjoys opera. “When I was in NY I was a member of the Opera and art museums.” Surprisingly, she’s discovered some great performances at the University Of Kentucky Opera Department. “Everett McCorvey, who runs it, is just amazing. He is a jewel that Lexington is privileged to have.”
While TV and going to the movies are not on Kate’s to do list, she does like reading, walking and anything that is quiet and peaceful.
And when asked who she sees staring back at her in the mirror her initial response was “clever question, difficult to answer” and then followed that with a cute quip. “I don’t actually look in the mirror and think about who I am as a person. When I look in the mirror I check my mascara and make sure my eyeliner is on straight.”
But then Kate did find the heart to reveal some of her inner private self. “Kate Jackson changes like everybody changes throughout their lives,” she said. “Right now I am mostly the job and the family person. I am mother, granny and vice president of competitions.”
Kate continued, “I am a perfectionist as far as the job goes. I want it to be the best it can be, which makes me very detailed and pretty organized. At the same time I would say that I am a kind person. I don’t anger easily. I tend to look for a way to solve a situation other than getting angry about it.”
As to what brings joy into her life, she easily responded, “my family because of the love that we have for each other and how lucky I am to have such wonderful children, grandchildren and a sister.” Just thinking about how blessed she has been also brings a feeling of warmth to our conversation.
I watched as a smile crept across her face when she remembered a special moment that happened the night before. “I was walking Kona and there was this rainbow that filled the sky.” For a moment Kate recalled just standing there and realizing just how lucky she’s been “to be here today doing what I am doing and seeing beauty all around me is a wonderful thing. I’ve been privileged to have traveled to so many beautiful places.” And for Kate traveling was like home for her. “I am pretty well suited to it and know how to pack,” she added.
When asked what made her sad it was sharing other people’s sadness and also losing people. “When my friends are unhappy or my children, that makes me unhappy.” Yet she does what she can to help them through it recognizing that listening and being there for them are two traits that come easy for her.
And while she is always there for her friends and family it is them being there for her that has helped Kate get through the difficult times.
We were about to close the door on this interview but I wanted to hear what advice she would offer others who wanted to climb the ladder to achieve the same success she had.
“Go for it,” she commented emphatically. “Go out there and try. It happened to me and it wasn’t a goal.“