Surveying the differences in size between her big pony and her 8-year-old frame, Kate Titulaer knew she was too small to tighten the girth on her own. She had no adult on hand, as her parents were busy running their dairy farm in Hamilton, New Zealand.
But she wouldn’t let waiting for a taller and stronger person be her solution; after all she had a whole farm to ride over and things to see between the ears.
“I used to get her ready by myself when my parents were working,” Titulaer said.
“[My pony] was like 25 or something; she was a full-sized pony, and I was only probably 8 or 9,” she added. “My parents work on a farm so I would just ride around bareback because I couldn’t do the girth up.”
Always Problem Solving
When Titulaer finally grew to girth-tightening size, she dabbled in various types of competitions.
“I did Pony Club when I was younger, and then I did a little bit of eventing,” she said. “I had one horse that was very big and very strong that I did show jumping with in the end because in cross country he’d get far too strong for me to be able to hold him. So, I just show jumped him, and he was my very good horse that I won a lot with.”
Like her bareback days, when it came to seeking professional guidance, she took matters into her own hands. During school holidays, she trailered to various professionals and groomed in exchange for lessons.
“How I started grooming was just going during the school holidays to other big stables to learn to ride a bit more,” she said. “I always brought my own horses for that, and obviously with learning and getting lessons and stuff, you worked around that. You might have one horse that you ride yourself. But apart from that, you groom the whole day. That’s a little bit where it all started.”
She worked with Nikki Kitcheman, a dressage rider near to her in New Zealand, as well as another local rider in her area. She also worked for LC Horse Farm, which also served as the base for Olympic show jumper Daniel Meech for a time.
“The place that’s local, I would just go and work and then I would get lessons in return – and then I would just go home at the end of the day,” Titulaer remembered. “But LC was about two hours away. I trailered my horses there. I kept them there, and I stayed there and just worked and rode between all of that.”
Through these holiday stints, she learned more and more about the art of grooming.
Climbing Up The Ladder
At 18, Titulaer packed her bags and headed to Wellington, Florida. She wanted to pursue grooming and experience the highest echelons of the sport.
“I always wanted to go overseas and experience the biggest sport over there,” she said. “I think I’m quite an independent person. I don’t really mind being away from home.”
She took a grooming job with amateur rider Benjamin Simpkins and worked for him for three months.
“Dinette Neuteboom was at the time working in Florida and had offered me a job to work alongside her,” said Titulaer. “He had five horses, so it was more of a grooming position there. It was the opportunity I saw after I finished school to leave New Zealand, and that’s kind of where it all started. Obviously New Zealand’s its own country. So, in terms of how big the sport is over there, compared to America and compared to Europe, it’s quite limited.”
After Florida, Titulaer moved to the Netherlands, where her parents originally are from. She first worked at Stal Van Triest, which specialized in young horses, before eventually making her way to Sleepy P Ranch, which sponsors U.S. show jumpers Wilton and Lucas Porter. With bases in Holland and Wellington, she stayed with Sleepy P for two years before trying her hand in freelance grooming. Titulaer then worked for amateur rider Lauren Sturges while also managing Javier Salvador Stables’ young horse yard. And through those young horses, she first met international British show jumper Matthew Sampson and international Canadian show jumper Kara Chad.
In September of 2020, Sampson and Chad put out a social media call for a freelance groom. Titulaer had started freelancing again after her one and a half years with Sturges and reached out to Sampson. And what started off as a freelance gig morphed into over two and a half years as his head show groom.
“I love working with the horses,” she said. “I love my horses. I’ve got a few that I really like. As well as being a sales barn, Matt and Kara both have their few horses that they try to keep, so that’s quite nice that you can kind of keep the main ones. I love organizing it all and trying to have a smooth operation. When we go to the shows each week, you try to do your best to do well. Matthew does often do quite well, so that is always quite motivating to get the results from the hard work.”
“I don’t really miss competing that much,” she added. “I enjoy grooming and getting the success of the shows just as much.”
Looking Back On The Journey
How does a 25-year-old already bolster such a resume grooming for international riders? Titulaer acknowledged that the ability to work hands-on with top international horses and traveling week after week to important shows didn’t materialize with the snap of two fingers. It took years of learning and crafting – as well as recognizing limitations in her experience and filling in those holes.
“You can’t expect to straight away be allowed to do the biggest tasks,” she said. “There are obviously some horses that are very important at a lot of stables. And when we get somebody new, for example, they generally won’t be touching those horses. So, you kind of start on the horses that may be a little less important. You kind of just have to keep going at it and eventually I think you will be able to get to that point where you are also dealing with the best horses and going to bigger shows.
“I’ve always been quite confident in my own abilities and obviously you learn a lot by working at different yards and working with different people,” she added. “So, I think just along the way, you learn a lot and by that now I’m at a point where I would say I’m quite good at my job.”
Looking back on her journey, Titulaer believes her openness to learn and try different opportunities played a key role.
“I think success comes from being open to the way everybody works and the way people teach,” she said. “I always think that some people take advice negatively as a saying they’re doing something wrong rather than learning from it. Even though they might be saying that you’re doing something wrong, probably what you should take out of it is how you can get better. I do always strongly think that because I know it can be quite a hard job sometimes – and quite stressful – but you just have to try and always look at the positives in situations.
“I do always find that if people are always willing to learn and ask the right questions, I think most people are willing to teach you,” she added. “I just think it’s the way you come into a job: the right attitude to work hard and do everything that gets asked, then I think most of the time you’re going to learn a lot because people are willing to teach you.”
“HorseGrooms looks like a great platform to continue to learn more from everyone’s ideas and tips. The articles all touch on different ideas so I think it’s always interesting to read about people’s opinions. This job is often long hours and hard work so I think any platform that tries to support grooms and provide resources is a bonus to this industry.”
Featured photo by Juan Luis Cabrera Photo.
Other photos courtesy of Kate Titulaer.
I started riding horses in a desperate attempt to be like my older sister. So, when she turned in her ballet slippers for barn boots, I did too. From 5 years old onward, I’ve never been far from a horse whisker, as I worked my way up the levels in the hunter ring. I graduated with honors in art history and communications at Washington & Lee University, where I captained the school’s IHSA team.
Leaning into my communications major and love of horses, I joined the editorial staff of The Chronicle of the Horse. For six years, I traveled the country covering top competitions and found a great love for long-form features (especially historical ones) and profiles. Currently, I’m freelancing out of Virginia, where I live with my horse Nelson and rescue dog Minnie.