American Eventing Championships

A first place national titlist with her heart horse

Samantha Nowlin

More stories from Samantha Nowlin


Perkins competing at Meadow Creek Park in Kosse, Texas. Photo By Dawn Marie

From hating horse-back riding to being first place nationally for her division for riding, freshman Kaetlyn Perkins has skyrocketed into a competitive profession that has changed her life into something completely different.

Back in 2019, Perkins’ mother attempted to introduce her to horse-riding, but she hated it. A few months later at summer camp, Perkins fell in love with horses, and consequently, horse-back riding. 

Perkins first started to show up in the ranks riding Ice, a horse who stopped competing due to navicular change, meaning the bone in his hoof was degenerating. Perkins had to let him go for his health, and began to ride her current horse, Fitch. At first, Perkins and Fitch did not get along. Fitch was difficult to ride, meaning it would take some work in order to be able to compete with him.

“I made up in my head that if I wasn’t going to make it work on this horse, I wasn’t going to make it work at all,” Perkins said. “I was determined to learn how to ride him, because he was wonderful. He is so sweet and loveable, and he’ll try his hardest all the time. I just couldn’t jump him, so I taught myself how.” 

Perkins began competing with Fitch only a month after first riding him. There are three phases in eventing; dressage, cross country and stadium jumping. When competing in horse-back riding, the lower score you have, the higher on the leaderboard you will be. The competitor with the lowest score at the end of the competition is rewarded with first place. Perkins scored her best score of 24 in dressage, which is a series of predetermined movements. 

“I cried,” Perkins said. “It wasn’t even like it was that good of a dressage test. I was just shocked, after all of this, this is what happened.”

The next two phases didn’t go as smoothly. Perkins added 20 points in the cross country phase going from first, to last place in the competition.

“My confidence was wrecked, I was all over the place,” Perkins said. “I was like, oh my gosh, how am I gonna do this. I decided that I just had to man up and accept that it wasn’t going to be the most beautiful thing in the world.”

In order to qualify for nationals, a rider must have at least a first and a second, or two thirds, along with three double-clear cross country rides. Through the next few competitions, Perkins qualified for nationals, and was ranked first on the national leaderboard. She was best out of all beginner-novice horse riders. 

“I was an anxious wreck,” Perkins said. “I was first on the leaderboard. I didn’t know what people were gonna expect from me. If things were gonna change, if people were gonna make me a target.”

Perkins had three panic attacks on the first day of a two day event. Horses are sensitive animals, if you show any form of distress, they will freak out. During cross country, she was doing her best not to let Fitch know she was filled to the brim with anxiety. When she was done, she immediately started bawling. 

“The next day was better,” Perkins said. “I finished third. It was awesome. I left that show and I had this newfound determination to get better and improve and to work on myself. I found my new purpose of riding at shows, which is to see improvement at every show, which really benefited my overall outlook and eventually my scores.”

Two weeks after the last competition, it was time for nationals. With a dressage score of 23.4 and a perfect cross country ride, Perkins was fourth out of 66. 

“I see the bleachers and I start panicking,” Perkins said. “We knocked a rail which added four points to my score. It was my fault entirely. It knocked me all the way down to 16 place. At the time it was heartbreaking, I was doing it for Ice, it was my goal and my dream to do it with him. I was doing it for my trainer’s husband who passed away from ALS in April. I wanted it so bad, if I hadn’t knocked that rail I would have been third.”

Throughout the competition season, Fitch and Perkins became close. Perkins thinks of Fitch as a best friend. 

“He is very much a diva,” Perkins said. “He’s very goofy, very opinionated. 

I’m very much his person. At first he didn’t pick me and I didn’t pick him, but we’ve come to this mutual agreement on how things are gonna go, and we stick to this agreement. We are both like, ‘You keep your end of the deal and I love you for it.’”

Perkins is able to ride Fitch on stressful days. She rides Fitch both as a hobby but also as a way to relax from her struggles with anxiety, depression, and ADHD.

“I am very much an overthinker, and I’m a workaholic,” Perkins said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself. The reason why I’m obsessed with riding is because it gets me to focus on, not myself, but the animal. It’s a very freeing feeling because everything else that’s going on in my world doesn’t matter. Just being able to relax, with an animal that I very much love. It’s my own version of therapy.”

Riding has become a huge part of Perkins’ life. She spends eight hours a week riding Fitch, preparing for the 2022 national competition. 

“Fitch is just the love of my life,” Perkins said. “We have this saying in the horse world, it’s called ‘heart horse’ meaning he is a horse you’ll never forget. You feel like the horse was made for you. He is definitely my heart horse. He is so special to me. I can’t even put it into words how much I love him.”