Meet Catie Staszak, The Multi Award Winning Equestrian Journalist
Are you ready to be inspired?
At the age of 26, Catie Staszak, has already become an essential part in FEI competition coverage. Renewing her contract with the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping North America League, she has also become a spearhead for women in the equestrian media industry, being the only female commentator for this event. Staszak’s expertise have also seen her soar across the world, taking her hand from pen to paper, to the silver screen.
We caught up with the young, globe-trotting media personality to learn more about her journey, and pursuing her dream career.
Interview by Abby Dickinson
Being a multi award-winning journalist doesn’t come easily! How did you begin your journey into equestrian journalism, to become the success you are today?
I’ve been very fortunate to have been steadfast in my career choice for a long time. I grew up in a sports oriented family; my father is a former hockey player, and my mom rode in her youth, though not competitively. I started riding when I was four years old and I spent a lot of quality time with my mom in the barn throughout my childhood. My dad and I, meanwhile, bonded over sports debate.
In high school, I participated in an equitation challenge that involved not only showing over a course of fences, but also grooming my own horse, schooling myself and writing an essay. I won the essay portion, which led to an opportunity to write a monthly column for Sidelines magazine, which was my first experience with equestrian journalism. From there, it grew organically. I studied broadcast journalism, sport administration and photojournalism at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, which gave me my first on-air experiences. After I graduated, I got my first full-time industry job at Gulfstream Park racetrack, where I was the youngest professional handicapper on a national simulcast in the country. I also spent some time covering mainstream sports with ESPN West Palm. After that, I started getting opportunities to combine my two greatest passions and provide commentary for show jumping events, which led me to working with the FEI and starting my own business, Catie Staszak Media, Inc. I absolutely love what I do!
You cover a wide range of equestrian events. How do you make your work standout from other journalists in the field?
As a broadcast analyst, I pride myself in my research and preparation. I write all my own notes, and I update them every time I go on air. I am constantly reading and soaking in any information I can about the ongoings of the sport, and since I also write, I am also regularly talking with riders, trainers and other professionals in the industry. I am always looking for a new story to tell and striving to educate others about equestrian sports. I especially enjoy introducing and sharing the success stories of up-and-coming horses and riders.
You also take on many roles, including broadcasting, print journalism, and even media management is under your list of endless skills! What is your favourite role to take on during equestrian events?
In college, I was repeatedly taught the value in being a “one-woman band,” as the trend in media across industries is convergence. I focus on being as versatile as possible and offering as many services that I can. However, there’s nothing that excites me more than going on air to commentate on a grand prix. It’s simply exhilarating.
Show jumping is immensely popular in Europe, but the culture is a bit different in the U.S. with the presence of the “big four” sports—the NFL (National Football League), NBA (National Basketball Association), NHL (National Hockey League) and MLB (Major League Baseball). In America, show jumping may never reach the popularity of what is considered to be a mainstream sport, but it is my goal to bring our sport closer to that level of recognition. I aspire to increase the exposure of show jumping in America by sharing the incredible stories within our sport, educating and just plain getting people more excited about it. After all, the United States just won gold at the FEI World Equestrian Games in September, and the last two winners of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final—McLain Ward and Beezie Madden—have been American riders.
“There’s nothing that excites me more than going on air to commentate on a grand prix. It’s simply exhilarating.”
What is the most exciting part of job, and what do you think is the most difficult part?
What is more exciting than show jumping? I can hardly contain my excitement each time I take up the microphone and my director counts down the final few seconds before our broadcast goes live. It is thrilling to watch and study such phenomenal competitions at incredible destinations and share them with others through our broadcasts.
Fitting in all that I take on can be a challenge at times. I am not perfect, and sometimes I can take on too much or wear myself down. I try to practice careful organization and planning! I also am not going to get every job opportunity that is out there, but I am grateful for every opportunity that arises and strive to improve daily. I am incredibly motivated, and if an opportunity doesn’t work out the first time around, I do not let that discourage me; there’s always another chance, and I will try again!
With so many equestrian destinations on your record, which is your favourite event to attend and why?
This is an incredibly difficult question! I am very fortunate to attend some incredible shows! I was in Omaha when McLain Ward claimed his first World Cup Finals victory on home turf aboard HH Azur, and that was a moment I won’t soon forget. That event was also run exceptionally; Omaha was a wonderful host.
My favorite horse show venue is probably Thunderbird Show Park in Langley, British Columbia, where I go for the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Vancouver and the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup of Canada. It is simply a beautiful area with a tremendous management team.
The Palm Beach Masters, held at the spectacular Deeridge Farms in Wellington, Florida, is another favourite, and I fell in love with Lausanne, Switzerland, when I moderated the FEI Sports Forum. Lastly, the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, Canada, and the Washington International Horse Show in Washington, D.C., are very special to me, because those venues are held at hockey arenas, and I broadcast from the same booth they use to call games, bringing me full circle with my family roots.
Not only are you jet-setting across the world to cover events, you also find time to ride in between! How do you balance finding time to ride and compete with such a busy schedule?
Riding is what makes me happiest, so I determine to fit it in whenever I can! When I am at home, I am riding every day; I make it happen whether I have to wake up early or go to bed late. I am often driving in my car with several changes of clothes and eating meals in my car, and I’ve done a few business calls while cooling out a horse! When I’m traveling, I obviously don’t get to ride as much, but I’m fortunate to be able to both work and ride at a few horse shows each year. I no longer own my own show horse; however, I am very fortunate to have some great friends and relationships in the industry where I can catch ride, and from time to time I’ll lease a horse.
“Riding is what makes me happiest”
When I’m home, I prioritize visiting Sobrie, my retired horse, at least once a week. He was my first horse and the only one I still own. I’ve had him for more than 20 years, and he taught me nearly everything I know about horsemanship. He’s 24 now and enjoying life at my friend’s equine retirement and rehabilitation sanctuary. He’s my very best friend.
Being the only female commentator for the FEI World Cup North American League, you are leading the field for female equestrian journalism. What does it feel like to be one of the pioneers of female sports commentating?
To be honest, I hadn’t thought about it that much until recently when someone mentioned it to me, but yes, I’ve always been the lone female in a male-dominated industry when it came to sports television. At the racetrack, I was 22 years old, and my co-host was in his 60s; I found that environment to be much more challenging when it came to gaining respect as a young female professional. In show jumping, men and women have equal respect as competitors, and while all my co-hosts are European men, I am treated with equal respect in the booth and commentary box as well.
When I first started broadcasting in the show jumping industry, I would get the occasional comment that I wasn’t as pleasant to listen to, because I was not an English man. I’m not, and I can’t and won’t change that, but I hope I’m a more familiar voice now as I’ve worked my way up the ladder (with more rungs still to go!). I definitely have a broadcast voice that differs from my speaking voice, and if I don’t switch “off” immediately following a broadcast, my friends will tease me about it!
There have been so many female pioneers in broadcasting who have come before me and had far more difficult waters to navigate in the industry. I hope I can inspire other young girls to pursue their dreams, no matter how wild or unrealistic they may seem at the time.
” I hope I can inspire other young girls to pursue their dreams”
Where can we see you at work throughout 2019, and is there any events you dream of working at in the future?
You can find me at all 14 legs of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup North American League! I also work at Upperville CSI4*, the oldest horse show in the U.S., along with Thunderbird’s CSIO5* Nations Cup, the Palm Beach Masters series, the Capital Challenge Horse Show, the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival and some boutique shows with charitable components, such as the Franktown Meadows Hunter Derby, which is the only standalone hunter derby left in the U.S. I’m sure there will be more, as I’m always on the go!
My dream is to cover the Olympics, so Tokyo 2020 would definitely be a goal of mine, and I’d love to get an opportunity at some more European events as well as at Spruce Meadows in Canada. There are so many incredible shows and destinations across the globe!
What advice do you have for anyone trying to break into the equestrian media industry?
Don’t give up! There is no set formula or path to success in the industry outside of hard work, so be yourself and forge your own path. If you don’t ask, the answer is automatically, “No.” Surround yourself with a good team: I am so blessed to have the support of some incredible people at the FEI as well as my parents, friends and more—too many to mention without writing a book! Be kind, and never forget why we are all involved in the industry in the first place: a true love for the horse.