From novice to varsity rider

Katia Kiefaber ’17 with Charles in the Equestrian Center at Mount Holyoke College

By Sasha Nyary 

Katia Kiefaber ’17 sat firmly but lightly on MacKenzie, a big palomino horse, during an early-morning practice of the Mount Holyoke College riding team in late February. 

She and three teammates rode around the ring in the College’s Equestrian Center, listening intently as C. J. Law, the head riding coach, quietly called out instructions from the sideline. 

“Pull your lower leg way back, but not your heels,” said Law, who is also the equestrian coaching director. “Katia, how fast is he moving? Really slow. So you’ve got to work on him going forward while you’re working on your own body.” 

The air in the ring was frigid and MacKenzie is considered the senior citizen of the barn, so getting him to trot took some effort. Kiefaber coaxed him along with her legs and heels and a tweak from the riding crop in her right hand. As he picked up speed, Kiefaber began to post gracefully, moving with her horse, her still hands holding the reins, eyes forward and focused, heels sharply down. 

It is hard to believe she has been riding for less than a year. Other than a trail ride when she was growing up in Mountain View, California, Kiefaber had never been on a horse before she came to Mount Holyoke College. Now she’s on the varsity hunter-seat equestrian team, participating in the walk-trot division—and winning blue ribbons. She placed first at two horse shows this year. 

Kiefaber, who came to Mount Holyoke thinking she wanted to be a teacher, has spent summers as a camp counselor, most recently at a horse camp. As a psychology and education major and studio art minor, she works as an admission tour guide on campus and is thinking about pursuing a psychotherapy practice after she graduates. 

“I realized what I like about teaching is one-on-one helping people,” Kiefaber said. “I’d really love to incorporate art into therapy. Or horses—equine therapy. Horses have changed my life.” 

Law knew Kiefaber had promise the first time she saw her ride, she said. 

“She has a drive to succeed, a desire to be the best she can be, and she is committed to being a good team member,” Law said. “She is diligent and works at her fitness on- and off-horseback to be a strong, effective rider.” 

Kiefaber’s effort is evident inside the classroom as well, noted German professor Anca Holden, who described her as independent, focused, and thoughtful. 

“In my class, she always helped her classmates,” Holden said. “For example, when we were reading a German text or working on an exercise and a student got lost, Katia would very gently tell them where we were.” 

Kiefaber first rode at Mount Holyoke last year at the urging of a friend, Liana Ghiron ’17, who suggested she take a private lesson. 

“I’m adventurous,” Kiefaber said. “I thought, I’ll get on a horse and see what happens. I got the hang of it pretty quickly.” 

Ghiron, who is also on the team, said Kiefaber was a natural. “She had great posture from the beginning. Afterward the instructor encouraged her to try out for the team.” 

Today Kiefaber rides three times a week with the team in group and private lessons. During the semester, she is assigned a horse to groom, and at the team’s horse shows she writes down Law’s comments so the coach can review them later. 

In addition to her work in the classroom, her participation on the team has given Kiefaber new confidence. 

“In high school I was really shy,” said Kiefaber. “Here the emphasis is on discussion, following your passions, and immersing yourself in different areas. Everyone here is so encouraging.” 

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