JJ Tate The Carolinas Equestrian 01Like many riders, Jessica Jo “JJ” Tate grew up horse crazy, “I’ve been obsessed since I can remember, playing horses, running around like a horse, drawing horses – everything!” laughs JJ. JJ was lucky enough, and determined enough, to turn that obsession into a prestigious dressage career. She began riding at age 7 in her home state of Wisconsin and soon focused on dressage at age 9.

Early in JJ’s education, her trainer, Gail Kelln, connected with legendary trainer, Charles de Kunffy, and convinced him to come to their barn for a clinic. “Charles began coming about three times a year and I would ride as many horses with him as I could.” Now almost 29 years later, JJ still works with Charles as much as possible, and incorporates many of his lessons into her teaching.

“Charles is an amazing educator and gives the most incredible lectures. One of my favorite ones is his lecture about character and having integrity. He explains how horses can be vehicles for us to learn how to live a worthwhile life, and all the attributes we need to work on developing a meaningful life.

In addition to de Kunffy, Tate worked with her first international coach, Gyula Dallos, for 2.3 years in Budapest, Hungary, making the move without ever visiting the stables, having never met Gyula and not speaking the language! On her first European foray, Tate stayed for 7 months with her 2 Prix St George horses who proceeded to finish at the Grand Prix level with her in the irons. Receiving 2 lessons a day, 6 days a week – mostly without stirrups - she headed home, positive she “knew it all” and soon realized she had only hit the tip of the iceberg. She needed to return and immerse herself! Soon she had sold one horse and leased out the other, bought a young horse and headed back for another year and 8 months in Hungary. “We were able to purchase a Grand Prix horse, ‘Wjedro’, a Westfalen gelding, and I got to show all over Europe. The exposure to the top of the sport was something I will never forget!”

She currently trains with Michael Barisone, who has “inspired me to go after my dreams.” He is an additional source for her advice to young riders, JJ smiles, “Michael always says ‘just get good’. All of your experiences add up to becoming a great horseman, so it’s important to create goals, write them down and work towards them. There are so many things that can go wrong in this sport, enjoy the small things.” Tate was fortunate in not only finding educated coaches to help her along the way, but true mentors. Tate feels very lucky to have had these opportunities to ride with the top equestrians in this sport, “each of them have brought concepts to my riding that I carry with me and share with my students.”

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Tate melds all the things she’s learned over the years into her lessons, and her students are very fortunate recipients of her knowledge. She always encourages her students to learn the principles of correct riding, so they can be the best advocates for their horses, citing that horses do not have a choice in the matter so it’s a riders’ responsibly to make sure the care, training and program is the most suitable for their horse and that the trainer always has the horse’s best interest at heart. Tate feels “so many people are uneducated and do not speak up for their horses or question the trainer, and it’s the horse who suffers in the end. So, I really encourage my clients and students to be educated and do what’s best for the horse no matter what.”

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In 2015, after many years of training and working with students, JJ began to re-focus on her own dreams and riding future. She re-evaluated her current path, which included over 26 horses in training, leaving very little time for her to compete internationally. Knowing that she wanted to continue to further her riding career, JJ took a “leap of faith” and leased Blue Ridge Farm in Landrum, SC. About a year ago, she was able to purchase the farm, “it’s nestled into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and full of giant oak trees; it’s like a sanctuary. The farm has such calm and ‘groundedness’ that it really helps settle my soul, helps me focus and concentrate.” When Tate isn’t in Landrum, she and her talented string of horses winter at Elizabeth Guarisco-Wolf’s Yellow Bird Farm in Wellington, Florida from December to April. This season in Florida will be her 8th year at the farm and 20th in Wellington.

In addition to her vast array of talented instructors, Tate has been able to ride a plethora of able horses as well. “My first FEI horse, ‘Ehrenpreis’, a Rheinlander gelding, was such a professor! He really taught me to ride, but I think each horse that came into my life, probably ‘really taught me to ride!’ I cried for 2 weeks because I could not get ‘Ehrenpreis’ on the bit, then I got better, and we made the Young Rider team!” Through the years the accomplishments continued throughout her career with such horses as her first FEI stallion, ‘Donavan’, a Hanoverian owned by Wendy and Marty Costello; the first mare she trained to Grand Prix, ‘Bawdy’, a Hanoverian mare, owned by Sandy Stavropolous and ‘Cambay’, a 1992 Swedish gelding, her first syndicated horse whom she rode to her first World Cup Qualifier. “I remember wrapping up his legs after the World Cup Qualifier in Wellington very late at night after the prize giving ceremony. I knew at that moment that this was what I wanted to do! Ride in the big league under the lights and then be in the barn late at night putting the horses to bed for the night.”

Most recently, in 2018, Tate and ‘Faberge’, a 2003 Westfalen gelding, whom she has trained up the ranks herself, won the World Cup Qualifier at Devon. Guarisco-Wolf owns ‘Faberge’ and JJ and the gelding have been together for 10 years! “Winning at Devon was my first big International Grand Prix win, that was pretty exciting, especially on a horse I’ve trained and who’d had a “career ending” injury in his past. To bring him up the levels and through a tough injury was pretty awesome!” To learn more about JJ Tate, visit www.team-tatedressage.com.

Photographs courtesy of Richard Malmgren, RBM Photography