Written by: The Carolinas Equestrian Published: 15 August 2019
How do Cathy and Daniel Geitner divide the long list of responsibilities associated with operating DFG Stables, one of the largest, most successful hunter/jumper barns in the Southeast along with raising their two children?
“He rides all the really hard horses and does most of the showing; therefore, I wash the dishes and plunger the toilet,” Cathy says with a laugh.
“It’s true,” Daniel agrees, “she’s quite a bit more handy than I am. I do the farming; the fertilizing, the mowing, but Cathy can fix things.”
Cathy’s propensity for home repair and Daniel’s knack for landscaping are just the first indicators that, despite living within the bubble of the horse show circuit, the Geitners maintain a relatively normal family life.
Daughter Lilly, 12, spends much of her free time in the saddle while their son Wyatt, 14, can most often be found with either a tennis racquet or a fishing pole in his hand. Cathy and Daniel take every opportunity to get to Wyatt’s tennis matches and practices—even if it means going straight from the barn to the courts. “One of the great things about living in Aiken is that everywhere you go there’s someone in riding clothes, so we’re never the only ones at the tennis court in breeches and boots,” Daniel says.
While many horse show kids relocate to Florida for the winter, Lilly and Wyatt split time between the family farms in Aiken and Ocala, and only miss a few days of classes at Mead Hall Episcopal School. Daniel stays in Ocala with a string of horses for all ten weeks of the circuit, and Cathy and the kids join him for five of the weeks and show in Aiken for the other five weeks. The schedule is convenient both for the family, and the DFG Clients who have the option of showing at either location.
“I don’t think we ever discussed how this was all going to work before we had kids, but we both come from strong family units, so family was naturally important to us,” Cathy says. “My parents live in Aiken, so they are also very involved,” she adds.
When Wyatt was an infant, the Geitner family grew yet again, but in quite an unexpected way. Cathy and Daniel were showing in Asheville when a clerical error led to a fortuitous meeting with a young rider named Alexis Howard.
“The office accidentally put us down as Alexis’ trainer. But we weren’t her trainer and her trainer never showed up, so that’s how the introduction was made,” Daniel says. “She ended up asking me to ride her horse for her. Then we took her home with us and she never left!”
“I asked [Alexis] if she knew anything about babies,” Cathy adds, “[when she said no I told her] yeah well neither do I!”
Alexis, affectionately known as “Momma” to the Geitners and their barn staff is a key member of the DFG team. As nanny and personal assistant, she picks Wyatt and Lilly up from school, delivers them to the barn, attends shows with DFG and even helps manage Cathy’s rental property. “There’s nothing this girl can’t do; she’s unbelievable,” Daniel said.
Since relocating to Aiken, Alexis has married and started a family of her own. Following the Geitner’s lead, she’s also raising her two-year-old daughter, Hadley, on the horse show circuit. “When Alexis’ baby was two weeks old, she had her at a horse show. Alexis was in the tack room rolling wraps and I asked ‘what are you doing here?’ She said ‘this is the only way I know how to take care of kids,” Cathy recalls.
While it’s not always easy, Cathy and Daniel see many advantages to Lilly and Wyatt spending much of their time at horse shows. “It’s a safe environment. We all know each other, so even if we’re not standing right next to them, we know that other people are looking out for our kids,” Daniel says.
“In a small fish bowl, with so many adults, my kids have learned to interact well and communicate well with adults,” Cathy adds.
Still, the Geitners take the opportunity to escape the fish bowl three or four times a year. Daniel and Wyatt usually take an annual fishing trip and the family also regularly explores the rivers near their farm in Ocala. Even while enjoying some down time though, the Geitners keep their horse show friends close by.
“We don’t do anything without the Toshes,” Cathy says of their long-time friends and fellow trainers Hunt and Mandy and their daughter Maddie. “Hunt is dad’s O.F.,” Lilly giggles, “Only friend.”
Cathy and Daniel serve as role models, not only for their own children, but also for the working students and younger riders who get their starts with DFG Stables. “We work very hard, and we expect everyone else to as well,” Daniel says.
“At the end of the day, It’s all hands on deck. Everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets to work so that we can all get done at the same time,” Cathy adds.
The Geitners’ emphasis on work ethic also extends to the horses they choose. “I like horses that try, no matter their talent; a horse that does a good job, no matter what the job,” Daniel says.
At DFG Stables, there is a place for all types of horses and as a result the Geitners have found success at every level and in multiple divisions, an accomplishment that means more to Daniel than any specific win or championship. “I really enjoy that I’ve been successful on a lot of different horses,” Daniel says, “I’m proud of that.”
Although Daniel spends more time in the spotlight than any other member of the Geitner family, he’s quick to acknowledge that he didn’t get there alone. “Anything I’ve won, Cathy is the brains behind.” Daniel says. “She’s the hardest working person I know. She’s the first one to the barn in the morning and usually the last to leave.”