For this #ThrowbackThursday post, I found an article published in the October 2012 issue of Western Shooting Horse Magazine where I spoke with one shooter who learned how to balance life as a mother, trainer, and shooter. Considering I’m going to have to learn that delicate balance of mother and professional, I thought this would be perfect to share:
One look at Kayce Amsden’s daily schedule will exhaust you just by reading it: wake up and start working to wake up son Kaleb, fix breakfast and try to wake up Kaleb again, finally lure Kaleb out of bed and rush him to school before heading to work—and that’s just the morning. After work, it’s time to pick up Kaleb from school for wrestling practice, head home and work a couple head of horses, clean stalls, fix dinner, do a little schoolwork, and then head to bed before getting up and doing it all over again the next day.
Kayce is a mom, horse trainer, advisor, student, cheerleader, chauffer, groom, chef, and more. For some, it’d be way too much to even think about, but for Kayce, it’s all about finding that balance.
Life Before Mounted Shooting
Kayce grew up in a horse loving family—her parents actually met at a 4-H horse show. “The story is my mom asked my dad, ‘Here, little boy, will you hold my horse?’ and that’s how they met,” laughed Kayce. Thus started the Amsdens down the path of horse shows and trainers.
While growing up in North Dakota, her parents started training with Mac McEwen, who later quit. It was then that her parents started training out of their own 30-stall barn. Kayce started riding with her dad and showing on the Arabian circuit, finishing her first horse at the tender age of 12. A few years later she was eventually named a national champion in trail. She started giving lessons to help pull her weight around the farm.
Ten years ago, Kayce and her family moved back down to Missouri after her father’s retirement from the military. They “downsized” when they moved onto the Amsden family farm–a 700-acre ranch at the foothills of the Ozarks off a dead-end road. Surrounded by a creek, big bluffs, woods, and lots of open fields, it’s no surprise Kayce loves to trail ride on the property whenever she can, save for the few months of hunting season when the family takes over.
The ranch consists of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, Kayce’s parents, and of course Kayce and her 14-year-old son Kaleb. Everyone in the family rides horses, some of them more focused on showing Arabian horses–but all of them as horse crazy as Kayce.
An all-around rider, Kayce has shown in a plethora of events: trail, hunt seat equitation, Western pleasure, side saddle, hunt seat pleasure, over fences, reining, and working cow horse. It seemed like Kayce would be up for anything on horseback…that is, until she heard about cowboy mounted shooting.
Her grandmother’s former boyfriend, Danny Dees, introduced her grandmother to the sport. The idea of moving fast with guns blazing and making sharp turns surprised Kayce some—she was used to moving slower, being a little more prim and proper in the show ring. But one ride on Danny’s horse, Cheyenne, and she caught the shooting bug.
“My grandmother encouraged me to do (mounted shooting),” says Kayce. “I rode horses all my life and I could do that part, but I was a horrible shot to start with—I never hunted, nor never used a gun of any sort, besides a BB gun.
“Danny drove me around and got me started,” explains Kayce. “I had to beg, borrow, and steal horses, and I kind-of just made it work. I eventually got better and better horses.”
Now, eight years later, Kayce is hooked and competes as a Ladies Level 4. She’s won the East Coast Classic and Nationals, as well as a few Missouri state championships. Kaleb competed for a few years as a Wrangler, and her grandmother still competes as a Senior 1.
All in the Family
“I eventually had both sides of my family involved in horses and mounted shooting,” says Kayce. “We’ll go to a shoot, and if my grandmother is competing, there will be five generations there shooting. It’s a neat thing for us to do as a family.”
Horses are a huge part of the family. They work together on the ranch, with Kayce helping to start three-year-olds for her mom’s side of the family, as well as assisting at different shows. If Kayce’s aunt needs a junior rider at an Arabian show, Kaleb jumps into the saddle to help out.
“Kaleb tells everyone he was riding horses before he was born,” jokes Kayce. “I think he’s quite the horseman. He still rides quite a bit and every once in a while they’ll have a horse that someone wants him to show, so he’ll still show.”
Now that Kaleb’s 14, life has gotten more hectic for Kayce, a single mom. She’s cut back on the amount of horses she’s training and the amount of shoots she goes to, but she’ll never totally stop riding or shooting. “Kaleb understands that I’m not sane unless I have my horse time,” says Kayce. “It’s a huge balancing act, but I only have a few more year left with him—I’m down to four years and then he graduates from high school—and I don’t want to miss anything.”
Kayce’s days are filled with working for the Farmington School District at-risk program for kids who don’t have enough credits to graduate. She keeps track of their work hours, helps them study for their GED, and helps with the recovery program in the high school. Meanwhile, she’s studying speech pathology through Lake Region State College in North Dakota. “There’s more job security with speech pathology—I can work with stroke victims, the elderly, and little kids—there are so many options,” she explains.
Kaleb’s extra-curricular activities also take precedence in Kayce’s life. He’s an emerging wrestling star and plays on his school’s football team. And Kayce wants to be there for every grapple and every tackle to cheer her son on. “I’m the ‘loud mom’ at the wrestling matches,” she laughs. “I don’t think anybody would say I relax during a wrestling match—I’m there for every match I root for everyone on the team.”
On the flip side, Kayce has her own cheerleader and supporter in her son. Even though Kaleb’s schedule doesn’t allow him to shoot much any more, he still likes to attend the local shoots with his mom and stand by the gate to cheer her on. “I have a great time,” says Kaleb.
Kaleb also helps out his mom at home, helping to clean stalls so she can ride when they get home from practice. “He’s a big help,” says Kayce. “I don’t think I could do it all without him. I’ll ride horses while he cleans stalls, or some times I’ll clean stalls so he can ride. It’s a balance, and a team thing.”
Making a Comeback
Kayce’s anticipating coming back to the shooting arena full-force in a couple of years. “I’m so excited (for Kaleb to get his driver’s license)—I’ve got a year and a half left. I’m counting down the days when I can go and ride and I don’t have to be waiting at practice to bring him home.”
Her new horse, Go Groovy Go (“Sam”), is ready to hit the road with Kayce. The 11-year-old, 16.3 hand Appendix Quarter Horse gelding started his shooting career in Kayce’s barn, but went through a few hands before returning home, when she could afford to buy him. “He’s huge and white and very forward and elevated in his movements,” she gushes. “You feel like a princess when you ride him. Absolutely nothing in the world affects you when you sit on Sam.”
Until that point comes, when Kaleb moves off to college (he’s hoping to get a wrestling scholarship to Penn State so he can also study in the equine program there), Kayce will have to continue to rely on that delicate balance, relying on the likes of Kaleb and Sam to reinstall her sanity when life gets a little overwhelming.
Arabians Gone Shooting
It’s rare to see a shooter astride something other than the stock horse breeds of Paint and Quarter Horses, but there are some Arabians, Half-Arabians, Tennessee Walking Horses, and more in the mix. While Kayce Amsden started mounted shooting on a Half-Arabian, she’s since completely switched over to competing on American Quarter Horses. “I love Arabs and I like to show them and still have some, … but they don’t have the quickness that a Quarter Horse does,” she explains. “They can’t compare (to Quarter Horses) since we’re not running a race—(shooting) is a sprinting thing, not a long distance event.”
While Kayce believes she could have put her first shooting horse (Half-Arabian) up against any horse of any breed, she feels there’s a place for Arabian horses to have their own class in mounted shooting for the people who are passionate about the breed. “We get to go to the Arabian National Championships and put on a demonstration, and they love us there.”