When you hear someone has 10 years’ worth of experience showing and training horses, you probably imagine a male millennial wearing Wranglers and tipping his Stetson. Caitlin Sanderman, however, defies stereotypes. This 16-year-old FarmHer from Waverly, Iowa, balances two FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects, works at a dog kennel, spends at least 20 hours weekly training horses, as well as competes in horse shows.
Two strong female role models have sparked Caitlin’s love of horses. Her godmother, Noel Maier, taught her to ride at age 5. After Noel moved, Caitlin began taking lessons from Jenna Kyhl at Kyhlwood Training.
“Much of what I know about horse training came either from Noel or Jenna,” says Caitlin. “The first horse I trained was a gift from Noel. That horse, as well as a second horse named Chief, helped me experiment with training. I began to understand more about how a horse thinks. The third horse I bought was a running Quarter Horse named Indiana. Jenna helped me fine-tune my training skills with Indiana.”
The more Caitlin learned, the more she taught her permanent horse Colorado. Caitlin got Colorado from Noel when the gelding was 3, and she’s had him for 7 years. She taught him how to clear a three-foot jump and run a barrel pattern in 17 seconds. They’ve worked on everything from basic groundwork to advanced maneuvers such as half passes, flying lead changes, and sliding stops. Colorado also places well in Western Pleasure and English classes.
“After taking years of lessons on Colorado, training three horses, and gaining a lot of knowledge about riding and horse care from Jenna, I began getting serious about training,” says Caitlin, who started Sanderman Horsemanship at age 14 and aspires to become a full-time horse trainer after she graduates from high school and college.
Caitlin is extremely hard working and extremely passionate about working with horses, says her mom Mandie Sanderman. “She has an amazing ability to communicate with animals. We have seen this time and again through her training of horses and dogs. She has a compassionate nature and a love for all creatures. “ Having that connection with an animal is what Caitlin says she enjoys most about training animals. “They do not speak words, but they are easy to understand. If they are scared, they show it. If they are angry, they show it. If they are calm, they show it,” explains Caitlin. “Horse training also teaches patience. Sometimes progress is slower than I would like it to be, but speed doesn’t matter as long as the horse is moving forward. The only thing that matters is that you do not stop or give up.”
In addition to her horse training business, Caitlin has a second FFA SAE as a stable hand at Fox Ridge Stables. Her SAE project work requires her to record income and expenses as she buys and sells horses, training equipment and feed. She also records the hours she works as a stable hand the wages she receives.
“This type of record keeping will help me run my business more efficiently,” says Caitlin. “I track everything from vaccination schedules, to training rides, feed and supplements.”
In her spare time, Caitlin enjoys playing tennis and showing horses. She caught “show fever” when Noel took her to a fun show in Allison hosted by the Butler County Young Riders, which is the saddle club to which she still belongs. The second show Caitlin participated in was the Big Four Fair, where she and Colorado placed in every class they entered. That day the dynamic duo took home fourth, third, second, and first place ribbons.
Rewards in the show ring require hard work and dedication. Caitlin spends about four hours each day working with her horses. On a week there’s a horse show, she spends close to 30 hours with the extra grooming and fine tuning needed. She shows horses both at the local and state level through the Waverly Shell Rock FFA chapter where she serves as chair of the Relations Committee that works to increase the FFA’s influence throughout our school and community.
“Exerting influence in her community.” As I thought about Caitlin’s response to my interview question, I couldn’t help but recall words from the FFA Creed: “… I believe that rural America can and will hold true to the best traditions in our national life and that I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that aspiring task.”
The Iowa FFA Convention will convene April 9, so it seems only fitting to recognize such an outstanding Iowa FFA member. The more I learned about Caitlin Sanderman’s passion and ambition, the more I am convinced the future of rural America is in good hands!”