By Mark McGee

Cat Dye’s Black Anvil Equestrian Stable is about three things – rescued horses, rescued dogs and the training of youngsters to be complete equestrians and not just riders.

Her enthusiasm for all three is readily apparent.

Caitlin, who earned the nickname “Cat” because she fell off her horse a lot as a youngster, but always landed on her feet, has a desire to make sure her students land on their feet when working with horses or dealing with any other areas of their lives.

Dye’s young riders do more than simply jump on a horse that has been saddled and groomed for them. They do all of the work, from tacking their horse to mucking stalls.

“Horsemanship is the biggest part of our program,” Dye said. “That is what sets us apart.

“I am training the children for the horse. I am not training the horse for the children. If you ride a horse at my facility you will care for that horse, groom that horse, cool that horse off, clean that horse’s stall and provide that horse’s hay. They are required to do every single thing within the realm of that horse’s needs with every single ride.”

Dye has 30 horses in her stable and is responsible for 10 more spread out at several trail ride facilities. On any given day 15-to-20 students will be participating in various riding classes during the summer months. When school is in session she usually works with 8-to-10 students each day. All total she works with around 60 students.

“This is a children’s instruction facility,” Dye said. “We start at age four and go through seniors in high school. We do have several college students who have remained with us though we are primarily a children’s facility.

“All of the horses we use as lessons horses are rescue horses and have been donated to us because of various problems the owners couldn’t handle. We do a lot of rehabbing. We have a couple of padded Tennessee Walking Horses we have recovered and brought back use in 4-H shows. We have three purchased horses out of the 40.”

Dye’s students are regulars on the local show circuit and in 4-H shows.

“We do a lot of horse showing,” Dye said. “All of our horses are flat shod. We try to make it where everybody can ride and gets a chance to do it even if they don’t have the financial background to have a really nice show horse.

“4-H has really come a long way and it is our biggest outlet. I like 4-H because it requires them to not only have a good walking horse, but they must show equitation and showmanship They must be able to perform in both Western and English styles to win high point awards in both the senior and junior divisions.  Dropback and I Am USMC, two of our horses, both won high point awards at the state 4-H show in both the junior and senior divisions this year which was very exciting.”

Many walking horses are donated to Black Anvil because they do not have a strong gait and are unable to hold a gait.

“We try to find a job they can do where the quality of their flat walk and the quality of their ability to hold a gait well is not important,” Dye said. “We try to find something they can do well.”

Often that means moving them to the worlds of cross country and/or show jumping. Dye teaches interested riders to compete in both.

“We have found the gaited horses are mentally more stable to start in cross country and show jumping than a lot of the thoroughbreds we get here,” Dye said. “The strong hind end of a gaited horse really lends itself to jumping. Also they are so sure-footed.

“Mostly their temperament is much more relaxed and forgiving than the temperament of some of the traditional jumping horses like the warmbloods and the thoroughbreds. They really excel, especially with children. Their mental capacity to stay calm in a large area and also  doing new things comes to them pretty naturally.”

The Tennessee Walking Horse is well-known for its temperament, but the versatility of the horse is also promoted, especially as a way of attracting riders who may not desire the show ring experience.

“We have Appaloosas, quarter horses, thoroughbreds, warmbloods and draft horses,” Dye said. “I can definitely say the best brains in the barn belong to the walking horses.”

The musician, Marc Anthony, is quotes as saying, “If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life.” Dye embodies that statement. She is a hard worker, but she loves every minute of what she does.

“I have no interest in doing anything else,” Dye said. “I will do this until there is no possible way to do it anymore.”

Born and raised in Sewanee, Tennessee, Dye started riding with Jane Mahoney at Camp River Lake Farm. Dye would later buy the farm after graduating from college.

She first rode a padded horse when she was eight, but didn’t spend very much time on the show circuit. As she neared college age she became interested in show jumping.

“My parents bought me a Holsteiner, a German jumping horse,” Dye said. “She started encountering some lameness, so I brought out my 18-year-old walking horse, The Ringleader, and said I will give her a shot. Lo and behold, she was a better jumper than my Holsteiner was.

“I enjoyed a lot of success in my career with my walking horse. It was definitely an eye-opening moment for me. She passed away at 24. I will miss her for the rest of my life. I learned a lot from her. She had a lot more forgiveness than most horses I have dealt with in my life.”

Dye attended Virginia Intermont College, an equine-specific liberal arts college. She studied equine sciences and also has a degree in sculpting. She sees a parallel between the two.

“I approach teaching children riding the same way an art teacher approaches teaching art to children,” Dye said. “I encourage freedom and a lot of choice. I look at a child and a horse as materials in which to sculpt something beautiful. As a trainer you are trying to create the most beautiful thing in the ring. I want to put everything together until the entire package is a sculpture which is beautiful when it performs.

“We have some riders who only show walking horses on the traditional circuit, 4-H and the International World Versatility Show. We have some who just do cross country and show jumping. And we have a few who cross over between the two.”

Click here to view the feature published in The Walking Horse Report.

A support group, Friends of Black Anvil Farm, provides a great deal of the funding. Each year Dye and her students purchase a rescue horse. They keep some and others are rehabbed and sold. This year they adopted a blind quarter horse foal.

“Being so young there are a lot of challenges in the care of a young, blind horse,” Dye said. “The kids raised $800 in two or three days. His name is Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, but we call him Ciego, which is the Spanish word for blind.

“The children have been paramount in his recovery and learning. They spend a lot of time leading him around. The ability to ride is secondary to horsemanship. They have to learn how to care, communicate and love the animal and a lot of that occurs on the ground. I mostly want for my students to realize a horse’s value is much deeper than just the outside things. He is worth more than the color of silk he brings back.”