Young professional Karen Polle has always dreamed of competing and winning at the 5* Grand Prix level, but knew the realities of the show jumping world would try to hold her back. Now, not only is she competing and winning against some of the worlds top talent, but she was also the recipient of the Japan Equestrian Federation’s 2017 Extraordinary Performance Award. JN spoke with Karen about the road it took to get here and what the award means to her.
While Karen was born in Japan, she grew up under the bright lights of New York City. At seven years old, she began riding horses at a small stable near her family’s country home. “We would pass this barn every weekend and one day I said to my dad that I wanted to try riding a pony. Nobody in my family rode horses, so we didn’t know anything at all,” she shared with JN. “I didn’t even know what showjumping was at the time. I started riding once a week, and then it became twice a week, and then every day during the summers. I loved horses and riding so much that I would ride every chance I got.”
She began competing locally at the age of ten, but life would open up a new door for her when she moved to the renowned Beacon Hill Stables at the age of thirteen. There, she would get her first taste of competing at the national level and was introduced to the world of show jumping.
“Since I started the jumpers, I’ve always dreamed of competing and winning at the 5* Grand Prix level, but this sport is so hard and it takes such a long time to get to the top level that there were many times when I really didn’t think I was capable or that it would ever happen.” Undeterred, Karen pushed on despite occasional moments of self-doubt. “In this sport, you lose much more than you win and that can be very challenging for me. But I love my horses and competing, and I want to do it better for my horses the next time, so I always come back and try again.”
Representing Japan and Making Dreams Come True
After much thought Karen decided to represent her home country of Japan as a competitor, a decision that would open up doors for her career. “I was born in Japan and I have lots of family in Japan. I visit two to three times a year, so it felt very natural to switch to riding for Japan. I also hoped that it would open up some opportunities for me when competing internationally, which I believe it has.” One of those doors would include working under the tutelage of show jumping legend, Rodrigo Pessoa.
While Japan and New York will always feel like home, her busy show schedule keeps her on the road. Like many professionals, Karen spends her winters in Wellington. During the spring and summer months, she hops the pond to train in Europe before coming back to Connecticut in the fall. She is currently campaigning a string of four horses: longtime mount With Wings, Kino, Sari and Little Lord. “I may be biased,” she shared, “but I think they’re all really special!”
That special string of horses has allowed Karen to reach some of her biggest career accolades to date. “Winning the 5* Grand Prix qualifier and then the 5* Grand Prix in one week with Wings during last year’s Winter Equestrian Festival was one of my biggest accomplishments so far. That was just an incredible week – I still can’t believe that it happened sometimes, because it’s such a hard thing to accomplish against the best horses and riders in the world. I doubt I will ever be able to achieve that again and I am just very proud of how I rode and how Wings jumped that week.”
On Receiving the 2017 Extraordinary Performance Award
“Getting this award means so much to me because it’s a culmination of years of effort. I’m very humbled and grateful to my federation for their support, and to my team, my owner, my family, and of course my horses for helping me get here,” said Karen.
Karen doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon. For now she will be competing in Wellington until season end when she and her horses will head off to the Belgium base in Europe. While there, she hopes to compete in Rome and Dublin, both locations that she had the opportunity to contest last year and fell in love with the atmosphere. Individually, she hopes to become a more accurate, effective, and consistent rider, all the while building partnerships with her two newer mounts, Kino and Sari.
“It’s an amazing feeling and a huge honor to be recognized by my federation for my accomplishments last year. My horses, my team, and I have worked really hard for years and I’m very, very proud of what we were able to achieve in 2017. It’s a very special feeling to see our hard work pay off.”