While some people look at a horse and see merely a four-legged creature with a mane and tail; others look at the horse and see something much deeper. They see the soul of the horse, the story behind its eyes and a passion that only a true equine lover can fully understand. Kaitlyn Karssen might have grown up in small-town, western Illinois, but for the love of horses followed her passion all the way to Kentucky, where beautiful horses were plentiful, her passion blossomed, and her career was born and thrived.
“I always had really big goals. I wanted to go WEF [Winter Equestrian Festival], I wanted to do all the fun stuff everybody else did and go to the big horse shows. So, I took the opportunity when I went to college to go to the University of Kentucky to get some big opportunities; and it worked! I actually ended up doing more with horses than I did school, that kind of became my focus. And I tried to get into the industry,” Karssen said.
Perseverance is one of Karssen’s key character traits. As a youth who was involved in 4-H and FFA, she never owned her own horse, but rode any and all horses available to her. She loved riding, showing and caring for horses that much.
“As a kid, I got on all the problem horses. I think it’s amazing that I still ride horses, because I have been put through the ringer over the years,” she said with a chuckle.
With a move to college in Kentucky, the heart of horse country, Kaitlyn was soon able to start working as a groom and her love for horses grew even deeper. However, it didn’t take long to realize she didn’t want to work in the stables the rest of her life. That’s when a professor helped guide her down a different path.
As a student studying business, Karssen was required to take an art class. She chose to take Photoshop. Her professor was impressed with the photos she worked on in class and offered her some sound advice.
“I had the most amazing professor; one of those professors that really did change my life and the trajectory that I was on, and he started teaching me how to edit those black backgrounds. And I kept working on horse photos in his class, and he never got mad and let me do it,” she recalls. “Then one day at the end of the semester, he kind of took me aside and said, you know you can make a living doing this, right. He said you need to add a couple zeros to what you’re charging and keep taking photos. I did and it just kind of blew up on me!”
Two Passions Collide
Karssen took her professor’s advice, loaded up her little car with her camera, and made her first trip to WEF in Wellington, Florida, four years ago. As a broke college student, she paid for her trip with her credit card. But she was living her dream.
“It was really life changing for me, coming from the Midwest, where we didn’t have horses like that and don’t have shows like that,” she said.
She was able to capture her first show jumping photos on that trip. Then, the next spring semester she said she made four more trips between Lexington and Wellington, but those times with assignments from magazines, riders and other clients.
“I became very determined to make that my career. I thought it was a very unique way to be involved in the industry and be with the top riders in the sport without being a groomer or a rider, and the rest is kind of history. That’s how I ended up where I am today,” Karssen said.
Today, she is the owner and creative genius behind KaitlynKarssen.com photography. Since 2016, she has been able to combine her passion for the equine world with her talent for photography to create impeccable pieces of art. It’s this career path that led her to be able to purchase her first horse, Elona B., just last year.
Horse Care is an Art
Elona, according to Karssen, is easily stressed and has a sensitive stomach. So, when she took her mare to Florida last winter to photograph clients and shows, Elona did not take the transition very well, even with the best care that Karssen gives her including quality hay, plenty of water and lots of turn out time and TLC.
“When Elona got to Florida in October she was dark and dappled. She soon realized we weren’t heading back to Kentucky anytime soon and her health, coat and mood started to deteriorate in protest. At the peak of our problems, she had ulcers that didn’t want to go away, and her coat got so bad she got a skin infection from fly spray,” Karssen said.
Karssen said with so many supplements available on the market, she is skeptical about them until she has time to do her research. She had seen signs for Alimend in 2018, at Split Rock, googled it and was scared away by its per gallon price. However, she knew Elona needed the best care possible.
“At the peak when she got her skin infection, and all her hair fell out, I started giving her Vitalize® Alimend®, at the reluctance of my bank account, and it has worked absolute wonders for her, keeping her so comfortable and happy! Since we started it, we haven’t had stomach problems, her coat is on the mend, and she’s happy and healthy. Oh yeah, and since she’s happy, she’s more rideable than ever. Like every single day is better than the day before. We’re on our way back to dark and dappled. If your horse looks healthy on the outside you know it is feeling healthy on the inside,” she said.
Currently on stall rest, Elona is getting the stress dose of Alimend, a natural liquid product that supports gastric health and GI tissue in horses. Alimend is a unique blend of: MHB3® Hyaluronan, H. erinaceous (Lion’s mane) extract, and AO-Biotics®, a precision prebiotic designed to boost animal resilience to challenges. It is research-proven to improve gut integrity and immune response. Alimend is safe for continuous and routine use in all horses.
Elona will continue to receive Alimend, according to her owner, who isn’t a fan of supplements, but is an advocate of giving her horse the best care possible. She understands the “good gut feeling” that Vitalize Alimend is providing her horse. Adding Alimend to Elona’s diet is the only change that Karssen made, and it brought her horse back.
“I look at every ingredient on everything that I give my horse. There is so much science behind Alimend, that feeding it is like an art. Pay attention to your horses and give them the best care possible.”
Regardless if she’s behind the lens or in the saddle, Karssen is at home in the equine industry. From small town roots to capturing memories for high-end jumpers both on the course and in the studio, Karssen persevered, followed her dream and found her place. She also discovered that specific supplements like Vitalize Alimend have their place in her horse’s diet, especially when a good gut feeling is important to making them feel their best and looking their best.