Interview with Catie Staszak

Interview with Catie Staszak

My name is Catie Staszak I'm based out of South Florida. Although my career does take me all over the world. I'm very fortunate to have grown up in Florida which has given me this amazon access to the horse sport world. I own and run my own company in Wellington. Ive been the journalist and colour commentator for the North American League for the past 5 seasons. Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ North American League.  Im usually running my business, working with amazing athletes, brands or farms or jetting setting off to different countries. We post produce show on CBS network in addition to the live streams and all the press coverage that we do here in North America  

When did you know that this was the career for you?

I was very fortunate to know what I wanted to do from a young age. I grew up in very sports oriented family, not necessarily horse sports, but I have grown up around horses my whole life. I started riding from a very young age with lessons from when I was about 4 years old, so I always knew I wanted to do something with horses and I very quickly realized that I wanted to work in media. I wasn't very sure that doing both of that together was possible. I really wanted, after first starting out after graduating college. Which I did study which was a big help in the University of Miami which was incredible and continues to have an influence on my career. They have an amazing broadcasting program which I started on my major right away, which confirmed that I wanted to do this. Right away freshman year, I was working on a student produced programme from our control room. We were live in Miami. It was a really great experience. My senior year in college, I had an internship at the racetrack in Florida called Gulfstream Park and I worked in their press office, which was a really fun experience. They knew that I had a broadcast interest and of course horse racing is show on all air all over the world so I had the thought that maybe I could cover horse racing as well as other main stream sports and that could be my career and I could still be involved with horses. At the end of my internship they gave me the opportunity to be on the show. It was a week day with no major stakes race and I had an absolute blast and that was when I knew I loved this. It was a rush and so much fun. I get to talk about horses and this is my job. Of course it was just an internship but the race course manager hapened to be watching and after he came up to me and he said ‘hey would you do that again’ and he hired me on the spot. The day after I graduated college. I did that for two years and to be perfectly honest I missed the show circuit. With the race track, they start working at 5 am and the races finish at about 7 pm so there was no time for me to ride. I even thought about becoming and excerise rider and taking out my jockies licence because I missed riding so much.  I had an opportunity to come back to the show world and the live stream was starting to pick up in show jumping. The ring manager happened to know my background and knew I had experience in the show jumping life and he asked me to commentate a grand prix  and it was de ja vue of the race track. I commentated the Grand Prix David Orlando at the time was running shownet a big livestreaming company here in the states he heard me and asked ‘ can you do that again’ and the next show jumping comp was a classic and it grew from there. This was when the North American league was just starting up so a new level broadcast on NBC Network. It was that moment this is when i said this is what I want. This would be an absolute dream. I would be lying if I said I thought it would come as quickly. I happened to be at the American Gold Cup there was a world cup there at the time and I saw the production team and I printed out copies of my resume and I went up to them and introduced myself Hi it’s my absolute dream to work for you can I do anything for you I mean anything -  can I get you a coffee - anything at all you might need. I would just love to be a part of this. I walked away and didn’t expect anything more from it. This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done.

They came back and hour later and they offered me the reporters job and I was the reporter for that broadcast at the American Gold Cup. We just had a tremendous connection with the FEI and I was a co commentator and the time after that I had a contact and started doing more and more classes and it has just grown and blossomed and I truely live my dream. It’s an absolute blast. IT really just spurred from and I was very fortunate to know what I wanted to do but it was a very winding path of just making the most of opportunities that come my way.

Do you have a preference between on air and written media?

It’s very hard to say I think that broadcasting is really my passion project, it’s an absolute rush. I love it and I love talking about horses, educating people about the sport, getting people excited about the sport and just being a part of those classes in that moment is an emotion that can’t be replicated. I do love that part very much but writing is what started all of this for me. I do believe that is where my real talent is and where I have the most confidence is in my writing. I think the two complement each other - my writing and my broadcasting got stronger because of what I’m doing in the other areas. I’m constantly learning and sharing stories. That is all information I can take and help to make those stories a bit stronger.

What are the two major tips you would give to someone starting out in their career?

The two biggest things - in my experience - are number one. There is no job to small anything you can do. You never know where it is going to lead you and make the most out of it. You will never know the connections there are going to be. I always took every opportunity. It has made me so much well rounded and made me the person in the place I am today in the industry and very fortunate. I would definitely say there is no job too small. That was what really happened that day - I gave them my resume and asked could I get you a coffee ad it turned in to so much more. I would really drive that home - there is no job too small. That, being well rounded and taking every opportunity you can and making the most if it. The other thing I will say is there is no set path. My path was so winding and it still surprises me where it takes me. Really, be yourself and create your own path. Who knows where it will take you? It is so important to have your own brand and be yourself. Just go out there and if there is something that you would like to do and you don’t see it happening out there - create it! The opportunity is there, so don’t be afraid to create it, go for it and back yourself.

Do you have a favourite article that you have written?

That’s a really hard question to answer - there are quite a few, but I think one that always stands out is a piece I wrote on Mcclain Ward RothChild from his career to his retirement. That was published as the cover story. I was always a big fan of the horse, so to share his story and really dive deep into this journey with so many sources and people I could to talk was really enjoyable for me. I love how that story turned out. So that is definitely a favourite. It’s very special to me.It also won an American Publication award, so I was really proud of that story. It definatley stands out to me in my writing. Of course, as a very special horse, so beat the odds a little and not expected to be what he was and known as a fighter. I think we can all relate a little bit to the underdog. That was always meaningful to me. Certainly there are others and I’m sure I will think of more after this chat.

Having written “for nearly every major equestrian publication, covering a variety of equestrian disciplines” do you feel anything is missing from equine publications - if so what!?

I think publications have done a really good job as this is a difficult industry as everything is constantly evolving. Publications have had to reinvent the wheel and reinvent themselves to keep up with technology so many times. I have great admiration for that and publications that have done that successfully. I think for me and the sport as a whole what we have always lacked is data. We have great stories but to really keep up with mainstream media such as baseball, basketball, football, hockey, The data and the stats that can really show the athleisim and prowess that is present in the sport to help bring in new fans. We do a great job of keeping our fans but if we want to bring in new fans, I think data is something that really legitamises our industry as a sport. That has always been a bit of a passion of mine. We see alot more if it in horse racing. From keeping racing form to trends, to a second run after 45 days to a second run with this trainer, to adding blinkers. All the data is there. Imagine if we had all that data on a tack switch, who decided to switch the bit. I’ve done some work with Lucy Davis - she started this preview and they are starting to bridge the gap with data. Doing some really cool things and I have been working with them writing features on the database. I really love that. I am an analytical person, so I love the details. It is very helpful from a broadcast point of view. That is something we are working on. They are literally working on points of contact, changing leads to the fence type. All these things that aren’t currently out there. It is a missing link in our sport that we just need to make some headway on to bridge the gap with other sports.

After winning American Horse Publications awards in 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018 and 2021 for your journalistic work - how does it feel to be an inspiration to a nation of up coming female journalists?

That is very kind - I don’t know if I was categorize myself as an inspiration but I do just try to be a good role model. Now, being in the position I am in, I have to pinch myself. It is really important to me to pay it forward and try to round up and encourage other little known talent. I get really busy and can’t do all the work - I love to be able to recommend someone else and to try to help them find their way. It’s really important to me I love collaborating with others. I’ve formed so many incredible relationships within the industry. I always remember that someone gave me a chance, so I want  to be able to give someone else a chance and see what place they can hold in the industry. There are plenty more people that have won more horse sports awards than I have and I am very grateful to have been recognised. It was really meaningful when I won the next gen award. It was the first time that award was given out by EHP, all that it stood for and being a pathfinder, having a visionary outlook and, most importantly, to me operating with integrity. I do hope I can be a role model and bring other people up. It helps all of us to bring each other up. We are very fortunate in the equine industry to have a lot of women present. They possibly don’t get recognised enough. They are a huge part of making moves in the industry. We love to chat about this and support us. This is what I hope to see and what I am seeing. I am surrounded by amazing women. To Connie Sayer in FEI particularly with the commercial end for FEI. It started with just Connie and then she brought me on to the team and it was just the two of us. She is an incredible mentor to me and really gave me a chance and supported me. She is amazing - what she does is just incredible. So many others that I get to work with and have so much fun. I’m excited to see where it will all go.

Do you have a strategy to divide your time between your company, your journalism and your horses?

The biggest strategy I have is many calendars and a daily to do list. What needs to be done today, what I would like to get done today and things that I can get ahead on. I try to be on top of that and I write everything down because I  will forget otherwise - Its just alot.  I really prep myself and put my organization into play and stay on track with things. When I’m travelling and on the road I don’t get to ride - being able to have two wonderful horses of my own is also a really big goal of mine. I sved for 10 years and growing up to be able to have those horses. We do this for the horses and that is at the base of it. They are my world along with my dog and my partner - not in that order! When I am home, I ride everyday . When I’m not home I’m not riding much at all. I usually have really kind friends who let me ride their horses and we have a complete blast. I always try to wake up as early as possible. I do all my own care with my horses. I will let the boys out and then I’ve to work the rest of the day. I’m back then in the eveing and if I run a little later as we all know how barn time works. It’s a time warp! It’s very important to me to prioritise things and stick to my to do lists. There are not enough hours in the day It’s a big step for the company - I am actually hiring someone to take on work and expanding a little. She’s wonderful and I am so excited about the things that we will do. I said to her today “so do you need anything - and she said yes a few more hours”! It’s busy but I am very focused and I don’t get distracted easily. I usually work through the list as fast as I can.

Were you always ambitious? Do you think your confidence grew over the years?

I was definitely always ambitious. I don’t know if it’s because my mother and father were. I am competitive. I always wanted my own company but confidence actually not. I was not super confident. I can definitely say that I am not more confident than I used to be - I was always confident in the work and what I could do, but to have this business is very different. I knew I could do what I do, but I wasn’t always sure I could translate that. Everything is always a work in progress but I definitely always had confidence in my writing and thats helped alot. I have definatly gotten more confident as I’ve gotten older. I find even in my riding - I do ride as an amature and I don’t ride all the time. Most amatures that ride competitively as we get older we get less confient. Then there is me - I don’t know what happened. I’m jumping than I ever was before and doing all this amazing stuff. I have wild goals, but we will just have to see where I can go. I get confidence in my knowledge and preparation, so writing things down and talking thing through with people and different riders. That really helps me because I understand what I have to do and I’m very analytical about what I am doing in the saddle as well. The physical part of actually doing it is another story, but it’s certainly a leg up that I understand very well. What needs to be done and what I need to do and what I need to work on? It helps me to understand what I did or did not do. So thats very helpful for sure. Confidence is always a work in progress.

What do you think is missing from the mainstream exposure of the equine industry?

Touching on it a little with the data - I think that is something that will be really helpful in that area. We do a great job of retaining people. Anyone that is in the sport wants to watch and wants to come back. What I think we need to work on is awareness and getting more people aware of the sport. Also alot of the time we are in a sport where we are thought we should make it look easy and have this connection with the horse and rider and we watch but we can’t necessarily see the athletic process of both and the amount of work that has been put into the horse and the technicalities of the horse. I would hope that we can expand on that. There is a very fine line between catering to the die hards of our sport and attracting and explaining our sport to new people.

With main stream platforms, it's very important to keep and attract engagement. It seems very different where you are - the sport seems to be more of a lifestyle and entrenched in life whereas here in the States you grow up playing more basketball and football and things like that so I would love to bring the sport any bit closer to what we see in Europe.
Muireann O Toole Brennan

Muireann O Toole Brennan

Head of Media and co founder at Equitas. I currently have four horses and compete three. 2024 is going to be a big season!
Carlow, Ireland