*This story was originally published in the April 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now.
By Brooke Goddard
Photos by Claire Allegra Taylor / Allegra Imaging
“Healthy horses are are happy horses.”
That’s both the motto and the bottom line for Kate Wallace and Katie Hawkins, founders of Unbridled Equine Rehab and Performance Solutions, just outside of Chicago, Ill., about 20 minutes away from Lamplight Equestrian Center.
Their state-of-the-art program, based at Anton and Dr. Michele Marano’s Deerpath Equestrian Club and Stable, features a Hudson Aqua-Pacer Underwater Equine Treadmill, a full stall Vitafloor, a Horse Gym USA Treadmill, a covered and heated eurociser, a solarium and more. Treatments range from Magnawave PEMF sessions to corrective exercises and massage.
With advancements in medicine and care, our equine partners’ careers are getting longer and longer. However, when a horse suffers an injury it can still be devastating or even career-ending.
“We know having them laid up is the worst. As horse owners ourselves, we have had horses that have needed time off to recover from injury,” said Wallace. “Our job is to bring them back better than before and aid in extending their careers. We want to get our horses and their riders back doing what they love.”
Throughout the many seasons of their life, their passion for horses is what has kept them coming back. Katie Hawkins’ passion began at a young age when she made a PowerPoint presentation for her parents explaining why she wanted a horse. “When I was ten years old, I bought my first mare, Gigi, out of a kill pen for $1,000 and worked to pay for her by myself. We enjoyed eventing and I really loved that community-based culture,” said Hawkins. “Gigi would have jumped the moon for me. She went to college with me at the University of Illinois and on my second date with my husband, Greg, I brought him out to meet her. I was lucky enough to have Gigi from the time I was a kid until I had kids of my own.”
Wherever Hawkins went, horses and animals seemed to follow. “After college, I worked as a zookeeper, I got my master’s degree in education, and then jumped back into riding and competing. I got my horse Oscar, now 23 years old, fifteen years ago. I wanted to learn the nuances of the sport through the Hunters. After having two kids and retiring Oscar I began leasing horses to learn and compete in the jumper ring.” Hawkins is currently leasing a horse and will compete this season in the 1.20m amateur jumpers
Like Hawkins, Wallace’s love of horses has followed her throughout her life. “Growing up my mom had a full-time job and worked on the side as a professional braider to be able to afford horses,” Wallace explained. “In fourth grade, my mom used our tax return to buy a pony named Swiss Miss. After a few years as a pony jockey, I retired Swissy and took a break from showing. I rode a little bit during college and, after getting married, made a choice to focus on being a mother. Nine years later, I started taking lessons again at a barn where I met Katie.”
“While our passion for horse care is the same, Katie and I have very different goals when it comes to our riding. Katie loves to jump high and compete, while my current horse has inspired me to learn dressage, appreciate groundwork, and throw in a jumping lesson once in a while.
“We are happy to go to work and make a difference in the horse world,” said Wallace. “We aren’t going to be Olympians, so it means a lot to be able to make an impact in the sport and in the lives of our clients.”
Rehabilitation vs. Prehabilitation
The two women understand that horses are professional athletes in their own right. Just like human athletes need to take special care of their bodies, our equine partners can benefit significantly from “prehab” treatments designed to prevent sports injury.
Hawkins is an FEI Top-Tier Permitted Equine Massage Therapist, and Wallace is a Magnawave Certified Practitioner. Together they work closely with veterinarians, farriers, trainers, and owners to strategize and create therapeutic treatment plans for their clients, including Zippy, a 24-year-old fox hunter.
Zippy is getting older and showing no signs of slowing down. “When my daughter went to college, I took over the ride on Zippy. We hunt along the Mississippi River on really rugged terrain,” said owner Sue Jayne. “We often go out for three to four hours at a time. There was one hunt, in particular, last season that was 25 miles long. It takes an especially fit horse to be able to do that. We are a great example of prehab. Zippy is not coming back from an injury. Instead, she is in a consistent program with excellent care.”
For the past ten years, Sue has served as the mounted steward at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event aboard Zippy. During this off-season Jayne sent her mare to condition at Unbridled Equine, where she gets pampered at the “spa” with daily VitaFloor treatments and exercise on the eurociser and treadmill.
“I credit Kate and Katie with creating this opportunity for me. Any day that you have the opportunity to get on your horse, you’re creating lifelong memories. It means the world to give back to the horse who has done so much for my family.”
A Marriage of Two Families
Wallace and Hawkins are partners in business and best friends in life. Support from their husbands and kids has enabled them to pursue this dream. As in any successful relationship, the women complement one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
“Our friendship grew into a marriage of sorts and there is a lot of giving and taking. At the end of the day, we both show up and bring joy to the barn because we are happy to be there,” says Hawkins.
Hawkins and her husband Greg have two daughters Baylor, 5, and Quinn, 7. Wallace and her husband Troy have three children, Caleb, 15, Madelyn, 12, and Nora, 9. “Our kids do chores so they can earn riding time. We all have a lot of fun and our families eat together on the weekends.”
“When I was pregnant Greg took over riding Oscar and was a total natural in the saddle,” Hawkins said. “I’m so thankful that Greg is one hundred percent supportive and helpful around the barn. He has allowed me to live out my dreams and do it my own way. He truly respects my passion and Kate’s husband is the same.”
“Our relationship is great because not only do we have opposing strengths, we are also able to seamlessly step in for one another when necessary. While I prefer to focus on the hands-on aspects of Unbridled, Kate handles the communication, financial and logistical pieces, so we joke that we are a match made in heaven.”
Hawkins and her family of four live on the property, while Wallace lives just a few minutes away. Their children have become close friends and their husbands can be found playing chess in the barn on Saturday mornings. “I love it because my family is growing up in this special environment,” said Hawkins. “We have dogs, cats and even chickens that reside in Cluckingham Palace.”
Living on the property means that there are eyes on the horses and boots on the ground at all times. “I can prioritize the needs of the horses and balance that around my family. I put my kids to bed then walk outside to give the horses their evening medicine.”
As moms and horse owners, Hawkins and Wallace take care of their clients’ horses as if they were their own.
Celebrating the Successes
The women will tell you the smallest victories have been some of their happiest moments: When the vet announces that a corneal ulcer has been healed after months of eye drops that required a spreadsheet, or when Zippy, the 24-year-old fox hunter, clocks another mile on the treadmill.
They enjoy seeing their clients make progress, whether it is in the show ring, the dressage arena, the hunt field, or wherever their clients find happiness.
“There was a horse at WEF this season that I did bodywork on for the first time, and the next day he went out and won his equitation class with almost 100 entries,” Hawkins said. “My hashtag with massages is #MustHaveBeenTheMassage, and I love when that rings true.”
“I enjoy getting to be a part of those little victories,” Wallace said. “We have a lot of passion around the care of horses and it being proper and that it’s executed to the highest standard.”
The partners’ grit and determination have led them to where they are today.
“I had severe morning sickness during both of my pregnancies. Ironically Kate did as well, so that’s what actually initially bonded us when we first met at the barn,” said Hawkins.
“My health challenges inspired me to fix myself holistically through nutrition, massage, chiropractic, and naprapathy, and I knew similar techniques could be used to help horses,” Hawkins added. “As I completed my certification hours for massage, I realized that this was actually the way in which I wanted to most connect with horses.”
“The idea came to me at two o’clock in the morning that I wanted to start a premier equine massage business in the Chicagoland area. What truly started as a pipe dream has become my reality,” Hawkins said.
Then when Wallace suffered a leg fracture, Hawkins had encouraged her to start doing Magnawave PEMF treatments to speed up the healing. Wallace quickly became Magnawave Certified, and her PEMF business took off from there.
Above all, the friends and business partners share the same passion and devotion to helping their clients make their own #TheComeback.
“Horses kept me grounded and gave me an identity throughout my childhood and have continued to be my biggest teachers as an adult.” Wallace said. “To be able to aid in the relaxation and healing for an animal that has given so much to me is priceless. Horses are not able to rub out a knot, or stretch out a tight muscle, so being a part of that process for them brings me immense joy. I see our job as preparing these animals to be able to do their job.”
“We are seeing horses become healthier right in front of our eyes on a daily basis. Their injuries are healing, their muscles are getting stronger, their confidence is restored and most importantly they will be ready to get back to the jobs they love.”
To learn more about Unbridled Equine Rehab & Performance Solutions, visit their website at unbridled-equine.com or follow them on Instagram @unbridledequine.