Feb 16, 2024

Channeling the Fire of the 2023 Bates USEA Mare of the Year Karma

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
James Alliston and Karma. USEA/Hope Carlin photo

Katie Crowley didn’t have intentions of breeding horses, but when her Hosteiner mare Travita proved to have a bit too much fire to handle, it was suggested that breeding her might settle her some.

“We bought her as a young mare, and she was extremely hot,” recalled Crowley. “We had tried a little bit of everything with her when it was suggested that breeding her might neutralize some of her hormones.”

The result of that first breeding is Crowley’s Advanced horse, the now 16-year-old Oldenburg gelding Whiskey Up (Worthy Opponent x Travita).

“He is definitely a little bit on the hotter side, but being a gelding helps,” she said. “He has good movement, a phenomenal jump, but a quieter mind than his mare for sure.”

Having loved the first foal Travita produced so much, six years later Crowley decided to breed the mare once more. This time, she settled on Escudo II for the sire, and Karma was born.

Left: Baby Karma showing off her spunk in the pasture. Right: Katie Crowley with a young Karma. Photos courtesy of Crowley

“Right off the bat, she had a fiery presence,” she noted, ”but you could actually get through to her. She loved attention. You would call her name, and she would come running up to you.”

But as Karma got going under saddle and was introduced to jumping, her boldness grew and grew.

“In a perfect world, we were hoping to keep her and have her be my next up-and-coming horse,” she said. At just shy of 2, Karma went to Oregon for the next two years where she was backed and got her foundation. After she turned 4, she returned to Crowley's homebase at Andrea Pfeiffer’s Chocolate Horse Farm in Petaluma, California.

“We spent about three or four months working with her, but I work full-time outside of the horse world and was still working with my horse Whiskey Up who was going three-star and getting ready for Advanced. My time was tight, and we realized that Karma was an amazing mare, but she was going to need a lot of time and the right person.”

Pfieffer felt like James Alliston was just that person.

Alliston remembers the phone call quite clearly. “Andrea called me and said, ‘The horse is a bit difficult, it is sort of freezing in the arena, but it is a very good jumper. Could you have her in for a few weeks and see if you can get her going to sell her or maybe she will turn around and be good for my client that bred her?’”

Alliston agreed and was immediately captivated by Karma the minute she stepped off the trailer onto his farm in San Ramon, California.

“She came off the trailer, and she was really beautiful,” he recalled, “but she was lathered in sweat and clearly didn’t travel too well. We put her in the stable, and she just looked unsettled.”

He slowly got her to work, and the tables quickly turned. Karma went from being wary of going forward in the ring, to enjoying the job a bit too much.

“I phoned Andrea up after a few weeks and said that I had her going, but now she only wanted to go 100 miles per hour and that I wasn’t sure she was going to be an easy one to sell. And she said, 'Well, do you want her?' She jumped really well and had a lot of talent, so I said yes. So she and Katie spoke, and we worked it out, and now it is this really cool story for our eventing community in the West Coast. She was bred here on the West Coast and started her eventing career here at Chocolate Horse Farms and then Andrea hooked us up with her.”

Alliston, who's used to working with quirky horses, took Karma to her first USEA-recognized event in the fall of 2020 at Woodside International (Woodside, California). She took to her new career quite quickly, but he noted that the first few years were a struggle on the flat.

“I was able to get out and get her showing because the jumping was so good, but the dressage takes a little bit to settle her," he said. "So Andrea suggested I try riding her for 10 minutes a few times a day, just coming out to work on one thing at a time, and then putting her away. And that actually really helped just make some sense of the dressage. She just has a lot of energy, which is great for the sport, but it was just learning how to channel it when she was younger that was challenging.”

Even with her challenges, Alliston took note of the mare’s stylish jump and phenomenal gallop. He described her as a natural.

“I remember the first time I took her cross-country schooling, you could just tell she really liked it,” he reflected. “Her adrenaline gets going, and she just wants to go and jump some jumps. She has this massive athleticism to her. She has everything really—quick feet, scopey, careful, nice style. She is sort of all you want really in one package.”

Even with all of that potential, Alliston never anticipated in the beginning that the mare would accomplish all that she has so far.

“You are always optimistic,” he said with a laugh. “I knew what I had a little bit at the end of 2022. I knew she could be a really good Advanced horse. I knew the dressage might be a bit rough initially, but she is a really good mover so it really is all about setting her up. Then as we started going Advanced, the dressage tests seemed to suit her a bit more, and she started doing better in the dressage.”

USEA/Hope Carlin photo

Karma finished third in the 2022 Adequan USEA Advanced Final at the USEA American Eventing Championships at Rebecca Farm (Kalispell, Montana), and just a month later had a second-place finish in the CCI3*-S at Twin Rivers (Paso Robles, California). She capped off her 2022 season with another second-place finish at the Advanced level and a win in the CCI3*-L at Galway Downs (Temecula, Calfornia).

And her 2023 season was equally as successful. Karma made her four-star debut in April at Twin Rivers where she placed second, and then later contested the challenging “mini Kentucky” CCI4*-S division at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day event where she and Alliston had a top-10 finish.

People were taking notice of the striking dark bay mare. In August of 2023, Karma and Alliston were named to the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team that would represent the U.S. at the FEI Eventing Nations Cup CCIO4*-NC-L at Boekelo (the Netherlands) in October. She went into that event on the back of three wins—one at Advanced, one at the CCI4*-S level, and one at the CCI4*-L level.

Out of 112 starters, Karma and Alliston finished 14th and were the top U.S. pair. That result, paired with her phenomenal season throughout the year, led to Karma being named the 2023 Bates USEA Mare of the Year with 209 points.

“We were really happy to achieve that,” said Alliston who is hoping to gear the mare up for her first five-star this year. “We are especially grateful to Ric Plummer who co-owns Karma with us. At first, we didn’t think she would be a top horse, but he had a lot of vision when he came on board with Karma. He is very involved. He comes by every day to see the horses, and we couldn’t do it without him.”

USEA/Tina Fitch Photography photo

For Crowley, seeing Karma have such a successful career brings forth many emotions.

“It brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “I know it hasn’t been an easy track, and James just put the time and dedication into her. It is so awesome to be able to cheer them on from the sidelines.

“Initially, I was just hoping to be able to trot circles on her,” she continued with a chuckle. “To be able to see her and the career path she has taken, it is just phenomenal. I never thought that I would be watching her overseas at Boekelo and then possibly be able to accomplish a five-star this year; that is saying a lot about that mare.”

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