Former Heritage Rider Katherine Schmidt Butler Honored with NCEA Jersey Retirement
Former Heritage Farm working student Katherine Schmidt was honored with the first jersey retirement in NCEA history at the University of South Carolina. She is photographed with USC Head Coach Boo Major. Photo Courtesy Katherine Schmidt.
The National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) had never in its history retired the jersey of one of its athletes—that is, until the University of South Carolina presented Catherine Schmidt Butler with the honor Friday in Columbia, SC, following the team's meet against Oklahoma State.
The all-time leader for career wins (101) in NCEA history, Schmidt Butler was a member of three Southern Equestrian Championship teams; was a two-time SEC Rider of the Year; and captured the 2015 NCEA National Championship with the Gamecocks. Before that, she honed her skills for the equitation ring with Heritage Farm.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet, and it might not for a while," said Schmidt Butler, 30, of her jersey retirement. "I'm so proud to have been a product of the Heritage program. Andre and his team really gave me the tools to succeed in the equitation. Had I not come through the program, I don't think I'd be where I am."
Schmidt Butler began her riding career with Darren Graziano, and when the respected professional recognized Schmidt Butler's talent for equitation, he organized some lessons for his pupil with Heritage. Schmidt, then 15, jumped the equitation championships with Heritage later that year before Dignelli offered her the opportunity to become a working student with the program.
"Darren remains one of the most influential people in my life, as does Andre," Schmidt Butler said. "After that first year, Andre really took me under his wing and said, 'Let's really work on this, hone your skills, polish your riding and make you a top equitation rider!'"
Schmidt Butler was the 2010 NEHC Junior Hunt Seat Medal Final Reserve Champion with Heritage Farm. Photo by Anne Gittins.
Katherine Schmidt Butler and Andre Dignelli. Photo by James Parker
With Heritage, Schmidt Butler earned the Reserve Championship at the 2010 NEHC Junior Medal Final; was fifth in the USHJA Gladstone Cup Equitation Classic; and finished eighth in the WEF Equitation Championship, among other accolades. She rode countless horses that came through the Heritage Farm Development Program, preparing her for the catch-riding required of collegiate equestrian athletics.
"I hit the ground running when I came to Heritage. I was riding different horses every day and showing different horses every week. Sometimes I wouldn't know what horse I was showing until the day of my class," Schmidt Butler recalled. "It really helped prepare me for NCEA riding. I went into college with so much confidence and never really looked back."
Schmidt Butler competing for the University of South Carolina. Photo by Juan Blas.
She had immediate success in college. As a freshman, Schmidt Butler set a record for wins in both Flat and Fences, finishing a combined 25-7-0, and earned the Most Outstanding Freshman award for her team. She ended her collegiate career with multiple records, among them: career wins in Flat (46), career wins in Fences (55), and most MOP (Most Outstanding Player) honors in Fences (17).
She also shined academically and was a three-time NCEA All-Academic First Team Selection and four-time SEC Academic Honor Roll member. She graduated cum laude with a double-major in Marketing and HR Management with a minor in Sports and Entertainment.
"Riding at the collegiate level is seriously one of the biggest privileges of my life," Schmidt Butler said. "All the experience I had riding so many different types of horses made me successful. My teammates were also a huge part. Riding is so individual, you think of it mostly that way as a junior. Working together with the other girls on my team was a new experience and one that helped socially bring me out of my shell."
Schmidt Butler is now a young professional at Hampden Row in Richmond, VA, working alongside Jan Simpson and Lindsay Milligan. She trains a variety of riders across the hunter, jumper and equitation divisions and competes in the professional hunter divisions. This fall, she and Angelia Goodwin's Soulful finished second in the Green Hunter 3'3" at the Capital Challenge Horse Show.
"My time at Heritage certainly boosted my college career, but it has also served me well in my professional career—and will continue to do so for however long I am in this industry, which is hopefully a very long time," Schmidt Butler said. "I use tools I’ve learned at Heritage both in horsemanship and care, as well as in my riding and coaching, in my every day life at the barn. I am so thankful to Andre, Laena, Patricia, Dottie [and beyond], for taking me under their wing."
Photo Courtesy Katherine Schmidt Butler