Student Spotlight: Katlin

September 18, 2018

Poised, confident, determined, capable, diligent, industrious, humble, graceful and kind – all of these words help paint a picture of an incredible young woman, Katlin, a former student at Palmer Home for Children, who is now at Mississippi State University, studying to be a future equine surgeon, and forever a member of the Palmer Home family.

Katlin came to Palmer Home when she was a year old. She sat on a horse for the first time when she was just three, started riding at five and began formal riding lessons at seven.

“I’ve never been afraid of a horse,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be close to them.”

From a young age, Katlin recalls feeling comfortable and at ease around the gentle giants. She found a safe haven within the walls and stalls of the Palmer Home barn. She often retreated there during stressful, hard, or sad times, always comforted by her understanding of the horses’ thoughts and their unspoken understanding of her feelings.

“Horses are amazing because you don’t need to speak a word to be understood,” she said.

The barn at Palmer Home became a second home to Katlin and she spent as much time as possible caring for the horses, riding, and jumping. She enjoys the entire process with riding and never shies away from the less glamorous side of grooming and tacking her horses. She values the one-on-one time with the horses and the trust that is built over time.

“Trust is everything with horses, if there’s no trust, there’s nothing,” she said. “It’s built slowly, not overnight.”

Over the years Katlin has put in hundreds of hours at the barn and other riding venues, gaining valuable trust and experience with horses of all personalities, capabilities and temperaments. She became intrigued with the idea of equine surgery and medicine as a result of her time spent with the massive beauties. While others might be intimidated by the complexities of veterinarian care, Katlin is fascinated by the challenge of discovering what animals are feeling without the use of words.

“You have to tap into your knowledge with the symptoms that are presented and then put two and two together,” she said. “I’ve always loved puzzles and veterinarian care is like solving a puzzle.”

Palmer Home for Children understands the benefits of therapeutic riding and created the Hope Reins Riding Program to encourage mental, emotional and physical development through equine-assisted activities. Pam Cunningham, Hope Reins Director, runs the program five days a week, and as an avid horse rider with 45 years of riding experience, she guides the program with wisdom and care. Every student at Palmer Home has the opportunity to participate, and participation means much more than just riding horses! Mrs. Pam, as the students call her,  teaches the students how to brush, clean and care for the horses’ daily needs, as well as how to muck stalls, properly approach horses, bring them in from the pasture, put on a halter and lead, assist the horse shoer, hitch horses to a hitching post, and of course, English riding and jumping!

“Kids come alone to Palmer Home and their transition into new living conditions with new family members, new houseparents, new counselors, can be overwhelming,” Mrs. Pam said. “Kids can go to the barn, a safe place where they feel happy.”

Katlin and Mrs. Pam have a special bond that began when Katlin was in fourth grade and started taking private riding lessons at Mrs. Pam’s house.

“Katlin’s growth over time is unbelievable,” Mrs. Pam said. “She is by far one of the best riders to go through our program.”

Katlin’s equestrian prowess grew over time under the training and care of Mrs. Pam and her academic achievements mounted over time as well. Katlin gratefully reflects on the opportunities she received at Palmer Home and the family that they became.

“They were always there for me,” she said.

She attended Heritage Academy and graduated high school with honors. After that she moved out of her cottage and into an on-campus apartment at Palmer Home and attended East Mississippi Community College for two years, graduating with honors again!  She transferred to Mississippi State University and hopes to graduate with honors in 2020.

Over the years Mrs. Pam has taught Katlin much more than the basics of horse care and riding. She taught her how to jump horses, compete in show events, and fox hunt – one of Katlin’s passions that has grown into a vocation. Mrs. Pam has taken Katlin and other students to horse shows, races, fox hunts, and other events off campus to further their love and understanding of all things equine.

Katlin’s love of fox hunting led her to pursue a job as a whipper-in at the renown Hard Away Hounds in Greensboro, Alabama, where she spent three summers and most weekends assisting in fox hunting and gaining more experience and a greater repoire with horses, hunters, and hounds alike.

“I love fox hunting,” she said. “You’re surrounded by people who love horses and hounds which are two of my favorite things!”

On her 20th birthday, Mrs. Pam took Katlin away for the weekend to the Rolex Three-Day event in Kentucky, where she met an Olympian in the sport of eventing. She dreams of competing in the Rolex Three-Day event one day in jumping, cross country and dressage.

Now, Katlin currently works at a nearby veterinarian clinic and manages to squeeze in riding back at Palmer Home between classes and work. Upon graduation from MSU, Katlin has her eyes set on obtaining an international internship in Holland where she will complete a two-year residency focusing on Equine Surgery.

Katlin reflects on her life at Palmer Home for Children and her passion for horses and riding with an insightful thought about herself.

“One thing I’ve learned in my journey through Palmer and my career with horses is that I am a doer,” she said. “When things shouldn’t be able to work out and when the odds are stacked against me, I’ve had to just do. What other option did I have? Giving up has never been and will never be an option for me. I will always do what it takes to accomplish what I want.”