KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Carson Kressley has made quite a name for himself in television.
He owns a primetime Emmy for his role on “Queer Eye for a Straight Guy” and was recognized as a fan favorite on “Dancing with the Stars.” In addition, he’s starred in “Carson-Nation,” a one-hour reality show, and hosted “How to Look Good Naked.”
Every fall, he makes his way to Kansas City to take part in the United Professional Horsemen’s Association’s National Championship, which takes place annually during the American Royal. The Kansas City event continues during the UPHA’s showcase event, which takes place Tuesday, Nov. 12-Saturday, Nov. 16. The best saddlebreds, Hackney ponies and road horses from chapters across the country converge on Kansas City to compete for nearly $200,000 and the national championship.
“I was raised in a part of Pennsylvania that is a real horsey area,” Kressley said. “My grandparents were in the horse business and had a pony farm. I thought it was normal to have 100 ponies in your yard.
“When you grow up that way, the one thing you want is a horse. When I was a teenager, I got a saddlebred horse for myself; I’ve been competing ever since then.”
It surely explains Kressley’s passion for horses and why he competes on saddlebreds. In fact, he owns the 2009 Amateur Gentlemen’s 5-Gaited world championship with his mount, Enchanted Memories, during a show in Louisville, Ky. So in addition to being an award-winning celebrity, Kressley is an award-winning equestrian.
“Winning an Emmy was something I never dreamed of, so when that happened, I thought it was cool,” he said. “I am very honored to have that and to be recognized for the work I do.
“But winning the world championship with one of my horses was more of a dream come true. Growing up, that was something I focused on. It was a longtime dream, so when I won it, it really meant so much to me.”
How far does Kressley’s passion for horses lie? In addition to showing horses, he is a trustee for the American Saddlebred Museum in Lexington, Ky. He estimates he’s competed at the American Royal for much of the past 25 years.
“For the saddlebred breed, the American Royal is the event,” Kressley said. “It is the last leg of our Triple Crown, so doing well there is a real accomplishment.”
The week at the American Royal begins with Missouri-Kansas Night on Tuesday, followed by the Junior Challenge Cup National Equitation Championship Wednesday. The UPHA Classic Grand Championships are Thursday, while the Amateur and Junior Rider National Championships and the Open, Amateur and Junior Rider National Championships take place Friday.
The final day is chalk full of prestigious events, from the USEF Saddle Seat Medal Final beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday, followed by the National Championship Matinee at 11 a.m. The American Royal’s Fall Festival concludes with the National Championship Stake Night, featuring the crowning of national champions in 14 classes. This is the 11th year that the American Royal has hosted the UPHA’s national title event.
“I think Kansas City is great,” Kressley said. “When I tell people back in New York that I’m going to Kansas City, they ask me what there is to do there, and I’m always thrilled to tell them the amazing things that are in Kansas City. The people are so gracious.
“Winning in Kemper Arena is a thrill. It’s a trip my family and I look forward to every year.”
Of course, none of it is possible without that passion that has been instilled in his heart since birth. From watching his grandparents’ Hackney ponies to beginning to show saddlebreds, horses are at the heart of who Kressley is.
“I just think they’re really, really beautiful,” he said. “I have a high-paced job, and I’m always traveling around. When you’re with horses, you have to be focused. You have to be tuned into your equestrian side. You don’t have time to think about anything else, and I like that.
“Besides the incredible horses, it’s an incredibly social sport. It’s very much like a second family. The people that compete with me are people I have known since I was a little kid. We have a great time socially, and we do a lot of things in the community, which is really gratifying.”
So is being able to show such a majestic animal.
“I’m biased, but I think they’re the most beautiful and athletic breed of horses,” Kressley said of saddlebreds. “They are the supermodels of the show ring. They’re really exotic and extravagant. I’m kind of a beauty junky, so they really appeal to me.”