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APHA

Passion Project

From supermodel to role model, Kate Upton shares how a love of horses helped her blaze new trails..

By Jessica Hein

Kate Upton’s sandy locks mingle with the chestnut highlights of her co-star, a sorrel-and-white tobiano mare. With her cheek pressed against the mare’s temple, Kate’s fingers softly stroke the horse’s silky coat, and the mare’s soft, liquid-chocolate eye begins to drift close as both beauties share a moment of calm connection on a Malibu beach, forgetting—almost—the swarm of photographers, assistants and directors on the other side of the camera.

The supermodel doesn’t struggle to muster the confidence she exudes in photo shoots, especially on equine-themed projects like her 2013 Sam Edelman ad campaign—she’s a horsewoman at heart, and Kate’s genuine love for the animals shines through as she merges a fruitful modeling career with the equestrian roots that started it all. Horses have always been a part of Kate’s life, and they not only helped launch her modeling career but also helped her foster new roles as equine ambassador and advocate for the Western lifestyle.

Now, Kate’s finding new opportunities to reconnect with that life while sharing the magicof horses with her young daughter. The barn, as always, is Kate’s respite, an escape from celebrity life if only for a few hours into a world of comfort accented by silky stands of mane trailing through her fingers and rich, earthy scents of warmed leather and alfalfa hay.

From Horseback to the World

Growing up in Florida, Kate was always horse crazy—she started riding at age 10 and shared a horse with her sister, Laura, before finally getting one to call her own: A Tad Of Scotch, a 1987 sorrel overo gelding. Step by step, the Upton sisters worked their way from 4-H foundations to the world championship shows and year-end national rankings with the American Paint Horse Association.

“Laura and I had such a drive and love of horses, and we just kept making it a big priority in our lives and showing and moving up level by level,” Kate said.

Little did Kate know, though, that her love of all things horses would lead to catwalks, flashbulbs and feature films. While traveling home from a horse show in Texas, 12-year-old Kate and her mom, Shelley, were stopped by a modeling agent in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, who was captivated by Kate’s natural beauty. They chose not to pursue the opportunity at that time, but it set the stage for a future in front of the camera.

“Ultimately, my mom felt I was too young and I still had a lot of growing to do—I was very short,” Kate said. “But it got in my mind at that time that maybe modeling was something I wanted to try when I was older.”

Three years later, Kate was ready to give it a shot and she signed with a Miami agency. Her all-American girl vibe, coupled with killer curves, helped Kate land consistent catalog-style jobs, but she wanted more. Gathering her reins, so to speak, Kate kicked her career into an all-out gallop at age 18 with a bold move: cold-calling a top modeling agency that could help her land bigger campaigns and create lasting name-recognition in an ultra-competitive market.

“My parents made it very clear to me that I could try modeling until I was 18, and then if I didn’t make a career out of it, I had to go to college. I was very driven to make it a career,” she said. For “My agent at the time saw me continuing the path I was on; I saw a different path, and I felt like I needed to mix it up and have some new energy.”

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This is an excerpt from the fall 2021 issue of Chrome—get Chrome magazine by becoming an APHA member at apha.com/join.

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