Kari Craft has been riding all her life

Source: Text by Courtney B. Ament • Photos by Tyson Howdyshell, Shane Rux and KC Montgomery

Kari and James Deen Daydream

“Kari Craft got her start on horseback early in life…very early in fact. She was riding horses before she was even born.

“My mom rode while she was pregnant with me,” Kari said. “Recently I was looking through some of my old baby stuff and found my baby book and saw where my mom had written all the notes from my first year. Beside the date Aug. 23, 1983, she wrote, ‘Kari’s first horse show,’ I was just two months old…little did she know what she was getting herself in to!”

Craft took to horses quickly and it wasn’t long before she was eating, breathing and sleeping anything to do with horses. At 7 she got her first pony named Rose as a Christmas present. Craft says the stubborn pony really taught her how to ride and she has been hooked ever since.

Kari’s parents, Bob and Deb Ellingson kept their daughter from the show pen for as long as they could, but after wearing them down she made her first AQHA debut at a show in Perry, Georgia when she was 10. When Kari turned 15 the Ellingson family enlisted the help of Madison, Georgia trainer Jason English to guide her and help her achieve some of her very lofty goals.

“ I’ve been training with Jason English since I was 15,” Craft said. “He’s the brother I never had and one of my life-long best friends. I trained with him while he was an assistant trainer for Michael Colvin and when he branched out on his own, I went with. He’s been there for me through everything. I wouldn’t trade him for anything.”

The Craft Family

Over the years Craft has ridden some pretty amazing horses but she says the two that stand out the most to her are Mostly Chocolate, a 2002 chestnut gelding by Huntin For Chocolate and out of Ms Coordinator.

Together they hauled across the country and were two-time Congress Champions, Reserve Congress Champions, three-time NSBA World Champions, 2-time NSBA Reserve World Champions and 2007 AQHA World Champions in Amateur Horsemanship; and ML Super Hotrod, a 2005 sorrel gelding by Too Sleepy To Zip. The two didn’t click immediately; in fact Craft says it took over a year for them to get in sync.

“Ryan’ was my first great pleasure horse. His 3-year-old year was tough because he was hard to get broke. He was a tough horse, but he still won quite a bit,” Craft recalled. “His 4-year-old year was great and we really started to click. We won the Amateur Pleasure under all judges at the Reichert Celebration that year and were seventh at the Congress in the Amateur Western Pleasure. We were really starting to understand each other when he injured himself in the turn out pen while he was playing and we lost him a month before I had my son. He was a truly amazing horse.”

This year Craft returned to the show pen with James Deen Daydream, a show partner she and English searched high and low for after the death of Ryan.

Kari and Mostly Chocolate

“I called dozens of trainers and we probably looked at 30 horses on videos, but there just wasn’t anything that made us think ‘yes this is the one,’” English said. “I stopped at Carl Yamber’s on the way to a show to look at a 2013 bay colt by Machine Made out of Miss Heartrodder. He wasn’t broke at all, head up in the air, couldn’t ride him with spurs, but I thought he could be the one so I sent a video to Kari. She only watched 10 seconds before she agreed.”

James Deen Daydream (Hotrod) was purchased and, like with Ryan, it took Craft some time to get to know her new show partner.

“Hotrod, he is very strong-willed and can be somewhat moody, but he is super adorable and I love love love him,” Craft gushed.

The team earned fourth place in the Limited division of the 3-Year-Old Non-Pro Western Pleasure at the 2016 Quarter Horse Congress and fifth in the Open Division. Craft will continue to show Hotrod in Amateur Western Pleasure and Maturity events this year and hopes to crack the Top 10 at the AQHA World Show in Amateur Western Pleasure.

Craft and her husband, Mitch met on the Gulf Shore of Alabama, where her family has a vacation home. They have been married for eight years and have a son, Brooks, 7. Craft is also the owner of the Crafty Momma Company that embroiders men’s dress socks for weddings and other special events. The dress socks are for groomsmen and are designed to match the bridesmaid’s dresses and have become a huge hit for cute photo opportunities.

She graduated from The University of Georgia with a degree in English Literature and even rode for the school’s NCEA National Championship Equestrian Team, but you can usually find her rooting for Auburn on Saturdays in the fall.

“We just pick a place and go and kind of fly by the seat of our pants while we are there,” Craft said. “It’s low key and we have so much fun exploring new places together as a family.”

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