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Speaking of a dream ...

Her background in announcing and her knowledge of horses have led Katrina Bracewell to prominent status as an announcer for prestigious horse shows all over the country.

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 2, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- Katrina Bracewell once was that terrified little girl, clutching the threads out of her first blue ribbon. She knows the elation, and she has dedicated her second career to making others, little girls and adults alike, feel that way.

In the circles of competitive horse shows, the Brooksville resident is the ringmaster, and as an announcer for prestigious events all over the country, she has become as recognizable as the horses that she regales with pomp and poetry.

"I love this game, I love this sport," she said. "I've been riding and training horses for 30 years, ever since I talked my dad into buying me this green show mare. I could never have imagined it all would have turned into this."

Competitive horse-showing is an odd mix of athleticism and art. Arabians, quarterhorses, and other breeds are paced through preset routines and awarded subjective scores by judges. Bracewell's role is equally complex, part master of ceremonies, part color commentator.

"Having that job is hard," said Nancy Johnson, a former president of the Arabian Horse Association of Florida who gave Bracewell her start. "You have to have timely calls for announcements. You have ring calls for what's going on there, and barn calls to let people who will be competing know what is coming up, and you have to keep it all organized."

Bracewell, 41, developed a love of horses from an early age, but she had not intended for it to be a second career. The groundwork for her chosen career and life love was laid when she graduated from the University of South Florida with a broadcast journalism degree and took a job at WPLA radio in Plant City. Among some of her less-glamorous assignments was announcing the annual Strawberry Festival Parade -- until Johnson approached her seeking a favor in 1993.

"She needed some volunteer help and asked if I would announce the Thanksgiving show, which is one of the largest in the country," Bracewell said. "I said, "Oh, sure, I can do that,' and then I was in."

Johnson, a Brooksville resident who helped found the Bay Area Arabian Horse Club, said Bracewell's career and hobby made her the perfect choice.

"She had a background in announcing and an excellent background in horses," Johnson said. "It's important to have someone who knows what they are talking about. She has a pleasant voice and she can always add the extras to make it special."

Bracewell's interest and involvement grew, and she earned her chance to ply the national stage when a judge of shows in the Midwest saw her perform in Tampa and invited her to announce a 700-horse event in Springfield, Ill.

A member of the board that administered the upcoming 1997 national show in Albuquerque, N.M., saw her perform in Springfield, and invited her to that 2,500-horse event.

The rest has been a whirlwind of crossing the state and North America for shows large and small. From huge national events, such as the upcoming national championships in Louisville, Ky., to the show she announced this weekend near Gainesville, Bracewell said she derives her pleasure from making all entrants feel like champions.

"I always look for a name or something unusual," she said. "And I never say anything I do not mean. The people around the sport know I'm sincere."

Bracewell plays piano and writes poetry about horses. She also squirrels away certain passages for use in introducing horses that particularly inspire her.

Falcon, a champion Arabian at the United States Nationals, was one that drove her to verse.

"It was something I had read, and it just stuck in my head when I thought about him," she said. "So when I introduced him as champion, I quoted, "The horse can conquer without a sword and fly without wings.'

"At the finals of these big horse shows, everyone is in tuxedos and gowns and him out there just seemed to make it fit. I found out later his owners used that quote in their advertising of him as a stud. So at least I knew they were listening."

Johnson said they listen because they know the words will be worth hearing.

"She can make the personal comments because she has a knowledge of horses," Johnson said. "She has shown horses herself, and you realize how good different announcers are when you hear people like her."

Bracewell, who is unmarried and works for a Tampa insurance firm, lives with her parents, Opal and Dave -- a structural engineer who worked on Tropicana Field, the Ice Palace, and Raymond James Stadium -- on their 65-acre farm outside Brooksville. She is constantly reminded of her love for her "hobby" by the seven horses on the property.

"I'm still a rider," Bracewell said. "I guess I was a fortunate and favored child to have this stuff around me, but we still didn't have the cash to trot all over the nation.

"I told my mom I always wanted to go to nationals as a rider, but there are thousands and thousands of riders and only three announcers. It's my dream, just in a different package."

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