Seattle litigator Kevin Baumgardner finds the secret to stress relief—on horseback
Published in 2019 Washington Super Lawyers magazine
By Susan G. Hauser on June 24, 2019
Kevin Baumgardner was 30 years old when he sat on a horse for the first time. Not quite four years later, in April 1993, he participated in his first cross-country competition in the equestrian sport of eventing.
The ride didn’t go exactly as planned, but his advancement in the U.S. Eventing Association outpaced expectations. In 2010, in his letter signing off after his term as USEA president, Baumgardner described his inauspicious 1993 debut.
“My horse chose the occasion to come to a neat stop,” he wrote, “like a car that had been expertly angle-parked, right in front of the very first competition cross-country jump of my life, and then added insult to injury by swiveling his head around and giving me a look that said, in equal parts, ‘Surprise!’ and ‘Can’t you do better than that?’”
Baumgardner, a founding partner of Seattle’s Corr Cronin—which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year—used his position as USEA president to bring changes that made competitions safer for both horse and rider.
Before he first slipped into the saddle, Baumgardner’s favorite sport was mountaineering, which he enjoyed with his wife, fellow lawyer Gretchen Fanning Baumgardner. “But she wasn’t as interested in doing it as intensely as I was,” he says. After he summited North America’s tallest peak, Alaska’s Denali, Gretchen suggested it was a good time for something new.
“We started going [horseback riding] once a week,” he says. “It became sort of an all-consuming passion.”
In 1992, they watched the Barcelona Olympics on TV for the three eventing areas: dressage, cross-country and show-jumping. When they moved to Vashon Island, they discovered a neighbor, Fran O’Reilly, was an eventer. They signed up for her classes.
What most surprised Baumgardner was that, after the thrills and challenges of mountaineering, he was experiencing similar thrills and challenges, but as part of a team.
“When you and your horse perform well over a tough cross-country course, the two of you can establish an unshakeable bond that is built on mutual trust as well as shared exhilaration and accomplishment. “That is a wonderful and somewhat addictive feeling. I seriously doubt that a person can experience a more profound sense of communication and comradeship with an animal.”
Back then, Baumgardner rode the ferry to Seattle to practice law, headed straight for the barn to ride the horses once home, then ate dinner and turned in for the night.
At the office, Baumgardner practices personal injury and class action defense. He has successfully represented clients ranging from an Olympic medalist in a disciplinary proceeding to people facing retaliation claims from ex-employees.
“I think of horses as an antidote to the occasional frustrations of being a lawyer,” says Baumgardner, who discovered he could shed the day’s tensions just by hearing the horses nicker. Now, he’s down to one horse, Wembley. He and his wife live in a Seattle apartment during the week, while the horse is with its trainer in Southern California. Baumgardner doesn’t get down there as often as he’d like, but he rides Wembley in at least one competition a year to keep up his 26-year streak.
Working with horses may have helped Baumgardner handle the stresses of his law career, but practicing law positioned him for achieving the USEA presidency. “Being a lawyer, you quickly get drafted into being part of the administrative organizations,” he says.
Still active in the organization, he is drawn anywhere there are horses. Not that he doesn’t have other interests. For example, he and his wife took a recent vacation to go on an African safari.
In 2007 and early 2008, when Kevin Baumgardner was only a few months into his presidency of the U.S. Eventing Association, several horses and riders suffered serious—and in some cases fatal—injuries while competing in the sport.
His leadership in implementing measures to keep both humans and horses safe is his legacy.
• Tighter requirements for advancement to higher levels
• Empowerment of course officials to halt and penalize dangerous riding
• Requirement for frangible (collapsible) fences at certain jumps
• A $1 surcharge added to competition fees to fund horse-health studies
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