By Jessica Schley
If necessity is the mother of invention, what, then, is the mother of re-invention? This is a question that Katja Elk — entertainment executive turned horse trainer turned life coach — is seeking to answer by integrating all three of these seemingly separate career paths into one.
Elk moved to the Santa Ynez Valley in 2001 to start over. Her flashy life in Los Angeles had crumbled into ruin. More than a decade of fast-paced, high-demand and high-adrenaline television and advertising work with Disney, Paramount and others had taken its toll on her health and stamina. She had ended up in a wheelchair, with no clear diagnosis.
It was clear that she was never going back to her former career, and no one was sure whether she would ever make it back into the saddle, either. She had been a life-long and very accomplished international dressage rider before, and during, her career in Los Angeles.
No one was sure except Elk. She knew that horses were the key to her health, her connection to what mattered most to her, and what gave her the most meaning in life. Horses and riding, moving home to Germany, and a career change eventually returned her to peak health.
Now, after starting over nearly 20 years ago as a professional horse trainer, she’s taken a step back toward the executive suite — only this time, as a coach who can help younger entertainment execs avoid the too-common crash and burn that she experienced.
A chance meeting and conversation with famed “Horse Whisperer” Monty Roberts at a clinic in Germany brought her back to California after her recovery, in 2001. Discovering the Santa Ynez Valley, she made the Central Coast her permanent home. It reminded her of the village she grew up riding in, near the Baltic Sea — full of friendly people and horses. She studied and then taught at Roberts’ Join-Up International Learning Center, swiftly became a certified instructor, then worked at the farm for several years.
But horse training and riding lessons were not fulfilling all of her aspirations. The work was rewarding, challenging and full of personal discoveries, but it was missing something.
“I was frequently hitting up against a wall in the area of interpersonal communication. The horse part was working great, but the human part was lacking a piece of the puzzle,” she said.
In 2014, Elk again pivoted her career to seek out that missing puzzle piece. This time, she focused intensely on the human aspect, studying under master life coach Martha Beck (of Oprah Winfrey fame), who was at the time located in Arroyo Grande.
Before long, she was helping to host life-coaching sessions at Beck’s ranch that included an equine element. Now a certified master life instructor, Elk focuses her work on “what we as humans can learn from horses about fear, loss of connection, and living a more peaceful life.”
For more information, go to www.windhorsecoaching.net.