Katie Cunningham Pokorny, founder of Lead-Up International, is a life long equine enthusiast, advocate for human and animal welfare and of non-violence. Katie grew up in the UK and studied at St. Mary’s Shaftesbury and London Guildhall University. In 1999, she travelled to Guatemala on holiday where she was offered work with horses. She now lives in Antigua, Guatemala with her husband and children where they own La Ronda Equestrian Center, birthplace to Lead-Up International.

Katie began training with Monty Roberts in 2006 and is at the internship level of her preparation to become a Monty Roberts instructor. In 2008, Katie and team brought Monty to Guatemala, organizing a demonstration and media coverage to spread the message of non-violence towards horses and humans.

Katie Cunningham and Queen Elizabeth

In 2012, Katie was awarded a certificate by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth for her efforts to reduce violence in the training of horses in Guatemala. Queen Elizabeth (Patron of Join-Up) believes that these concepts can change lives. She is following the development of this program due to her interest in the humane treatment of animals and trust-based relationships with humans.

This recognition inspired Katie to develop a Join-Up® inspired program in collaboration with the Brooke partner program ‘Equinos Sanos Para El Pueblo’ (Healthy Horses for the People) that would further reduce violence towards horses and humans by helping to shift deep-rooted attitudes and behaviors.

Lead-Up got its start in Guatemala. Violence is endemic throughout all levels of Guatemala – within families, within communities, and as a tool for obtaining and maintaining power in business, politics and civil society. Violence jeopardizes the country’s efforts and capacities to become a truly democratic country based on the rule of law where business and politics decision-making is transparent and accountable and human rights and civil society spaces are fully protected.

The most perilous risk for children in Guatemala is exposure to violence, either as a victim or perpetrator. (United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, 2012) (Gibbons, Cunningham, Paiz, Poelker, & Montufar Cardenas, 2015, p.37)

Attempts by the Guatemalan government and by USAID to reduce violence in Guatemala have been to a large extent unsuccessful. (Office of Inspector General, U.S. Agency for International Development, 2014; United States Department of State, 2013) (Gibbons, et al., 2015, p. 37-38)

Lead-Up had its official worldwide launch at the MRILC in Solvang, CA, in February 2017. The organizations goal is to see this hugely successful program launched in every country in the world and significantly reduce violence throughout the world.