A native of southern California, at the age of 15 Kay began as a working student for Liz and Lew Helms at the Los Angeles Children's Riding Center. Through Lew Helm's contacts, her outside influences included Jimmy Williams, Clyde Kennedy, and Gene Lewis. Within a few years she was teaching lessons, riding, competing successfully on the “A” circuit, and for the ensuing ten years was head instructor at Ahead With Horses, a riding program for the disabled.
Kay studied Animal Science and Journalism at California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo, where she was the captain of the intercollegiate equestrian team as well as manager of the intercollegiate horse shows held on campus. .