He’s ridden at the Olympic Games, but dressage competitor Jan Ebeling cheers on son Ben from behind the lens of a video camera like any other proud horse show parent.
At the National Fall Preview Horse Show, Oct. 30 – Nov. 2 in Los Angeles, Jan and wife Amy watched Ben speed through jumper courses at the 13-year-old’s first recognized competition. And after a hiccup or two, Ben and his mount of just two months, Scarlett, brought home blue ribbons in a low children’s/adult jumper and children’s jumper class.
The son of two dressage professionals, Ben grew up playing hide-and-go-seek with horses and goofing off with his pony, Bernie, at his family’s training facility, The Acres, in Moorpark, Calif. At 6, Ben asked to take his first riding lesson and proved to be a natural in the saddle.
“He was able to do a little bit of dressage with [Bernie] and learn a little from his dad and I about how to put a difficult pony on the bit,” said Amy. “We also told him early on that we weren’t going to let him start jumping until he could ride Jan’s bigger horses on the bit because we felt that it would be safer for him and better for the horses, too.
“Of course, when he first got his pony, we were scared to death of him riding on his own, so I would stand on one side of the arena, and Jan would stand on the other side, and we would shout things like, ‘Have your pony rounder!’ and ‘Shorten your reins!’ ” she continued. “So that lasted about a week, and finally [Ben] was like, ‘Guys, you just can’t do this!’ and that was when we weren’t allowed to work with him anymore.”
But the early dressage training from his parents paid off as Ben began training in the hunters and jumpers with Wynn Morrow and Will Simpson.
“Ben has always been a kid who loves to go fast and jump high,” said Amy, who embraced her son’s diversion from his parents’ discipline.
The Ebelings' main goal has always been to make riding fun for Ben, who has only competed in about five local horse shows and takes jumping lessons three times per week.
“We have a dressage farm, so when Ben was ready to start jumping, we took one of our pastures and turned it into a jumping arena, and we’ve got Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker jumps out there because he was big into Star Wars when he was about 8,” said Amy.
Ben began leasing Scarlett, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood owned by Steven Wayda, in September after outgrowing Bernie and has already bonded deeply with the mare. This was the pair’s first competition together.
“[Jan and I] were both shocked and amazed at how comfortable he looked jumping these high fences [at the Fall Preview Show],” said Amy.
But it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Ben shows natural talent on horseback. When he isn’t at home learning the ins and outs of owning and operating a farm, he travels the world to support his father and the rest of the U.S. dressage team at competitions like the FEI World Cup, CHIO Aachen (Germany) and the 2012 London Olympic Games.
“He’s been very lucky to be at these shows where they have top-level jumping as well,” said Amy. “We’ve been able to expose him to some of the top riders in the world. Now it’s his choice to make it happen for himself. He’s put in all of the hard work, and now he’s seeing the reward.”
Ben plays club soccer at his school when he isn’t in the saddle, but his mind rarely strays from horses for long. In his spare time, he volunteers at a local therapeutic riding facility, teaching handicapped children to ride.
“This has been kind of one of those moments when you’re a mom where you feel that everything is coming together for your child,” said Amy. “Jan and I can’t wait to see what he can achieve next.”