New partnerships and old friendships pay off with a training level team win in California.
Most people attempting a new level for the first time keep their goals modest—finish on their dressage score or finish in the top 10 perhaps—but during the Shepherd Ranch Horse Trials in Santa Ynez, Calif., held Aug. 23-25, the four members of the winning training team at The Chronicle of the Horse/USEA Western Adult Team Challenge surpassed their modest goal of completing to take the win with four new partnerships.
The majority of the teams competing at the ATCs were compiled by show secretary Ronnie Thielmann and the Area VI Adult Rider Coordinator Dawn Robbins (see sidebar) but this winning team of Thielmann and Olano, Erin Halley and Fail Safe, Susan Roehl and Second Wind, and DeDe McCoy and No Regrets had planned on riding together for some time.
“[DeDe, Susan, and I] all know each other through our involvement with Shepherd Ranch, and then I know Erin because [her coach] Debbie Rosen coaches me at shows. So I acquired her for our team,” said Thielmann with a smile.
Thielmann, 33, Bakersfield, Calif., and her 7-year-old chestnut Trakehner gelding Olano were going training level for the first time. Thielmann bought the gelding as a green 5-year-old, and they finished on their dressage score of 32.3.
“He’s carting my ammy-owner self around like a rock star,” she said. “Which he is.”
Halley and her mount had both independently competed at the preliminary level previously, but their partnership was only three weeks old at the ATCs. The 34-year-old from Malibu, Calif., wasn’t looking to buy a horse when Rosen encouraged her to sit on the Thoroughbred gelding, but it was love at first ride.
“This whole experience [at the ATCs] was super fun,” said Halley. “I love this horse; he was awesome.”
McCoy, 43, has owned her 6-year-old Thoroughbred mare since she was fresh off the track as a 3-year-old, and this was their first training event also. The partnership hails from nearby Solvang, Calif., so they’re local to Shepherd Ranch and train with the farm’s head trainer, Bunnie Sexton.
McCoy did suffer a stop on cross-country but credited the team experience for helping pull her through. “This weekend was so much fun and had so much camaraderie. My weekend started high, went low, and now it’s high again,” she said. “This is such a great thing.”
Roehl, 52, of Santa Maria, Calif., was also contesting training for the first time with her Oldenburg mare Second Wind. The 15-year-old former broodmare has only been jumping for six months, and this was only her fifth event, but she performed well enough to clinch the win for their team.
Roehl was also a member of the winning preliminary team, but a bad asthma flare up cross-country morning left her rides on both mounts in doubt. “[On the prelim horse] every fence I wanted to quit, but you gotta love eventers, because I finished, and they all stepped in and took care of him for me, so I could go and get oxygen and medication so I could ride my training horse,” she said.
Roehl’s preliminary level horse, NVR Peter The Great, is a 21-year-old Percheron-Thoroughbred cross, leading her to joke, “I guess I can’t ride youngsters.”
Sexton owns Peter, who had competed at the preliminary level previously. After Peter underwent a second colic surgery last year, Roehl offered to rehab him and ended up getting the ride on the horse.
“It’s a lot of work to keep him comfortable and going, but he loves his job, and I think when they love it, they keep going,” she said. “I usually cry when I finish riding him because I’m so amazed by him. I call him Peter The Adorable.”
Roehl’s victorious preliminary teammates included Ruth Bley and Rodrigue Du Granit, Tristen Hooks and Learning To Fly, and Taurie Banks and Tribal King.
Banks’ weekend started out rocky when her APHA stallion was excused from dressage after pulling a muscle in his haunches. But the 45-year-old from Fillmore, Calif., functioned as the team’s chief cheerleader throughout the weekend. She first hatched the idea of compiling a team at the adult rider camp at Shepherd Ranch in early August. Banks, Roehl and Hooks agreed to ride together, and then Hooks reached out to Bley.
“Suz and I ride with Wendy Wergeles, and Suz knew Taurie. Then at Woodside I got to know Ruth, and we all said let’s do a team,” said Hooks, 49, from San Luis Obispo, Calif. Hooks was riding the 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood-Holsteiner owned by a vet school classmate of hers, Dr. Carter Judy, who acquired the horse as a youngster when he needed several surgeries.
“I’m so grateful to him for letting me ride ‘Fly, ’ ” she said. “This was the best show jumping ride ever for us. I’ve been working on it all this year, so I’m very happy.”
Bley’s partnership with her bay Selle Français is relatively new—she imported him from France in February—but they’ve gelled quickly. “I went to France on a buying trip with my trainer Yves Sauvignon, and I wanted something going, as I’d just had to retire a horse who had become neurologic. He’d done some prelims with a male rider, but he doesn’t love men. The [former rider’s] girlfriend keeps in touch and says, ‘I knew he was a ladies’ mount,’ ” said Bley, 54, from Castro Valley, Calif.
“He’s just fabulous,” she concluded.
Bley was also a member of the winning novice team aboard another horse she picked up on that buying trip to France, but the gray 5-year-old Holsteiner, Secret Story, wasn’t in the original plans.
“I was going to find [an already] going horse, but when I saw him, I just had to have him,” she said. “So he is my project, and the other one is my going one.”
Back For More At Novice
Bley’s novice team members included Max Gerdes and Rhythm Royale, Leslie LaBraque and Bengheera, and Sarah Bundgard and Thorin Son Of Thrane.
Like Bley, Gerdes, 48, of Brown’s Valley, Calif., was riding a “project horse.” The flashy chestnut Thoroughbred gelding he calls “the best project I have ever come across” finished his third event at Shepherd, after only a few months under saddle.
Bley and Gerdes had competed together on a preliminary ATC team some years ago, “and I always wanted to come back and do it again,” he said.
Bundgard, 24, of Hilmar, Calif., found her 7-year-old Thoroughbred last August. “He’s green, but I hope he’s my up-and-coming big time horse,” she said. “He’s like a big dog. He’s so sweet.
“I did the ATCs a few years ago. It’s so fun to do again and meet new people,” she added.
LaBraque’s 18-year-old chestnut mare’s unusual name means “jumping red spider” which fits the powerful jumper. “She’s competed through preliminary, and I’ve owned her for 10 years, so we’re family,” said LaBraque.
LaBraque, 52, from Ojai, Calif., had nothing but praise for the ATCs. “It’s a great way to meet new people who love the sport. Camaraderie, good food and great sportsmanship—it’s wonderful,” she said.
Way Out Ahead
In the beginner novice, Team A had a commanding victory, coming home 31.6 points ahead of the second-placed team. Elisabeth Mehner and Good Day Gali, Pamela Robins and Tuxedo Skips Sparkle, Sheryl North and Spirit Keeper, and Linda Betts and Willing Accomplice made up the team.
Robins, 45, Monte Nido, Calif., was thrilled with her 15-year-old Appendix Paint gelding, who won the senior beginner novice division as well as the team competition. “He felt great. It was so fun,” she said. “I loved the cross-country—I thought it was different but so fun.”
Robins trains with Mehner, 59, also of Monte Nido. She too was thrilled with her 11-year-old Thoroughbred’s performance. “It was awesome; I love my teammates,” she enthused. “I loved my rides; everything was very positive and lovely.”
Betts, 60, of Napa, Calif., and her 17-year-old Thoroughbred especially loved the show jumping course. “With all the twists and turns, it was like a super fun roller coaster. It rode great,” she said.
North, 55, from Los Angeles, called her 20-year-old Irish Draught “the sweetest soul” and described her horse and her weekend as “perfect.” “He’s my first event horse,” she said. “And he’s just wonderful.”
North had nothing but praise for the organizers of the ATC. “I went to the [adult rider] dinner on Saturday night and didn’t know anybody and got to know a bunch of people and all my teammates,” she said.
Dawn Robbins: Adult Rider Coordinator Extraordinaire
At every level, one theme emerged from participants at The Chronicle of the Horse/USEA Western Adult Team Championships: “Thank you to Dawn Robbins for all she does,” said DeDe McCoy. “She has resurrected the adult rider program in Area VI.”
Robbins, who has competed through the one-star level, took over the Area VI Adult Rider program three years ago and did so with a clear vision for what she wanted to accomplish.
“I feel like the adult rider needs greater recognition within the [U.S. Eventing Association]. They are the largest group; they contribute a huge amount financially to the sport, and they deserve a great deal of attention and opportunity,” she said.
The ATCs at Shepherd Ranch were a part of that plan. “I wanted it here,” said Robbins. “Because I know how much they’ve done to improve the courses and footing, and it’s in a fairly central location here in California.
“And, it’s the kind of place where people can get together and meet each other,” she continued. “We have so many great venues in California, but some of them are so huge. Here is an environment where adult riders can feel important and get the attention they deserve.”
Once the ATCs were set at Shepherd, Robbins went about drafting teams. She went to shows and camps, talking up the program, and then she worked with show secretary Ronnie Thielmann to put together teams, often comprised of complete strangers. She then organized an adult rider dinner at the competition to act as a meet-and-greet.
“As we were compiling entries we were commandeering people,” said Thielmann. “And Dawn was talking it up at all the shows and on social media.”
As a final example of her commitment to adult riders at every level, when Robbins found out that since the intro division is unrecognized, it wasn’t eligible for the regular ATC divisions, she took it upon herself to acquire sponsors and awards, including saddle pads, and neck ribbons, so that those riders wouldn’t feel left out.
“Dawn wouldn’t let them not be a part of it,” said Thielmann.
The winning intro team of Leah Forquer Raheja and Roxette, Maria Elena Golliday and Rough Draft, Lilly Keene and Abracadabra, and Nilda Mesistrano and The Flynn Effect were ecstatic to receive their ribbons and prizes.
Thanks to Robbins’ hard work, 18 teams competed at Shepherd Ranch, from intro to preliminary.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "First Timers Show How It’s Done At Western ATC" ran in the Sept. 9, 2013 issue.