You can’t blame a guy for expecting a certain level of adoration and attention, especially after he’s just partnered with you to win a national title at the USEA American Eventing Championships.
Excel Star Pluto, an 8-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding, loaded onto the trailer just fine last Saturday for the 10-hour drive home to Elverson, Pennsylvania from the Kentucky Horse Park, where he and his owner, Kelly Beaver, won the Bates Preliminary Amateur Championship at the AEC. “Pluto” had been a little irritable as the week progressed, Beaver said, given that he’s used to being outside a lot at home. However, shortly into the journey from Kentucky to Pennsylvania, he started melting down. Sedation helped for much of the trip but with about 90 minutes to go, his ire was back up. Worried he might hurt himself or colic, Beaver hopped into the trailer to ride with him for the rest of the trip. Turns out, he just needed some attention.
“He’s even more high maintenance now that he knows he’s a champion,” Beaver said with a laugh, adding that once he was home and reunited with his donkey pal Jalapeno, all was well. “Sure enough, as soon as he was out of the trailer and back in his pasture, he was fine.”
Beaver, 42, and Pluto (Clarucci C—Fortuna R, Cum Laude Z) won the national championship by finishing with 34.3 total score after posting clear cross-country and stadium rounds, save for 0.4 time faults in each phase. Hot on their heels was Beaver’s close friend, Kathleen Bertuna and her Excel Star Harry with a 35.7.
“[Beaver and Bertuna] both rode beautifully,” said Courtney Cooper, who trains them. Cooper runs C Square Farm, a training and consignment sales business in Nottingham, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. arm of Excel Star Sporthorses, an international equine sales business.
“There are those people who are happy just to make it to the championships, which is great, and then there are those people who just want to finish, which is great, too,” Cooper said. “Then there are those people like [Beaver and Bertuna] who are there to compete and to get it done.”
Beaver and Bertuna walked the AEC stadium jumping course together, and Beaver said they kept telling each other that they had to finish “1-2,” knowing that if they both had clear rounds, they’d be standing on the podium together. Bertuna and Harry did have a clear round, Beaver said she and Pluto again posted no jumping faults but did have 0.4 time faults.
“Apparently, I’m the one-second wonder,” Beaver said with a hearty laugh. “Show jumping is my least favorite phase. He’s a very good jumper, but as we all know, a lot of times, the rider gets in the way. I felt like even if I had a rail or two, I still would have had a fantastic week, and I was still riding on a high from cross-country.
“With this sport, you have some bad luck sometimes and then sometimes, it all comes together. That’s what happened to me this week and it was an unbelievable result,” Beaver said. “It still feels a little surreal. And then I had to come back to real life.”
Real life for Beaver includes balancing a high-powered job as vice president of energy marketing and supply for UGI Energy Services, a company based in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, with training to pursue her elite-level aspirations in three-day eventing and ensuring she has plenty of quality time with her husband of 19 years, Seth Beaver, and their son Benjamin, 4. Life is busy, she said, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I was raised by two pretty powerful women,” she said. “My mom and my grandmother set the example that you just figure out a way to get it done. You put your head down, do your work, and good things will come to you. That’s how I was raised. It was never a question. I was going to do it all.”
Kelly’s mom, Karen Kase, lives 20 minutes from the Beavers’ 10-acre farm. She’s a former comptroller for a car dealer and raised Kelly while working full-time. Her grandmother, Ruth Hartman, was a standout softball player who went on to play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s. She also started the girls’ softball program at Reading High School, coaching that team for 16 years. She died in 2015.
Kelly, who began riding at the age of 6, took a break from horses when she headed to Lehigh University (Pennsylvania), where she was co-captain of the women’s softball team and from which she graduated with a degree in industrial engineering. She met her husband after college when both worked at UGI. It was Seth who convinced her to get back in the saddle.
“He knew I had an insane passion for horses,” she said. “We would be driving and pass a horse in a pasture, and I’d just start crying. He said, ‘Oh boy, I think we need to get a horse.’ “
Little did he know it, but he’d eventually have a few horses—and also become a competitive eventer himself (he’s competed through the preliminary level) with the skills to help Kelly with her horses. While he’d never ridden before meeting his wife, he was a longtime track, baseball, and basketball athlete and quickly took to riding, said Kelly, adding with a chuckle, “He’s annoyingly good at everything.
“I have an extra supportive husband,” she added. “Without having my family and the support system around me, there’s no way I could do it. He conditions horses when I can’t ride, and he’ll put a ride on them.”
For years, Kelly rode around her day job, either in the early morning before work or at night after a long day in the office, but the coronavirus pandemic turned her into a hybrid employee. That allows her to split her time between her home office and UGI’s offices, which has made it easier to train.
“If I have a gap between meetings, I can run out and ride. That’s been huge,” she said. “I don’t really work in an industry where people work remotely. Maybe the only positive to come from Covid was giving me more balance.”
Balance is something Kelly said she’s always striving to achieve, knowing from experience that she needs it to maintain an even keel. When she was pregnant with Benjamin and taking a break from riding for a couple months until his birth, her 18-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, Sempre Fino, with whom she’d competed through the advanced level, unexpectedly colicked and died.
“He was my heart horse,” she said. “I bought him to go preliminary, and he took me all the way to advanced. I fully intended to come back [after Benjamin’s birth] and ride him.”
After his death, she then threw herself into work, nearing the point of burnout she said, until Seth convinced her, again, to get back in the saddle.
“Seth said, ‘You need to get back to competing.’ He was right. I don’t have balance without it. I need to have these two very stressful, at least from the outside, things to keep me going. I don’t think I could be as good at either if I didn’t have both of them,” she said.
“Sometimes, if it’s been a tough day at work, I might not feel like riding,” she added. “But if I do ride, I never regret it. It’s such a release for me. It’s just in me. I have to have it. I can’t do anything casually. I’m type A to the Nth degree.”
She shares her passion for horses, and the trials and tribulations of training as an amateur athlete, with Bertuna, who she met several years ago through Cooper. They’ve developed a close friendship despite living more than 400 miles apart. They train together regularly and meet up at horse trials, eventing camps, and for cross-country schooling days. Bertuna, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Memorial Health System in Marietta, Ohio, said they understand and support each other through the unique challenges of balancing careers, family, and their love of horses.
“She really gives me a lot of confidence in making my goals,” Bertuna said of Kelly. “When you see people at similar stages of life and making these incredible accomplishments, it makes you realize it’s possible to ride at 5 in the morning or ride at dusk. When you have so many shared experiences and you have similar dreams, it gives you a lot of courage to fight for your dreams.”
“We’ve developed this kinship because of having so many similarities and trying to get through this craziness,” she said. “We’re both very competitive but very different in how we deal with it. She’s way more positive than me. I internalize stuff and beat myself up. I can get down pretty quickly. It’s nice to have that balance and see that [positivity] in someone else. It’s nice to have her to balance me out. I don’t ever feel like we’re competitive. We’re both very successful and doing this crazy thing together.”
Next up for Kelly and Pluto is the Plantation Field International Horse Trials CCI2*‐S (Pennsylvania), Sept. 21-25. She’s then pondering a move up to the intermediate level. But for a bit, she’s just happy to have some time at home with Seth and Benjamin, whose middle names are “Daniel Hobbs” after his grandfather and Sempre Fino, who was known as “Hobbs” around the barn. Benjamin has a pony named Quinn, on permanent lease from a neighbor, and recently won his first blue ribbon in a walk/trot leadline class.
Kelly doesn’t know whether he’ll ultimately share her passion for horses. She just hopes that, as her mother and grandmother demonstrated to her through their daily lives how to balance “it all,” she can reinforce to her son that you can pursue your dreams even when you’re busy with everyday life.
“I don’t know if he has the [horse] bug, but I do hope he has some sort of passion,” she said. “I don’t care if it’s horses or not. I just want him to love something as much as I love riding and horses. That’s my wish for him.”