Strides for Equality Equestrians and the U.S. Eventing Association Foundation have announced the first recipient of the Ever So Sweet Scholarship, Helen Casteel of Maryland. The bi-annual scholarship, which is the first of its kind, provides a fully funded opportunity for riders from diverse backgrounds to train with upper-level professionals.
Edy Rameika, Sara Kozumplik Murphy and Brian Murphy are providing the sponsored internship for Casteel and her horse, Unapproachable (barn name: Abel), to train with Sara and Brian at Overlook Farm Equestrian Center in Berryville, Virginia, for three months. The scholarship covers expenses for full board and training costs for Abel, several lessons per week, housing for Casteel, a stipend to cover living expenses, competition fees and coaching at competitions. Casteel has been partnered with Abel, a 13-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred, for seven years. He was a “young 6” when she got him, and they have worked hard together to successfully event at the novice level. Casteel and Abel competed at the American Eventing Championships in 2019. Casteel’s immediate goals include moving up to training level, which she is hopeful will be attainable because of the Ever So Sweet scholarship.
Casteel also will have the unique opportunity to learn to manage and care for upper-level horses and will be participating as part of the team in all aspects of running a large, competitive barn. She said the horse care and management part of being in a high-performance program is one of the things she is looking forward to the most. She is eager to learn about the therapies and maintenance the horses receive to keep them healthy and sound. Casteel also wants to learn the art and science that goes into choosing a good horse: What do top riders look for when they are shopping, and how does one choose the best equine partner for their level and circumstances?
Casteel’s goals also include playing an active role in fostering a more inclusive environment within the sport. The scholarship will provide Casteel the opportunity to make professional connections, which will not only help her as an individual, but will contribute to improving access and opportunities for other BIPOC riders. “Though I, personally, have been fortunate in my circumstance, I still feel that as a Black woman, I can contribute to the conversation and the solution,” Casteel said. “The opportunities to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the equine world and sport can fall into two buckets—exposure and opportunity.”
Casteel will be an ambassador for the Ever So Sweet scholarship, which is part of the Professional Pathways programs SEE is developing. “If we continue to actively prioritize inclusion and highlight participation of people of color and LGBTQ+ peoples, we will see the profile of not just eventing but all equestrian sports rise,” Casteel wrote in her application essay.
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