To say it’s been a tough month for Gwyneth Babington would be an understatement. Her father, Kevin Babington, injured his spinal cord in a serious fall at the Hampton Classic (New York) on Aug. 30 and spent the last month in the hospital before being transferred to a rehabilitation center. But despite everything, Kevin encouraged his daughter to continue with her fall show schedule, and she channeled her focus to bring home the championship in the 15-year-old equitation division at the Capital Challenge Horse Show, in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, on Sept. 28.
“He was very adamant that he wanted me to go to all the finals and make sure I didn’t miss out on that,” said Gwyneth, 16. “It’s been really helpful for me because I love horses, and I use them as my outlet for everything, so I get to really focus on that, and then when it goes well I have something to tell him. He’s really excited to watch the live stream.”
Gwyneth collected the equitation tricolor aboard Esta Loca Van Schulterschof, owned by John Brennan and Missy Clark of North Run. She started riding the Belgian Warmblood (Diarado—Freestyle Vit Polderhof) at the beginning of the year, and she’s developed him throughout the season.
“He was really spectacular, and I knew that he would definitely become really nice, so I was super excited to get to work with him,” she said. “They were really generous letting me kind of give him his first year of experience.”
Gwyneth, Allentown, New Jersey, is fairly new to the equitation. She’s grown up showing in the jumpers with the occasional hunter—often a catch-ride—but she didn’t start pursuing equitation until last year. That’s when she enlisted Val Renihan’s help during the winter season in Florida and at horse shows.
“I love that in her barn I pretty much only focus on the equitation and sometimes hunters, because I just go there for my equitation lessons, and really that’s all I’m thinking about when I’m there,” Gwyneth said. “Since I train with her, and my mom [Dianna Babington] also does half of my equitation training, it’s nice to have two different set of eyes, and it’s nice to get to comprehend the same thing from different people. Every trainer has a different style, so that’s what I really like. I feel like I get the best of both worlds.”
Dianna usually trains the equitation students in the family business, and Gwyneth said Kevin hadn’t shown much interest in that ring until she started doing the classes.
“It matters to him now,” she said. “It never would’ve mattered to him before, but now that I’m doing it he cares about the equitation, and he wants to know how prestigious every event is, and it’s really nice.”
Since her father’s accident, Gwyneth has been touched by the outpouring of support the horse community has given her family.
“Honestly it’s kind of an indescribable feeling,” she said. “When we started the fundraisers, we didn’t really know what the feedback would be, and it’s kind of been a surreal experience. My dad is a really well-liked person. All of the professionals all the time tell me stories, and all his friends like to tell me what a great guy he is, and that’s really nice, but you never expect to see the evidence of it. So every time I think it’s going to slow down for a second, someone comes out with a new product [to raise money for Kevin’s recovery or show support]. There are jumps and bows and treats, and it’s overwhelming. I think I’ve probably missed some of the things that people have done because it’s just so much. You don’t expect it, and it’s amazing. I’ve never seen support for someone like this in any industry, but it’s a testament to how special he is.”
Gwyneth is qualified for all the big East Coast equitation finals this fall and will head to the Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search Finals—East (New Jersey) next.