McLain Ward with his retired 2015 Pan American Games gold medalist Rothchild, Hunt Tosh on his daughter Maddie Tosh’s first small pony Flashback, the late Nancy Whitehead and her stallion Roc USA, former five-star event horse Clip Clop and owner Madison Foote, 7-year-old Ella Heineking and her walk-trot-canter partner Black Eyed Pea: What do such an eclectic list of names have in common?
All are among the 325-plus entries for the $50,000 WEC “Ride For David” Grand Prix being held Saturday at World Equestrian Center—Ohio.
After grand prix rider David Beisel’s fall on March 12 at WEC—Ohio, which left him with a damaged disc in between his C3 and C4 vertebrae, the show’s community, show manager TJ Campbell and the owners of WEC, the Roberts family, set up a grand prix in his honor. The Roberts increased prize money for the class by $20,000 and decided all entry fees for the class will be donated directly to the Beisel family.
Twenty-four horses and riders are scheduled to actually jump in the Saturday class, but the show opened the class to non-competing entries as well—and saw hundreds more pay the entry fee solely to support Beisel, his wife Paige and their children Izzy and Cooper.
“The non-competing thing is something that we talked a little bit about in advance. We didn’t make a big play on advertising for it,” Campbell said. “We figured if somebody wanted to enter and donate, we would allow it.
“And then we got an influx of phone calls from trainers and riders who wanted to be on the start list for the class [and] wanted to be supportive,” he continued. “It was a big group out of Texas. David has some close friends—Martien van de Hoeven and Trapp O’Neal are close to David—so they were sort of the first groups to call and said, ‘You know, we really want to help with the cause. We’ve already donated to the GoFundMe. We want to enter horses but not compete.’ And so, we said, ‘OK, great. We’ll make it work.’ ”
From there, it gained momentum. People paid $900 each to have their names on the start list—$50 of which goes to office fees and $850 to the Beisels. As of press time, the class has raised over $275,000 for the family.
The list is remarkable not just for its length but for its diversity, in both age and experience. Some entrants have long since retired; others are not yet out of diapers. (The youngest rider on the list, Lucy Murray, turns 8 months old on show day.) Some are champion hunters and jumpers; others haven’t graduated to jumping yet. Among them are hunters—including 2018 USHJA International Hunter Derby champion Private Practice and 2022 $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular winner Mon Tresor—and top riders from every ring, including Eddie Macken, Margie Engle, Laura Kraut, Shane Sweetnam, Lillie Keenan, Darragh Kenny, Sam Schaefer, Jimmy Torano and family, Eve Jobs, and more joined Ward in entering.
“Even a group of in-gate people, organized through Patrick Duncan, they put a group of guys together to enter a horse’s name and their group from WEF to try to be a part of it,” Campbell said. “So, it is pretty great. McLain is definitely [with] the Rothchild horse—it’s a very special thing, to see them. I mean, honestly, just everyone coming together has been a huge thing for me. So many of these guys reaching out, even though some of them haven’t had an opportunity to show with us or anything like that.”
After David’s Texas supporters entered, bumping the start list to 58, Campbell got inspired to dream a bit bigger.
“I thought to myself, ‘This is amazing.’ How great would it be to have 75 or 100 to send to David and say, ‘These are the people,’ to make the list look full [and] nice with different support?” Campbell said Friday. “I thought we would never get there. And then at the close of business yesterday, we were at 170. So, I posted online. I’m like, ‘We’re at 170, we’d love to get to 200.’ And within 30 minutes of me posting it, my phone was ringing off the hook; Facebook messenger was going off; [I received] new friend requests on Facebook and on Instagram of people messaging me wanting to get in. And [to] come back in this morning, and we start working again, and we’re at 244 now.”
Some people got creative in their entries, entering David himself on horses past and present. One entry is for his daughter, Izzy, aboard his former grand prix mount Ammeretto.
“Somebody entered [the] horse I won my first grand prix on,” Irish Hunt, David said. “He’s still living at the farm, too. I don’t know how old he is, but he’s old.”
People used this class as an opportunity to pay tribute as well: Coneja, Karen and Blair Cudmore’s grand prix jumper who died in a barn fire in Feb. 3, will be on one last start list. Whitehead, who died earlier this week, is listed with her 2015 U.S. Equestrian Federation leading hunter breeding sire. Louise Serio is entered on her 1980s champion Harbor Bay. Cassandra Kahle, who suffered a traumatic brain injury from a fall at HITS Ocala on Jan. 29, is partnered with her 2021 $100,000 Forrester Tractor Grand Prix de Penn National winner Pyrenes De Louzes while she, like David, goes through in-patient rehabilitation.
“David was in tears, as well as Paige,” Campbell said. “They’re overwhelmed with the response that the class has taken. I mean, they’ve been overwhelmed with the GoFundMe support, and now the support of this. They never imagined that all these people would step up and even enter to either compete or just enter to be supportive and have their name on the class list. They were in complete shock when they saw the numbers growing and growing and growing, and all of their friends and then people that they don’t even know that well or don’t know at all, just stepping up to enter to support them through this—[it] has been entirely overwhelming for them.”
“I had no idea it would turn into something like this. It’s crazy fun,” David said. “I loved every one; every one is so special to see each person’s support. It really is.”
David has progressed to walking with a walker on his own and has started practicing stairs in physical therapy.
“I’m flying up and down the hallway on a walker now, which is pretty cool,” he said. “I’m totally on my own two feet, although maybe a little wobbly, but it’s on my own two feet nonetheless.
“I get to head home next Thursday, so just in time for Easter,” he added. “Then they’ll do in-home therapy for a couple weeks and then I guess outpatient therapy after that.”
Though David is unable to make Saturday’s grand prix, which starts at 7 p.m. local time, Izzy and Cooper plan to be there to represent the family while David watches on the livestream.
“I’d certainly like to say thank you to TJ Campbell for getting the ball rolling on this,” he said. “I mean, what a great idea. It certainly snowballed into something huge and crazy and fun, and it really makes me smile.”