It was eight years ago when the O’Neals first started breeding event horses, and they have been hooked ever since. “The whole process of watching them grow from foals to taking them to their first event to competing internationally for the first time is hugely rewarding. It’s also interesting for us as professional riders because if we breed and produce a horse to 4 years old it is a fraction of the cost of importing a 4-year-old of the same quality and it's one that we have produced and know well,” said Ellie O’Neal.
Ellie and Alex O’Neal, the husband/wife duo, are based out of Ocala, Florida where they train, source, sell, and breed top event horses out of Redtail Ridge Farm South. Not only do they compete at the upper levels of eventing but, they are also active competitors in the USEA Young Event Horse Program (YEH) and USEA Future Event Horse Program (FEH). Highlighting American breeders, the FEH program evaluates the potential of yearlings, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and 4-year-olds to become successful upper-level event horses.
Every homebred of the O’Neals is stamped with the prefix of Redtail. Now, with over 12 Redtail horses registered in the USEA database, Ellie explained the significance behind the name. “My family’s farm in Columbus, Ohio that I grew up on and since sold was called Redtail Ridge Farm and we operate our business, O’Neal Equestrian, out of Redtail Ridge Farm South in Ocala, FL. So, we use the prefix Redtail on all the horses we breed to represent my family’s farm.”
From the first foal they bred to now, the inspiration for their breeding starts with the mare. “We always start with a good quality mare and go into it with the mentality that we would be fine just getting a clone of what the mare is. So, you hope to improve on some things by breeding to a stallion that is strong in her weak areas, but at the end of the day, you have to be ok with having another replica of your mare. We always want at least one of the parents to have competed at the upper levels of eventing or show jumping and to bring a decent amount of blood to the equation.
“Once we find a stallion that we like we usually pay more attention to his offspring than the actual stallion. If he is young and doesn’t have much offspring yet, we look at any relatives of the stallion and their offspring. If we see a lot of offspring from a stallion that all look and go differently, we make sure to breed him to our best mare to hope to carry more of her qualities through, whereas if there is a stallion that really stamps his progeny we would use him on a mare that is less proven.”
Their homebreds are all American bred, and Ellie explained how they produce the same competitive quality as imported horses. “Every time we breed, we are keeping the Thoroughbred blood at least 50 percent with either the mare or stallion or both having competed at the upper levels in the hopes of producing an upper-level event horse, but we are also careful to pay attention to temperament and behavior so that they can also have a job with a young rider or amateur.”
“We have a few very exciting weanlings and yearlings at the moment. We have five under the age of 2 and they are all out of CCI4* level mares, so we are very excited to see how they develop. Two of them are by our Thoroughbred stallion, Redtail Achiever, who we stand at stud and compete in eventing. They are very nice types with great temperaments so, again, if they do not end up being as talented as we hope, we think they will be lovely young rider/amateur type horses. That’s the great part about Redtail Achiever, he adds blood and quality Thoroughbred lines to our event horses, but he has a great attitude and is lovely to ride so he’s also a good cross with lower-level horses.”
Redtail Achiever (Bernardini x Nana Knows), the 7-year-old Thoroughbred stallion owned by Ellie O’Neal and ridden by Alex O’Neal, competed in the USEA YEH Championships in 2019 as a 4-year-old and in 2020 as a 5-year-old. He also recently won the Open Preliminary division at the Ocala Winter I Horse Trials in February 2022.
For future breeders, Ellie shared several tips. “Make sure you’re in love with the mare that you intend to breed and have realistic expectations for the foal. Some of the best-bred horses have no desire to be upper-level horses so make sure you stay flexible in your expectations and have a backup plan if they don’t want to be the sport horse you want them to. We are big believers that there is a job for every horse, but they are all individuals and sometimes you have to put your own goals aside and listen to what they want to do.”
“It’s a long road so staying open-minded and keeping your sense of humor is crucial!” concluded Ellie.
About the USEA Future Event Horse Program
The USEA introduced the Future Event Horse Program in 2007 in response to the popularity of the already established USEA Young Event Horse Program. Where the YEH program assesses 4- and 5-year-old prospective event horses based on their performance, the FEH program evaluates yearlings, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and 4-year-olds for their potential for the sport based on conformation and type. Yearlings, 2-year-olds, and 3-year-olds are presented in-hand while 4-year-olds are presented under saddle at the walk, trot, and canter before being stripped of their tack and evaluated on their conformation. Divisions are separated by year and gender. At the Championships, 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds are also required to demonstrate their potential over fences in an additional free-jump division. Click here to learn more about the Future Event Horse Program.
About the USEA Young Event Horse Program
The Young Event Horse (YEH) Program was first established in 2004 as an eventing talent search. Much like similar programs in Europe, the YEH program was designed to identify young horses aged four and five, that possess the talent and disposition to, with proper training, excel at the uppermost levels of the sport. The ultimate goal of the program is to distinguish horses with the potential to compete at the four- and five-star levels, but many fine horses that excel at the lower levels are also showcased by the program.
The YEH program provides an opportunity for breeders and owners to exhibit the potential of their young horses while encouraging the breeding and development of top event horses for the future. The program rewards horses who are educated and prepared in a correct and progressive manner. At qualifying events, youngsters complete a dressage test and a jumping/galloping/general impression phase. At Championships, young horses are also evaluated on their conformation in addition to the dressage test and jumping/galloping/general impression phase. Click here to learn more about the Young Event Horse Program.
The USEA would like to thank Bates Saddles, SmartPak, Standlee, Parker Equine Insurance, Saratoga Horseworks, and The Jockey Club for sponsoring the Young Event Horse Program. Additionally, the USEA would like to thank The Dutta Corp., Title Sponsor of the Young Event Horse Championships.
The countdown is on for the 2022 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds! This year, the USEA AEC moves to the beautiful Rebecca Farm in Kalispell, Montana. The AEC will move back to the Kentucky Horse Park in 2023, so if you have ever dreamed of riding in the Flathead Valley of Montana with views of Glacier National Park, you won’t want to miss this year’s very special opportunity.
USEA Podcast host Nicole Brown is joined by USEA CEO Rob Burk and USEA President Max Corcoran to look back on the highlights of the season so far. From the big five-stars to the road to Pratoni and what to look forward to this year.
When Auburn University’s Alayna Backel jumped the final jump on her cross-country course today you couldn’t even hear the announcer over the mob of Auburn students, fans, and family members standing at the finish flags. As the last member of the Auburn War Eagles team to compete at the 2022 USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Championships, Backel’s double-clear cross-country round with Amy Dobbins’ 17-year-old Halflinger gelding Oliver Twist (Aurora x Ludora de Las Perlas) solidified Auburn’s first victory at the Intercollegiate Championships in three years on a cumulative team score of 79.23.
It has been three years since Auburn University has clinched the title of USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Champions, but the team aimed to rectify that at the 2022 Championships by sending six teams to compete, one of which, the Auburn War Eagles, sits in the pole position following the first day of competition.