May 14, 2024

Gamlin Reunites With Her Childhood Horse for One Last USEA Intercollegiate Championship

Claire Gamlin and Rebellious at the 2024 USEA Intercollegiate Championship. USEA/Meagan DeLisle photo

As competitors at the 2024 USEA Intercollegiate & Interscholastic Eventing Championships prepared for their cross-country rounds, they talked about jumps that might pose a challenge or were “scary,” said Claire Gamlin. But she wasn’t worried at all.

“I was just sitting around smiling, happy as could be, with complete faith that my horse was going to take care of me like he always does. He loves his job. I don’t think I’ll ever have a horse that gives it as much as he does,” said Gamlin, 22, who received a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering on Friday, May 3 from the University of Kentucky. She then drove through the night to Stable View in Aiken, South Carolina, where she competed May 4-5 in her final USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Championship with Rebellious, her 17-year-old Friesian-Quarter Horse gelding of unrecorded breeding.

“Getting to take ‘Rebel’ around and end my college riding career with the horse I’ve been eventing on since middle school was definitely a sweet experience,” added Gamlin, who hails from Spring Hill, Tennessee. “He’s a very good boy, and I’m lucky I got to learn from him.”

After walking in her graduation ceremony in Lexington, she hit the road with Rebel and Alohomora, her 10-year-old Oldenburg/Thoroughbred (High Cascade x Hope) mare named after the spell that unlocks doors in the Harry Potter book series. Rebel had recently joined Gamlin at school, as “Zivah” had suffered an injury and couldn’t compete at the championship.

After dropping off Zivah at Double H Farm in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, home of Jenni Hogan Dressage, Gamlin and Rebel kept on trucking. They arrived at Stable View at about 3 a.m., where Gamlin’s mother, Sherry Monroe, had set up Rebel’s stall. After getting Rebel settled and grabbing a few hours’ sleep, Gamlin was back at the show grounds early Saturday morning to prepare for dressage and cross-country at her final Intercollegiate Championship.

This year’s joint championships drew approximately 200 competitors, with the Intercollegiate Eventing Championship featuring teams from 18 universities and colleges. Auburn University’s War Eagle team won the championship, the university’s fourth (2018, 2019, 2022), while Kentucky’s Big Blue team were reserve champions, and the Virginia Tech Hokie Hustlers were third.

“It’s bittersweet to end my time, but we were all so thrilled because everyone did so well,” Gamlin said of her Kentucky squad, Team Cats By 90, which finished 21st. Gamlin said the hectic week of graduation activities, the long drive, and lost sleep were all worth it for a chance to compete one more time with her teammates and also to ride Rebel as she closed out her college career.

He’d been “retired” for three years while Gamlin concentrated on producing Zivah. However, Zivah suffered a soft tissue injury last fall, and Gamlin eventually realized she wouldn’t be able to compete at the championships with the mare. But she knew she had a trusty backup in Rebel, who was enjoying his days as a schoolmaster at Hogan’s farm.

“It had been an idea I’d been floating for several years, about running one more event on him before he retired completely,” Gamlin said. “I knew [Zivah] was out, and out for the long haul, and I really wanted to take him. I knew I could trust him, and he would take care of me.

“Zivah had gotten in my head a little bit,” Garmin added. “The last time I jumped her, I had a fall off her, and because I hadn’t jumped since then, that was the last thing in my head. It just sat and marinated in my head. But I’d never had Rebel stop on me at a fence, and I knew that no matter how I missed, he was going to come off the floor for me. I trust this horse to do anything. He’s been around a long time, and he’s kept me safe for many, many years.”

Rebel did not disappoint. The longtime partners began training in December, and Rebel seemed to enjoy the change to his routine.

“He wasn’t bad, but you could tell he was bored in his work,” Gamlin said of his days carefully protecting and teaching youngsters how to ride him. “He was very excited to jump again. He’d gone three years without jumping. We took him around his first jump course in close to three years, and I kid you not, he didn’t miss a single distance. I did have to kick him on because he was still in the ‘Oh, I have a child on my back, I should go slow’ [mode].”

As a warm-up to the championships, the pair competed in the Open Beginner Novice division April 13-14 at the FENCE Horse Trials in Tryon, North Carolina. They finished eighth overall, finishing on their dressage score of 31.2. “He just loped around and did his job,” said Gamlin.

Fast forward to championships, where the duo posted a 40.9 dressage score, for 12th place out of 16 competitors in the Beginner Novice Rider-B division. Gamlin said it was a good result for the gelding, who had moments during the three phases where he let it be known he was happy to be back competing again, including an attempted buck on his right canter circle during his dressage test. It actually amounted to no more than some roaching of his back, she said.

“He just can’t buck very high off the ground. He’s very large and can’t lift all of his weight off the ground,” she said with a chuckle. “He’s not every judge’s cup of tea. But it was a good test for him, that circle aside. We got a 40, which is what it is. He’ll never move like a big warmblood or Thoroughbred. This time around, it was more of a revisiting an old friend, to close that chapter. He was just very happy to be there.”

After hurrying back to the stabling area to swap tack, they made their way to run their cross-country round, where they posted a clear round, save for 3.6 time faults.

“He was perfect. He’s always perfect,” Gamlin said. “The cross-country starter was talking to me about how much it was clear that he loved his job as he was prancing around, ready to go.”

Gamlin said she was intentionally cautious on the course, after heavy rains made for slippery conditions. She opted to trot down a hill rather than risk a potential slide. Otherwise, Rebel “loped around and did his job, but as soon as we were through the finish flag, he broke to a walk and said ‘I’m done.’ ”

The duo had a clear show jumping round on Sunday, ultimately finishing 11th overall in the division. It was a full circle of sorts for Gamlin and Rebel, with whom she learned to event back in 2015.

“He was an early 14th birthday present,” Gamlin recalls. “He’s the first horse I ever owned. I’d leased several and had been riding since I was 5, but I didn’t get serious until I got him.”

Gamlin competed with Rebel throughout high school, picking up Zivah along the way. She keeps her horses at Hogan’s, where she’s trained in dressage for several years. During her senior year of high school, she also began jump training with Alex Green Kirby at Dry Ridge Equestrian in Loudon, Tennessee. She’d previously trained with Lauren Romanelli at Three Ring Farm in College Grove, Tennessee. It was Romanelli who got Rebel and Gamlin together, as a client of hers had previously leased him. When he came up for sale, Romanelli suggested to Gamlin that they’d be a good match. Gamlin obviously agreed, as she tried him, and then three days later, in September 2015, he was hers.

“I think what most stood out when I tried him was…how comfortable he made me feel. Despite how big he is, he does have a pony canter. He has yet to do a two stride in a two stride. The other thing I remember is someone had a pet pig at the barn I was trying him at, and he was terrified, but he still jumped everything I pointed him at,” Gamlin said. “My mom thought he looked really safe. She’s a big quarter horse person, and she just got a good feeling about him.”

She said she got “really phenomenal help” with dressage from Hogan, who helped her realize that riding Rebel forward, getting him in front of her leg, and putting together his canter would make all the difference. The pair evented from 2015 through 2017, finishing that season by placing seventh on their 30.5 dressage score in the Junior Beginner Novice division at the USEA American Eventing Championships (Mill Spring, North Carolina). Gamlin then leased him to a couple different riders while she focused on producing Zivah. In 2021, Rebel retired from competition, or so everyone thought, on Hogan’s farm.

“He’s everybody’s favorite, and he’s extremely happy doing western pleasure with 5-year-olds,” Hogan said. “He’s this huge guy, but he just does his job. And as long as you don’t kick him too hard, he’s happy.”

However, says Hogan, he occasionally gets sour, so she said the chance for him to take a vacation from his day job and run around a cross-country course was just what the doctor ordered.

“He needed to be free and happy and forward,” Hogan said. “It was exactly what he needed.”

It was also an opportunity for Hogan’s students to see what they could aspire to.

“It was great for the kids in my program because they could see one of the older girls, who they look up to, go and compete at that level,” Hogan said of Gamlin.

Rebel was back to lessons this week, “a little fresher,” Hogan said. However, he might get another break soon. He’s one outing away from qualifying for the 2024 AEC, Gamlin said, so she’s considering running one more horse trial with him, most likely the USEA Area III Championships at Bouckaert Equestrian Horse Trials (Fairburn, Georgia) in June. She then thinks they’ll compete at the AEC, slated for Aug. 27-Sept. 1 at the Kentucky Horse Park.

“I may take him back and let that end his jumping career, but I don’t know,” Gamlin said. “He was so happy, and at FENCE, when I took him around, I felt like we were scoped out. But at Stable View, the jumps were higher, and he didn’t feel like he was scoped out. He was fine, and he didn’t struggle over any fences.”

Not that he ever has. Rebel has never had cross-country jumping penalties, Gamlin said, when they’ve competed together. They’ve only ever posted time faults, for which Gamlin takes full accountability.

“He doesn’t really add penalties to his dressage score unless I make him,” she said. “He’s very bold and very careful. The biggest blessing with him is he keeps me really safe. If he sees a distance, he’s going to take it. He doesn’t rush to fences. He just lopes along and is very steady and consistent. He throws his entire heart into it. He’s not the most talented thing in the world, but he tries his heart out.”

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