In April of 2002, a Thoroughbred filly by Frisk Me Now and out of Teetawk, bred by Jim Plemmons, was born in Kentucky and given the Jockey Club registered name Cupid’s Tart. Cupid’s Tart never raced, however, and when she was 3 years old, the breeding farm where she’d been living gave her to Irish equestrian Alec Kennedy as a sport horse prospect.
That was where Angela Bowles (née Grzywinski) first met her. Rechristened Novelle, the slight 15.3 hand mare was a bit small for Kennedy’s 6’4” frame, and so he offered Novelle to Bowles to play around with. “From the beginning she was very athletic,” Bowles recalled.
Kennedy made the decision to sell Novelle, and Bowles, who had only competed through the Preliminary level at the time, thought Novelle had the stuff to go all the way. Unfortunately, Novelle failed the pre-purchase exam due to Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) lesions in several joints. “I was beyond broke at the time,” Bowles said, “so I passed on her as I didn’t want to take on a horse I couldn’t afford to care for if she needed extra care.”
Bowles moved back home to Texas without Novelle, but just a few months later Kennedy called her to share the news that he was moving back home to Ireland and would be willing to give Novelle to her. “He even drove her across the country for me,” she said.
Novelle won her first USEA recognized event at Pine Hill in the spring of 2007, progressing quickly to the Training level and finishing in the top 10 at the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) that fall. They stepped up to Preliminary late in the season – so far, eventing was coming easily to Novelle. “She was always a Rockstar,” Bowles said.
After another season at the Preliminary level, Bowles put Novelle on the market. “Many people came and tried her but she never sold, and I thank God every day she didn’t,” Bowles said.
“The wheels fell off a little when I tried to move her up to Intermediate,” Bowles admitted. “I had never gone to that level and we were learning together. Training holes showed up, and I had a lot of work to do.” After a hit-or-miss year at the Intermediate level, Novelle and Bowles went back to the drawing board. Working on the basics paid off, and in 2010 Novelle was named the Preliminary Horse of the Year after finishing in the top five at 11 out of 13 starts.
Novelle and Bowles moved back up to Intermediate in 2011, this time with more success. They were second in the CCI2* (now CCI3*-L) at the Colorado Horse Park over the summer, placed fourth in the Intermediate Championship at the AEC, and were seventh in the CCI2* at Galway Downs in the fall. “That got us named to the USEF Developing Rider list for 2012,” Bowles said. “This proved pivotal to my career. Being able to ride amongst the best riders with a top coach like Mark Phillips was an amazing experience and, while Mark was lost for words as to how to help us with our dressage, it did begin a long friendship that I appreciate today.”
“Being the naive young professional that I was, the next couple of years passed in a blur,” Bowles continued. “I just assumed that once you go Intermediate, then you go Advanced.” After more top finishes at the intermediate level in 2012 and 2013, Novelle and Bowles took a stab at the Advanced level. They met with “mixed success,” as Bowles put it, and it wasn’t until their first successful CIC3* (now CCI4*-S) completion at Rebecca Farm in 2014 that Bowles said she really felt what top-level riding might be like. “And I got hungry,” she said.
So, Bowles sent Novelle to stay with Tamie Smith in Southern California, and Bowles would travel back and forth from Texas to California to train and compete with her eye on the Kentucky Three-Day Event. They were second in the CIC3* at Copper Meadows, ninth in the CIC3* at Woodside, and after a 10th place finish in the CCI3* at Galway Downs they had the necessary qualifications to shoot for Kentucky in 2015.
“With all of my clients, friends, my husband Andy, and my longtime coach and mentor Mike Huber, and a little help from my old friend Mark, we went to Kentucky,” Bowles said. “It wasn’t perfect, but we completed. We did it again in 2016 with similar results and after that I decided that I’d like to go see some different venues and events.”
In 2017, Bowles entered Novelle in the Wellington Eventing Showcase for the second time (Novelle had finished in the top 10 the year prior with Tim Price in the irons). But when Bowles and Novelle were on cross-country, Bowles said she could tell Novelle wasn’t herself. “I pulled up on cross-country and Andy and I looked at each other and I knew that was the last time I’d ever jump the blue numbers on her,” Bowles said. “I made the promise to myself, her, and everyone who loves her that I would never push this mare further than where she wanted to go.”
The timing couldn’t have been more kismet. Bowles’ student, Kalli Core, was set to run her first Preliminary in the spring of 2017 before her horse ended up needing a surgery that sidelined him for the season. “Novelle came to me at a time when I needed her most and that’s Novelle, always showing up when you needed her the most,” Core said. “I guess somehow Novelle knew that I needed her and, in a way, for this period of her life she needed me as well. She politely told Angela during this time that she might be ready to step down. Angela’s husband Andy was actually the one that suggested I should come ride her and luckily for me Angela agreed.”
So, Core jumped on a plane to fly to Florida to meet up with Novelle and Bowles. Core and Novelle competed in the Training division at the Ocala Winter II Horse Trials and then a week later Core piloted Novelle successfully around her first attempt at the Preliminary level. “She gave me an incredible feel and took great care of me,” Core recalled. “Novelle finished looking like she did when she finished [Kentucky],” Bowles said. “My heart burst with pride.”
Core and Novelle ended up spending the year together, going to Core’s first CCI* (now CCI2*-L) at the Virginia Horse Trials. “All day in the show jumping everyone kept hitting rails and then Novie went in and jumped a perfect double clear round. That was one of the coolest parts of riding Novelle – you knew if you rode well she was going to jump a clear round.”
After the year spent with Core, Novelle was looking for another pupil. Brandy Savarese had moved to Austin, Texas and developed a relationship with Rebecca Brown, an eventing trainer in Dallas, and Brown shared with Savarese that Novelle might be a good fit for her.
Savarese went to try Novelle in October of 2018. “Thankfully, Angela wasn’t there; I think I would have been 10 times more intimidated and would have ridden even more like a drunken monkey than I did,” Savarese recalled. “The weather was atrocious – it seemed as if a tornado was sitting on top of the covered arena. As the rain came sideways in sheets, I popped Novie over a few tiny jumps. I was sold. She was unflappable and I was in love.”
Savarese leased Novelle from that October through July of 2020. During that time, Novelle took Savarese to her very first event – the Beginner Novice at Meadowcreek Park – all the way to her first Training level event at the Ocala Winter I Horse Trials, never finishing outside the top 10. “Novie quickly took me from insecure Starter level rider to (mostly) confident Training level rider.”
“Every beginner eventer needs a horse they can trust 110 percent to keep them safe and allow them to learn by doing and making mistakes,” Savarese observed. “Novelle is that horse for me. She gave me the confidence to tackle a 1.05-meter show jumping course without nerves, to navigate a full coffin in my first recognized Training level cross-country run, and to laugh at myself after an especially disastrous dressage test.”
“I believe Angela considers Novie to be the horse of a lifetime for her, and she has certainly been that for me. I am honored and eternally grateful that Angela shared her treasured partner with me and that Novie allowed me to love her. She's not the most affectionate horse, but that didn't stop me from plying her with cookies and stealing kisses. I'll never forget her nickering to me as I approached her paddock, and the feeling she gave me as we galloped across the country.”
“Novelle gave me tons of experience, but most importantly she gave me so many skills and taught me so many lessons that I know I will take forward though out my whole career in this sport,” Core reflected. “It wasn’t always easy but that was what made me a better rider and horseman. Novelle truly changed my riding for the better and I will always be thankful I got be a part of her story.”
“This mare has never been lame (just goes to show you that PPE don’t know everything), she’s never been sick, she shows up to work every single day and she loves it,” Bowles concluded. “Novelle is back home now, where she will stay until the day she dies. Right now, she’s being ridden by a student who will take her Novice (probably with speed faults) this fall. To know Novie is to love her. She’s not affectionate in your typical ways, but she’s wise, thoughtful, confident, and kind.”
The USEA Horse Heroes series celebrates equine athletes who have contributed to the sport again and again, competing with multiple riders at the upper levels of the sport. Do you know of a horse hero who deserves recognition? Email your tips to [email protected].
The gang's all here! Nicole Brown is joined this week by USEA CEO Rob Burk, USEA President Max Corcoran, and Diarm Byrne of EquiRatings to take a look at some of the upcoming highlights for 2021 and make some predictions about exciting things we might see this year.
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The USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL) 2021 Team Challenge calendar is now available! This new program was announced in October 2020 and so far there have been over 60 teams register and 18 team challenges added to the 2021 calendar.