Mar 19, 2023

Now On Course: A 20-Year-Old OTTB Helps an Adult Amateur Find Eventing

Bekah Bartley and Plain Brown Wrap. GRC photo.

I first met Moose (JC: Plain Brown Wrap) when he was an 18-year-old lesson horse in April 2020 in Texas. I was a 40-year-old mom of four young girls who had stopped riding before my 20s but had somehow convinced my husband to buy a pony for our girls two years earlier. But once COVID hit, to get some “me” time, I started taking jump lessons at the eventing barn where we boarded our pony.

I was paired with Moose at my first lesson. He was a big, dark bay off-the-track Thoroughbred, a prior school horse, and an adult amateur lease horse. I wasn’t looking for a horse to event with. I wasn’t looking for a horse at all! I didn’t own a saddle that wasn’t a pony saddle; I had an Ovation schooling helmet and a pair of Kerrits riding pants I picked up from the barn’s lost and found for the occasional time I hopped on the pony. But what struck me about this horse was that he had the kindest eyes and the gentlest, most unflappable personality. (I may have had my 7-year-old canter him around the arena, and my 6-year-old take him on a hack. He definitely passed the "mom" test and made me a Thoroughbred fan for life.)

After that first ride, I couldn’t stop thinking about him, and so on a whim, I asked my trainer, five-star eventer Ellen Doughty-Hume, if she'd sell him, and when she said yes (and my husband said yes), I may have cried. There was just something about him I knew in my heart was special. And so began an incredible journey I never would have imagined.

In May 2020 we relocated to Northern Virginia, and I found Skyeler Voss and Morningside Eventing in The Plains, Virginia, and Moose and I owe every bit of our progress and success to Skyeler and her incredible program. I truly struck eventing gold with Skyeler and the whole Team Checkers family.

At my first lesson, I told her I was "working my way up to Beginner Novice” because, let’s be honest, jumping anything bigger than a cross-rail scared me, and galloping toward solid fences at any height terrified me. I had no competition goals; I just knew I was having fun being able to ride again, and I wanted to grow and be challenged. But, I also knew that if I were to call myself an "eventer," I should probably actually compete at an event.

Up to this point I had never evented before, never even been to an event or ridden a dressage test. Decades previously, I competed on the Paint and Quarter Horse youth and amateur circuits but did very little jumping, and all I had known about eventing was that it was a horse sport for Olympians. It hadn’t occurred to me that “normal” people, much less adult amateur moms, could do this sport.

So, after months of jump lessons, a few flat lessons, a handful of cross-country schooling outings, and lots of at-home practice, I felt ready and entered our first event in April 2021 (and quickly read the USEA handbook, as my biggest fear was getting eliminated for not knowing the rules).

GRC Photo

We entered the Intro Novice division at the CDCTA Spring H.T. (Berryville, Virginia), and my only goal was to finish on a number, not a letter (see, I told you I read the handbook). To my complete amazement, we not only finished on our dressage score, but we WON! I guess you could say I was hooked. We completed two other recognized horse trials that year, placing fifth at our first Beginner Novice outing in July and having a very educational run at Old Tavern (The Plains, Virginia) where we started with a sub-30 dressage score but then had four rails in show jumping and a stop on cross-country. That experience taught me that preparation is not enough; I have to not just trust that I’ve prepared my horse and myself, but I have to really ride on the day of.

Winter training was spent with lots of gymnastics and cavaletti work at Morningside, with me becoming braver, and Moose and I truly growing as a partnership. Our 2022 season started with the CDCTA Spring H.T., where we tied for first after dressage, but two rails in show jumping dropped us to a fourth-place finish.

I credit the rest of our season’s success to that experience, as it reminded me (yes, once again) that I really must RIDE. What followed was a truly unbelievable season. We completed five additional recognized horse trials at Beginner Novice, winning all five and finishing every one on our dressage score: Hunt Club Spring, Loudoun Hunt Pony Club Summer, Hunt Club Summer, Old Tavern, and Virginia Horse Trials. We earned a USEA Certificate of Horse & Rider Achievement Award, a USEA Blue Ribbon Award, and our USEA Gold Medal. We ended the 2022 competition year on the USEA Leaderboard as the ninth place Master Rider and the 10th place Master Amateur Rider and with more wins that competition year than any other horse on the 2022 USEA Beginner Novice Leaderboard.

I am beyond proud of Moose for accomplishing all of this at 20 and showing us that age is truly irrelevant and it’s never too late to shine your brightest. At events, he seems to enjoy himself, and even if he is skeptical on cross-country, he’s full of run, especially up the big Virginia hills! At home, he is the biggest puppy dog, is the first one to meet you at the fence, and loves to give pony rides to his tiniest human. Pretty sure she may steal him as her short stirrup mount—or who knows, maybe he will take her to her first event one day! But for now, I look forward to having more fun with him and kicking on in the 2023 season!

Photo courtesy of Bartley

Eventing is by far the most fun equestrian sport. The competitors, the horses, the volunteers, the organizers, you just have to go to an event to see and feel the difference! My husband even approves of this sport, as he says that eventing isn’t like “that boring stuff you did before.” This same very non-horsey but very selfless husband for our 20th anniversary last year took me to the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event, and although he sat begrudgingly through dressage, he was completely mesmerized by cross-country day, and he left encouraging me to continue pursuing this passion and sport.

If I could give any advice to another adult amateur new to eventing it would be to just try it—you won’t regret it. Find the horse (or let the horse find you), the trainer, and the program that fits you best; surround yourself with those people who will encourage you. If Preliminary is your goal, awesome! But, if you’re content to hang out at Beginner Novice, it’s still the most fun you’ll ever have! I’ve never smiled more than I do on cross-country or at the end of a test or a clear stadium round or when I see a teammate accomplish a goal. And just doing it means you’ve already won, because not everyone is brave enough to gallop toward solid fences, even if they are “just” 2’7”. It’s truly never too late to begin again.

The USEA is made up of over 12,000 members, each with their own special horses and experiences. The USEA's Now on Course series highlights the many unique stories of our membership. Do you and your horse have a tale to tell? Do you know someone who deserves recognition? Submit your story to Lindsay Berreth to be featured.

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