Mar 27, 2024

Now On Course: Bondi Beach Brings Tyler Hope During Her Darkest Days

Rebecca Barber Tyler and Bondi Beach. Liz Crawley Photography photos

John Lennon famously said that life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Rebecca Barber Tyler probably would agree.

Tyler, an eventer and owner of Jubilee Equestrian, a training, lesson, and sales business, didn’t plan to have a career with horses. Nor was she looking for her soul mate when she found him. And she definitely didn’t think that a 15-hand Dutch Warmblood would be horse that would bolster her through one of the toughest years of her life, when she was unexpectedly diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma the week of her 30th birthday.

“Having her that year was so valuable. I don’t know how well I would have done without her,” said Tyler, 31, who is now in remission after six months of biweekly chemotherapy. She and Bondi Beach (Scooter x Our Little Secret), a striking 5-year- old grey mare, are steadily and successfully working their way up divisions.

“Midget Mare,” as she’s affectionately known around Jubilee Equestrian, was recently awarded the Merlin Memorial Trophy for Young Event Horses, as part of the 2023 United States Eventing Association Area II year-end awards of excellence.

The award comes on the heels of Bondi Beach's successful first year of competition, including a second-place finish in her first-ever outing, at Beginner Novice, at the Virginia Horse Center Eventing Horse Trials in May 2023. The duo then went on to win the Open Beginner Novice at the Middleburg Horse Trials (Virginia) in June 2023, moved up to Novice over the summer, and capped off their first season together with a ninth-place finish in the 4-year-old division at the USEA Young Event Horse East Coast Championships at the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill in October.

Bondi Beach's success is no surprise to Tyler, Free Union, Virginia.

“I very much bought her for her personality and natural cattiness over fences,” she said. “She’s very smart with her feet and very good at jumping well from any distance. She loves to jump, and she’s always looking for the next thing in front of her. She’s so brave, and she’s just a very game and willing mare.”

Tyler purchased the mare in April 2023 from five-star rider Ema Klugman. She was in the middle of chemotherapy at the time, after being diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in late 2022. She’d gone to see her doctor about a swollen lymph node, at the insistence of one of her students. In hindsight, she said she should have recognized that something was amiss. She wrote off the fatigue she was experiencing to riding several horses a day and running a business.

“Being a typical horse person, I took better care of the horses than I do myself,” Tyler said with a wry chuckle. “In retrospect, there were symptoms. But with what I do in the horse world, it’s easy to explain away those symptoms. If it was a horse, I would have caught it immediately. “

Tyler immediately began treatment. During a chemotherapy session last spring at the University of Virginia Cancer Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, she was scrolling Facebook horse ads. She was looking to add a personal horse to her string of sales prospects and read Midget Mare’s ad with interest. However, after noting the mare’s size, Tyler swiped left.

Rebecca Barber Tyler and Bondi Beach.

“I was looking for something in the 15.33 to 16.1 range,” Tyler said, recalling how fate intervened as Kim Severson, a two-time Olympic eventer, three-time winner of the Kentucky CCI5*-L, and coach and mentor to Tyler, quickly convinced her to reconsider.

“I drove to Maryland the next day,” said Tyler. “I wasn’t completely convinced when I tried her. I liked bits and pieces of her, but I hemmed and hawed. But, as usual, Kim was right.”

Severson had been right about Tyler pursuing a career in horses, which ultimately helped bolster Tyler through the dark days of cancer treatment. She’d planned to go into the corporate world, but instead opted to develop her sales and training business, through which she now produces and sells approximately 40 horses per year. She said her business helped “keep me motivated” even on the days when she wasn’t feeling well.

“That was not the most fun part in my riding career, balancing my business and then going through treatment,” said Tyler. “I think it gave me something to focus on and something to do. I’m not big enough to have a full-time assistant rider. I didn’t have the option to say, I’m not going to ride or I’m going to take the day off. If I took the day off, they didn’t get ridden. I thought ‘I’ve just got to get out of bed, and I’ve got to do it well.’ I’d worked too hard to lose it all.”

By her side during her cancel treatment was her husband, Brandon Tyler. A strategic wildlife removal specialist, he didn’t necessarily have a lot of horse experience when they met, but he’s developed into a true horseperson.

“He’s amazing in the barn. The horses love him better than me,” Rebecca said. “I’m very, very grateful for having him in my life. I don’t know how I would have gotten through the year without him.”

Rebecca wasn’t looking for love when the couple met through one of her students. She was focused on her business and finishing her MBA through William & Mary University (Williamsburg, Virginia). The couple met when Brandon’s niece, who Rebecca was supposed to be going to a concert with, pretended to be sick so she instead could set up Rebecca with her uncle, unbeknownst to Rebecca.

The couple started dating, and then after Rebecca took a bad fall off a horse, Brandon came to her place to care for her and “officially asked” her to be his girlfriend. They married in September 2021.

“I really had zero desire to be in a relationship, but he was persistent,” said Rebecca. The kismet of meeting her soul mate is akin to how fate intervened, with some human help, to guide Tyler on her path to a horse career. She started riding at 8 and rode through high school, developing her first FEI horse, Mr. Popps (Fusaichi Pegasus x Westlake), a 2008 Thoroughbred gelding. He’s now leased by one of her students, after a successful competition career with Rebecca.

Rebecca said that when she was headed to William & Mary for her undergraduate degree, she decided to give up riding to focus on school. But not for long. She couldn’t stay out of the saddle and ending up buying a sales prospect so she could ride and perhaps make some money.

“Horses were never actually supposed to be a thing,” she said. “I went to college horseless but during my second year, I went to the track and bought a baby to bring along.”

While at William & Mary, Rebecca was a working student for Debbie Rodriguez. After college, Rebecca took a gap year to continue working in the horse world. As that year came to a close, she began applying to both full-time corporate jobs and positions in the horse world. She assumed she’d end up behind a desk rather than on horseback. However, during an evening out to dinner, Rodriguez convinced Tyler otherwise.

“I told her, ‘If there’s a person that’s got the right mental fortitude for the horse business, it’s you, and you really love it,’ ” said Rodriguez. Rebecca took the conversation to heart.

"I think it was very hard to picture myself sitting at a desk all day," she said, adding that Rodriguez “said that when I talked about going into the corporate world, I was just going through the motions. But when I talked about horses, my eyes would light up.

"I thought I was taking a gap year [after college] to get horses out of my system, but I found a way to develop a business,” she added. “I definitely came up along a less traditional route, but I'm fortunate that I've been able to find my niche in the horse world. It’s what keeps me going. It’s what makes me happy.”

And it’s what she’s good at, said Rodriguez, who should know. She herself is a United States Dressage Federation Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medalist; and a United States Equestrian Federation “S” rated Dressage and “R” level eventing judge, and an FEI 4* dressage judge.

“While I help Rebecca with her flatwork, Rebecca also helps me with a horse or rider needing more confidence with a forward ride,” Rodriguez said. “Her strong point is that she can clearly explain to many different types and temperaments how to get [a horse] in front of the legs and to accept a contact. She is consistent and correct with a back-to-front connection. Horses understand the clarity of her riding. She is also able to encourage a timid rider to ride more from the seat and leg and relax.”

Up next for Bondi Beach and Rebecca is Training level at the Morven Park Spring Horse Trials (Leesburg, Virginia) in March. The duo had a strong start to their 2024 season, finishing fifth in Open Novice at the Pine Top Intermediate Horse Trials (Thomson, Georgia) and then placing 11th in Open Training at the Pine Top Advanced Horse Trials. A Training-level run at the Southern Pines Horse Trials (Raeford, North Carolina) saw Midget Mare facing a new challenge: deep cross-country footing due to the significant rain in the days prior to the event. The duo were eliminated on cross-country, but Tyler isn’t concerned.

“She’s such a careful jumper and such a hard jumper through her body. It was the first time I’ve seen her get worried,” she said. “In retrospect, knowing she was new to the level and how deep the footing was, should I have withdrawn? Possibly. But I had to find that out. She’s got to be able to learn to use her body in more of an efficient manner so she doesn’t get worried. It’s an important thing to have learned now about her rather than down the road at a big three-day. With young horses, it’s always a learning experience. At the end of the day, it’s something very fixable.”

Rebecca is aiming for a strong finish at this year’s USEA Young Event Horse Championships in the 5-year-old division. After that, she’ll take it as it comes, with no limits in sight.

“She really answers every question in front of her,” she said. “She hasn’t given me a reason to think there’s a limit. I’m really excited about her and her future. She’s going to be really cool horse to bring up the pipeline.”

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Weekend Quick Links: July 13-14

Are you following along with the action from home this weekend? Or maybe you're competing at an event and need information fast. Either way, we’ve got you covered!

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