As a course designer, Morgan Rowsell is accustomed to watching hundreds of riders compete on the cross-country tracks he has created, but observing the riders on course at the Flora Lea Spring Horse Trials over Memorial Day weekend was a new experience for him. Why? Because one very special rider, his 8-year-old daughter, completed her very first USEA recognized event at Flora Lea.
Lee Cecelia “Leeci” Rowsell and Dot Com, Patty Clucas’ 23-year-old Welsh pony, finished in third place at Flora Lea on their dressage score after jumping double clean show jumping and cross-country rounds. As the child of experienced cross-country course designer and builder Morgan Rowsell and four-star eventer and US Equestrian Team member Virginia Rowsell, Leeci is already well on her way to upholding the family tradition of equestrianism.
“Basically, she’s been in the barn every weekend her entire life,” explained Morgan. “As soon as she could sit up she was pretty much sitting on a horse.” Growing up taking lessons from Virginia, who is now a trainer and instructor, Leeci began competing at unrecognized schooling events at venues such as Bucks County Horse Park, Burgundy Hollow, and Applewood Farm when she was six years old. “For the last two years she’s been competing throughout the summer and she’s also involved in the Somerset Hills Pony Club,” Morgan elaborated.
Morgan snapping a photo of Leeci and Lynn Jones after their successful completion of cross-country. Photo courtesy of Ralph Jones.
When it came time for Leeci to compete in her first recognized event, Morgan explained that both he and his wife were more concerned that Leeci would have a positivie experience than anything else. “It’s not nerve-wracking in the sense that she could fall and get hurt,” he said. “It’s more nerve-wracking that we want her to have a good experience. We want her to ride well and have the pony go well and for her to come off course with a smile on her face. I think it was more nerve-wracking for my wife!”
“We were really hesitant about the recognized horse trial thing because it’s a bigger deal and we were curious to see how she would handle it,” he continued. “At eight years old she was pretty poised; it was old hat for her! Not old hat for me, though.”
Because Leeci sees her father traveling year-round designing courses, it was a big deal to her to be competing on one of his courses. “All week long she was saying, ‘It’s going to be one of your courses,’ and my response was, ‘Okay, well, don’t stop!’” Morgan joked.
Morgan waiting with Leeci for her cross-country ride to start. Photo courtesy of Morgan Rowsell.
Dot Com, or “Puddy” as he’s known in the barn, is a relatively new ride for Leeci even though the Rowsell family has known the pony for many years. Kim Horn, who is a good friend of the family, used to babysit Leeci, and Kim’s son Cole taught Puddy the ropes of eventing. “We’ve known the pony a long time and Leeci has ridden him here and there over the years, but this is the first time we’ve taken him on as a lease and he’s her pony to ride and compete.” Mostly, however, Morgan explained that Leeci has spent most of her time riding the schoolmasters at the barn owned by one of Virginia’s clients and has actually spent more time riding horses than ponies.
Like most ponies, Dot Com has his own special quirks. “As he turns to go home he just gallops as fast as he possibly can,” described Morgan. “He did that on the backside of the course at Flora Lea and we thought, ‘Uh oh, here we go,’ but she managed to get him back and controlled before the next jump. She really made us proud.”
Far from regretting the interest that his daughter has shown in horses, Morgan is grateful for the influence they’ve had so far in her young life. “In general, I find that kids who grow up with horses have a really good outlook on life and a good worth ethic and good behavior,” he observed. “We don’t need a college fund, we’ll just buy horses instead!”
Leeci and Virginia walking off the course together. That smile says it all! Melanie Pack/it studio photography Photo.
Morgan also pointed out that the bond Leeci shares with Virginia has been strengthened by their mutual love of horses. “She really looks up and admires Virginia, so it’s all very good and positive,” he commented. “You can see there’s a connection there and [Virginia] really enjoys teaching her. They have a really good thing going right now and that’s really quite special that they have something they can do together and that they both really enjoy.”
So, what’s next for Leeci and Puddy? They’ll be headed to the Essex Horse Trials in two weeks to compete in the Beginner Novice division. Morgan is co-chair of the Essex Organizing Committee as well as the event’s cross-country course designer, so Essex will yet again provide that little extra thrill of watching his daughter compete on one of his courses.
“As soon as she got off the course at Flora Lea, she said, ‘Okay, now I’m ready for Essex!’ which is a much bigger deal in that it has crowds and [a big track]. It’s a big atmosphere. We’ve agreed to let her do it, but we’ve got our fingers crossed!”
The USEA is made up of over 12,000 members, each with their own special horses and experiences. Now on Course 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 Jessica Duffy to be featured.
Derek di Grazia’s cross-country courses at The Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International is the setting for all the action today in Elkton, Md. Here is what you need to know to follow along:
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