Oct 30, 2022

Now On Course: The Adventure Continues with Carole Bennett

Photo courtesy of Carole Bennett

My first memory as a tot growing up in Cleveland, Ohio was about my love for horses. I had a horse collection as a little girl and I would play all afternoon with them. They were numbered and named and I kept this very vital info in an index card box. I went out to the country twice a week to go riding and was a very happy, self-entertained kid whose world revolved around horses.

Finally, at 18 (1972) my mom said, "enough with the horses, it’s time to go to college and get a career”. So that was that and off I went to Boston for school and then worked in the entertainment industry for a few decades.

Fade out/fade into 2000 and my move from LA to Santa Barbara. Horses had not been in my life for a very long time as I was busy being a wife, a mother, and a career woman and I didn’t think they would ever be again. However, one day while strolling down to the beach, I saw a sign allowing horses to ride there during certain hours. Like the intensity of a Star Wars lightsaber, I could envision that yummy coat and special horsey smell just like old times.

Soon I was back cuddling with the horses. My first purchase was a lovely Arab mare, then I moved to the world of Hunter/Equitation with my thoroughbred Johnny and then my Quarter horse Scout’s Honor. Horse trailers, horse shows, bridles, saddles, lessons, ribbons, etc.… and the addiction grows!

One fateful day in 2007 a stunning Dutch Warmblood came trotting into the arena at a barn I was at in Summerland. I was hit with a thunderbolt. Vinny was my next treasure and as I write this I am staring at him in my backyard. Bought at the age of five we just celebrated his 20th birthday this past June.

Vinny and I did very well in the Hunter/Equitation show ring but a bit of navicular side lined that and we entered the world of dressage. We continued to do well with many championships at the training level.

June of 2022 I was getting bored with dressage but I kept telling myself that when Vinny retires I’ll retire as we were the same age. Ah….no such luck. The yearning for the jumping arena had awakened from a very long hibernation and was beckoning me to return.

Enter Allyson Hartenburg and Hartenburg Equestrian. My husband and I host a number of dressage schooling shows at the Santa Ynez Valley Equestrian Center and Allyson’s barn has attended frequently. I found Allyson to be a superior and very approachable trainer. I told her of my recurring dream (or was it a nightmare?) of returning to the jumping arena and did she have a large pony I could ride as I was now 68 and wanted to be closer to the ground, plus I had a hip replacement surgery this past April. Taking care of me was of utmost importance.

She had a wonderful mare name Ashoka Coco Belle and so I came out one day to meet her and hop a few jumps. Oh boy…the addiction was back stronger than ever. Was there a horses/pony anonymous meeting somewhere in town I could attend?

Here I was at an eventing barn and I had always thought of eventers as hell-bent horses instead of motorcycles and definitely not a sport for a tiny, elderly gal. But, I’m a gutsy, tiny, elderly gal and this pony (belonging to the wonderful Shenstone family) knew what she was doing and going to take care of me. The goal was for me to do my first horse trial in six weeks!

So I forged ahead with cross-country clinics, lessons, and ultimately (drum roll please) my first horse trial at Shepherd Ranch at the end of August this year.

Our dressage test went well other than a wrong canter lead for a split second. That afternoon I was the last to ride my cross-country course and after walking it a dozen times I wondered what I was doing.

At 5:50 p.m. on Saturday I was ready and waiting for my countdown- and off we went. With the wind in my face and this sweet pony’s head bobbing up and down in front of me I jumped all 14 fences with a double clear! I crossed the finish line and burst into tears. Everyone was yelling “Go Carole," even the announcer said it over the loudspeaker and added that this was my first horse trial. My barn embraced me as If I was Amelia Earhart coming back from a solo flight or an academy award dark horse winner, truly the icing on the cake, or should I say the icing on the jumps.

The next day was show jumping and we were double clear again and ended the weekend in fourth place out of 16 competitors and my team garnered a first! I couldn’t help repeating: "I can’t believe I did this." Years before I had attended awards dinners, premieres, pilot shootings, and everything else bedazzling, but completing my first horse trial trumps anything Hollywood had to offer.

I cried, I barfed, I snuck a cigarette or two and felt blessed beyond imagination that at my age I could compete like this and do well. I have the most amazing trainers and truly dear friends to encourage me. My cup runneth over (with bills…no, that’s not right. Though true that is not in the spirit of this article) with so much gratitude and excitement that as Captain Kirk says “And the adventure continues!"

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 Meagan DeLisle to be featured.

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