Mar 21, 2024

The IEL Brings New Opportunities for Bradley Equestrian

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
Team coach Shelby Bradley (Right) with team member Stella Youngbauer. JJ Sillman photo courtesy of Shelby Bradley.

Central Arkansas may not be the largest eventing hub in Area 5, but the team members that make up one of the newest USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL) Affiliates, Team Bradley Equestrian, put in the effort necessary to pursue their eventing goals. Spearheaded by coach Shelby Bradley, the group is made up of young riders from both Bradley’s program at Fletcher Farms Arkansas in Cabot, Arkansas, and her mother, Paula Binz’s, training program at Pinnacle Valley Farm in Little Rock.

“I am really hoping to get a lot more kids excited about competing,” shared Bradley when asked what her driving mission in creating an IEL Affiliate was. “There are a couple more eventing trainers and farms in the area, but eventing isn’t huge surrounding Little Rock. I think having this IEL team gives kids more specific goals to work towards.”

Bradley grew up competing in the Little Rock area, first under her family's instruction but eventually training with Mike Huber and Mary D'Arcy as she moved up the levels and began competing in Young Riders. Because of her history here, she is well aware of the challenges that competitors in the area face. Most of the kids in both Binz and Bradley’s programs are currently enjoying the sport at the Starter through Novice levels. Bradley feels that the IEL program gives kids in the sport the opportunity to have a team experience similar to Young Riders at the lower levels.

Competing in eventing requires dedication from anyone who participates, but even more so for Bradley’s students as their closest USEA-recognized competition is five hours away at Texas Rose Horse Park in Tyler, Texas. Anything else is a seven or eight-hour trip, one way.

“Lack of facilities definitely creates a barrier in the sport in our area,” noted Bradley. “But I think that is just one other benefit to having the IEL. It gives something for the kids to be excited about. Making every trip to a show a team activity can really make those long hauls to competitions a lot more fun for our team members."

“All of these girls on our team are very dedicated,” said Bradley. “They are all out at the barn five, six days a week putting in the time. They are all at a really exciting point this year because they have all just moved off of their beginner horses and are now on their next step type horses.”

Thankfully, there is a thriving equestrian community in the Central Arkansas area that puts on plenty of dressage and hunter/jumper schooling show opportunities for the riders to attend as they wait for their next USEA event to roll around. The facility at Fletcher Farms Arkansas, which is owned by five-star eventer Jacob Fletcher, is the perfect setup for at-home preparations with a full cross-country schooling course.

IEL member Olivia Fry is still fairly new to Bradley Equestrian but is really excited about the opportunity to compete alongside her fellow teammates and continue to strengthen the friendships she has begun to establish.

“Everyone has been very welcoming and supportive,” shared Fry. “We try to help with tacking and grooming each other’s horses, watch each other’s rides, and help each other memorize courses when we go to events. I am most excited to be in the competitive team atmosphere with such talented fellow riders and for new opportunities to hopefully be on a young riders team in the future.”

Team member Mary Moody shared similar sentiments.

"My teammates and I have become super close and it makes showing with them really fun. We video each others rides, walk cross-country and stadium together, and help take care of each others horses. Shows really do take a village and I’ve been lucky to find one of the best!"

Bradley says it’s that team atmosphere that makes participating in the IEL program invaluable for trainers.

“I think from the kids’ perspective, there are times that this can feel like a very individual sport,” said Bradley. “And while there are a lot of benefits to it just being you and your horse, there are also a lot of benefits to the team camaraderie that is created and, historically, that isn’t an atmosphere that kids get the opportunity to experience unless they are competing at a certain level. I also think it makes the sport more exciting and accessible for riders competing at the lower levels.”

In addition to competing together, Bradley is excited to bring the group together through cross-country schooling sessions and summer camps. Once or twice a year she hosts camps for her more advanced riders and they focus on both in the saddle work and learning important horsemanship skills, such as the advanced anatomy of a horse.

While the Affiliate's name is Bradley Equestrian, Bradley wants to keep the group open to anyone in their area who wishes to participate in the IEL program and compete in a team atmosphere. Currently, there are four members of Bradley Equestrian: Fry, Moody, Stella Youngbauer, and Taylor Geaney.

“We have some kids in our program that are kind on the fence about competing, and I know we have some other eventers in the Little Rock area as well. I want them all to know that they are welcome to come join us and compete in our team. I think competing in this team environment could really give them something more to look forward to!”

About the USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL)

In August 2020, the USEA Board of Governors approved the creation of the USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL) as an official program of the USEA. The mission of IEL is to unite junior riders who are in the 5th—12th grade and provide a supportive community through which students can continue to pursue their riding interests. A group of junior members in the 5th—12th grade who share a common bond, such as the same barn, school, Pony Club, or other connection, can register with the USEA as an IEL Affiliate. The USEA Board of Governors recently approved an inaugural IEL Championship to kick-off in 2024 at Stable View in Aiken, South Carolina, which will be held in conjunction with the USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Championships on May 4-5, 2024. Click here to learn more about the Interscholastic Eventing League.

The USEA would like to thank Kerrits and Horse & Country for sponsoring the USEA Interscholastic Eventing League.

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