When Georgia native Ivie Cullen-Dean graduated from high school, she decided a change of zip code was in order to kick start her college career. The University of Kentucky in Lexington was calling her name, and the young eventer, who had previously competed at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships in 2017, decided that joining the UK Intercollegiate Eventing Team would be a great way to meet like-minded individuals in her new home.
“It was a great experience,” she shared. “You meet so many people, there's so many opportunities, and it's a great way to volunteer.”
Even when she was down a horse due to injury her sophomore year, she still remained active with the team volunteering at events, attending meetings, taking part in the social activities that the team offered, and serving as the team’s social media coordinator that year. Later, Cullen-Dean would be a member of the 2021 USEA Intercollegiate Championship winning team, the University of Kentucky Wildcats, riding Redfield Lorimer in the Beginner Novice division.
She graduated from the UK with a major in communications and a minor in criminology and sociology, but life took her down a different path career-wise after graduation. She is now a professional rider for a hunter/jumper facility called Above the Bar Sport Horses in Franklin, Kentucky, just outside of her new home Nashville, Tennessee. The opportunity, she said, was one of complete luck.
“I moved down here not knowing anybody and not really knowing where I wanted to go,” she reflected. “I just wanted a year to myself after college to have fun, take a breather, and Rachel [with Above the Bar Sport Horses] reached out to me and said, ‘I know you were wanting to board your horses here, but I actually have a job opening. Do you want to come talk with me?’ And we just hit it off. She's been absolutely wonderful to work with, and some great opportunities have come up, and I truly think it was just luck of the draw for me at the right time, the right moments.”
Cullen-Dean stays busy riding about 12 horses each day, sometimes doing training rides, sometimes prepping a horse for a client, and even showing. She recently made her debut in the hunter ring. In addition to riding, she also started a MagnaWaving business and uses the funds she generates from providing MagnaWave services at home and at shows to support her own showing endeavors.
On top of everything she has going on professionally, Cullen-Dean has two horses of her own that she is competing and bringing through the levels. She aims to load up the trailer and make the three-hour trip home to Georgia about twice a month to ride with longtime trainer and mentor Julie Richards over the weekends.
“I also use shows to get help,” she said. “So I'll usually go a day or two early, take lessons two days before, and then get help at the show. It’s definitely a lot of driving, but I think if you want to make it work, you're willing to do what it takes, so it's definitely worth it to do that.”
She has high hopes for the two horses in her string currently, both of which she's competed through the Modified/CCI1*-S level. The 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare Carden Balou Moon (Balou Du Rouet x Rendezvous) previously competed up to Intermediate, and Cullen Dean hopes she will help her get back to the upper levels after a few years of bringing young horses along. Her other mount, the 6-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Fernhill Cardevega, reminds her of a very special horse from her past, Fernhill Five Star, who unfortunately passed away. Because of that resemblance and instant connection, she knew he had to be her partner.
“He is so special to me,” she shared. “When I went to try him in Ireland, my mom came with me, and he walked out of the barn and I looked at her and I said, ‘I don't know what that horse has done, but that is the one.’ That reflection was just something I hadn't felt in a long time. He's only 6; he's done two one-stars now, and I just think the world of him. I think he's super special.”
Cullen-Dean has a big goal on the horizon for Fernhill Cardevega if all the pieces can come together. “Knock on wood that I don’t jinx it, but I would love to aim him for the 7-year-olds at Le Lion," she said. "I am trying to keep the process smooth without any bumps, but also see what is in there at the same time and see what we have from there.”
The desire to represent the U.S. on a team one day is there as well, but as all eventers know, it takes a village to make big goals such as these possible. Despite the fact that Cullen-Dean no longer lives near any of her former teammates from the UK Eventing Team, she noted that they are always there to cheer her on or offer words of support online or over the phone, proving that the friendships made in Intercollegiate Eventing truly last a lifetime.
About the USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Program
The USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Program was established in 2014 to provide a framework within which eventing teams and individual competitors could flourish at universities and colleges across the country. The USEA offers a discount of $25 on annual USEA memberships for current students of universities and colleges registered as Affiliates with the USEA. Many events across the country now offer Intercollegiate Team Challenges where collegiate eventers can compete individually or on teams with their fellow students. In Intercollegiate Team Challenges, each rider’s score is multiplied by a coefficient appropriate for their level to account for differences in level difficulty, and then the individual scores are added together to determine the team score. Click here to learn more about the Intercollegiate Eventing Program.
As they hiked through the Galway Irish countryside, Shelley Bridges and John Whelpley soon found themselves amid a herd of curious Irish Draught mares grazing calmly around them. Bridges, an endurance rider extraordinaire with a well-known, educated eye for all things horse, noticed one of the mares in particular and said, “What about that one?” and our unlikely story began.
With the holiday spirit in full swing and the New Year just around the corner, it’s time to get ready for the 2024 eventing season. From paperwork to packing, there’s quite a bit to do before you’re ready to get out there and enjoy the season with your horse. Check out these tips from the team at STRIDER, and get your 2024 season kicked off in the most organized way possible.
The U.S. Equestrian Federation is pleased to announce the Eventing Pathway Program Lists for 2024, including the Elite, Pre-Elite, Development, and Emerging Programs. In addition to these Eventing Pathway Program updates, several opportunities will be available in 2024 for both Program and non-Program athletes.
The United States Eventing Associations’ (USEA) Eventing Coaches Program (ECP) is pleased to announce the dates and location of the upcoming 2024 ECP Symposium. The annual ECP Symposium, which is held in the southeast to accommodate the migration of eventers for the winter season, will be hosted at the Florida Horse Park in Ocala, Florida, on Jan. 30 – Feb. 1, 2024. This three-day immersive educational experience is recommended for anyone who is interested in learning more about eventing coaching, including current coaches, riders, parents, owners or avid supporters. Click here to download the registration form today!