January 2016 - Horse People: Emma & Gracie Marlowe
Written by Kim F. Miller
Saturday, 02 January 2016 05:51

Aspiring professionals engender the support of the village required to make their mark in the sport.

by Kim F. Miller

November 14, 2015 was the peak of “Marlowe Weekend.”

Seventeen year old Emma Marlowe stayed atop three rounds of the WCE Medal Finals at the Las Vegas National Horse Show to win that one in the afternoon, and 19 year old Gracie nailed the LAHJA/LA Saddlery Senior Medal finals a few hours later in Los Angeles.

Gracie, left and Emma.

But it wasn’t just the two girls who were celebrating via texts and telephone calls that day.

“It takes a village,” says trainer Leslie Steele of the girls’ accomplishments last year. Leslie has been coaching both at her Acres West hunter/jumper training program in Calabasas for the past year. They came to her with a terrific foundation from their mom, Debi Marlowe, who recently brought her Marlowe Show Stables into the Acres West fold.

Emma, in particular, has had her efforts and talents matched by the support, enthusiasm and generosity of many. Like Gracie, she was raised without big bucks, but with a love of horses, a willingness to work hard to ride and a happy attitude. As a result, both girls inspire the encouragement of many who seem to see in the characters of these aspiring professionals a bright future for the sport.

Longwood Equestrian’s Richard Slocum and David Bustillos are part of Emma’s success story this year. So is their client Pam Stewart, who lent her horse Citadel to Emma in May of 2015, a key chapter in the saga. East Coast trainer Don Stewart, (no relation to Pam) wrote his own contribution as a mentor to Emma during two months back East. He took her under his wing as a working student starting at the Tyron Horse Show in North Carolina and continuing on through the Devon Horse Show.

Emma and Citadel, owned by Pam Stewart. Photo: Alden Corrigan Media

Emma and Gracie’s tale started many years ago, as horse crazy kids under their mother’s watch. Emma thinks she first rode as an 18-month-old and recalls jumping her first cross-rail at 4. They were unofficial working students in Marlowe Show Stables from an early age, caring for the program’s horses and ponies, helping students and riding whatever and whenever they could. They were successful on the county circuit and, over the years, competing on the A shows as the budget allowed, which wasn’t too often.

Things changed when Emma worked up the nerve to reach out to Leslie Steele on Facebook. “I had seen her at shows and loved the way she rode and taught,” Emma explains. “I messaged her on Facebook to see if she needed a working student.”

Leslie didn’t.

“I had heard of her but did not know her,” the trainer recalls. “I didn’t need a working student, but Emma kept at it. She offered to clean stalls for lessons on the weekend.

“Alright,” Leslie relented. “Come on out.”

“I was nervous and terrified,” Emma admits, but it didn’t seem that way to Leslie when Emma arrived at her barn in late 2014. “Right off the bat, she seemed so confident and wise beyond her years.”

The HITS Thermal circuit was right around the corner and Emma figures that was her trial run with Leslie. “She’s a quick study,” Leslie reflects. During the circuit, Emma went from her comfort zone in the 3’ fence heights of the local show circuit to the 3’6” classes, often on a different horse every week.

As the year progressed, Leslie recalls Emma’s transition from an unknown on the A circuit. “I remember being at the back gate after Emma won an equitation class. A top trainer asked me, ‘Where did that girl come from?’”

Yet with all of her successes, she’s stayed humble and, like Gracie, locked onto the path of working hard for opportunities to ride, learn and pursue becoming a professional.

The smiles that came when Emma won the WCE Medal Finals did not stay in Vegas. She’s pictured here with trainers David Bustillos of Longwood Equestrian and Leslie Steele of Acres West, who shared the effort to help the young working student and Citadel have a terrific show season.


Sister Act

Emma is finishing her senior year in high school by taking online classes. Leslie hopes she’ll consider some of the offers that are coming her way from colleges with equestrian teams, but Emma, for the moment, remains focused on the working student role as her best course of study.

Gracie rides as an amateur and is in her second year studying for a business degree at College of the Canyons in Valencia. She hopes to become an equestrian professional, too, and feels that a degree will be a big help in that.

Emma, Gracie and Debi enjoy an unusually close relationship. “It’s very fun doing this together and having my sister compete at such a close level all these years,” Gracie says. The girls sometimes competed against each other, often alternating first and second place finishes. “We help each other, learn from each other and there’s just a different conversation you can have with your sister,” Gracie adds.

As riders, horsewomen and people, they received a great foundation from Debi, Leslie observes. “Their desire to ride really instilled the work ethic in them. Both have beautiful positions because they were taught right from the beginning.” Emma and Gracie loved growing up with the hands-on, hard-working, insider’s perspective and experience that came from being a pro’s daughter.

Gracie, left, and Emma Marlowe with their mom, Debi.

They agree that Leslie has added polish to their game and, especially for Emma, some of the technical aspects of riding bigger tracks and a variety of horses and courses. For Emma, the opportunity to be at shows all week enables her to study other professionals’ methods, while Leslie’s extensive friendships and contacts give her a leg up in the networking department.

“I wish that I had found Leslie when I was a junior and I am thrilled that Emma has found such a great working student opportunity,” says Gracie. She continues to spend much of her time helping Debi with Marlowe Show Stables-Acres West and the convenience of having moved into Leslie’s facility has been a big help to everybody.

The Village People

The chance for Emma to campaign Citadel arose from some friendly banter between Leslie and Longwood Equestrian’s Richard Slocum and David Bustillos. “I was harassing them about their lovely horse that really wanted to be an equitation horse,” she relays. Eventually, they let Emma take over the ride with the blessing – and then some—of Citadel’s owner, Longwood client Pam Stewart.

As the new partnership flourished, so did various friendships. The Longwood team continues to train Citadel in between shows, and Richard and David work with Emma when she’s campaigning him at shows. “We work together and go into the ring with no ego involved,” Leslie explains.

Citadel has been nicely showcased under Emma’s talented hand and the partnership has enabled Emma to compete and succeed at levels not previously possible for her.

Hitting the Indoors circuit was a treat and a learning experience. Competitive highlights included winning the North American Equitation Flat Championship at the Capital Challenge and nice performances in the USEF/Pessoa Hunter Seat Medal Finals at Harrisburg and at Washington International and Devon.

Those experiences were part of another career highlight for Emma: two months spent working with top East Coast trainer Don Stewart, with whom Leslie has a collaborative arrangement. Riding with Don and his working students was an eye opener. “It made me want to ride better and work harder,” Emma says. “They have so many talented riders that it makes you want to step up your game.”

Don has a habit of getting distracted by lengthy phone calls when he’s asked riders to drop their stirrups in a lesson. “Emma told me she’d look around at the other riders, and they just kept going, so she did, too,” Leslie shares. “I said, ‘Yep. That’s why they’re so good’.”

Gracie and Falco at the Foxfield Medal Finals. Photo: Kim F Miller

Emma fit in easily with talented East Coast counterparts in Don’s stable, including Ashton Alexander, Hunter Halloway and Kelli Cruciotti, winner of the 2015 USEF/Pessoa Hunter Seat Medal Finals. “They’re not princesses either,” says Leslie. “They appreciate what they have in the opportunity to work for Don.”

For this year, Emma hopes to return to all the major medal finals and to venture into the jumper ring more often. That will depend on what horses are available to her, but her stellar 2015 has her poised for more terrific opportunities.

Gracie hopes to continue success with “the best horse I’ve ever ridden.” That’s Falco, her partner since mid-2015 and in the LAHJA Senior Medal win. “He came from the jumper ring and is just a super horse for me,” she relays.

She’s applying for West Palms Event’s Michael Nyuis Scholarship and, if she’s lucky enough to receive it, hopes that will enable her to campaign on the A circuit more often. Meantime, she’ll continue juggling school, riding and helping with the horses in her mom’s care.

Wherever their career hopes land them, the Marlowe girls will be a great addition to the equestrian professional ranks, Leslie asserts. “They are cut from a different cloth. They are conscientious and compassionate about the horses and they have a very strong work ethic. The would both make wonderful professionals.”