April 2020 - Horse People: Ben Ebeling

horsepeople

In a happy place even while sheltered amid scary world events.

by Kim F. Miller

Twenty-year-old Californian Ben Ebeling has long been a familiar face on the Florida winter dressage circuit. At the end of a cut-short circuit in mid-March, he made himself unmissable by leading his team to victory in the CDIO3* U25 Nations Cup.  He and Nuvolari Holdings, LLC’s Illuster Van de Kempert contributed to team gold with a second-place finish at Intermediate II; and wins in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle, scoring 70%, 71.179% and 75.13% respectively.

Ben is the son of 2012 U.S. Olympic dressage team member Jan Ebeling and Amy Ebeling, who were based out of their Moorpark facility, The Acres, full time for most of Ben’s youth. His parents never forced him to ride competitively, but they did insist he know enough to be safe working around horses and riding on family outings. About midway through high school, he settled on a much more serious equestrian path, and in two disciplines. Up until last year, he competed at Young Rider levels in both dressage and jumping.  In the process, The Acres became a hub of USDF Region 7 Young Rider activity and success. Ben attended his first  Championships in 2016, initially as a rider, then, due to a last-minute lameness, he contributed in other ways that earned him the Andrew B. D’szinay Sportsmanship Trophy. For the next few years, he and The Acres stablemates were core members of Region 7’s teams.

 


Starting college at Carnegie Mellon University in the fall of 2018 triggered a change for the Ebelings and coincided with them moving into a new partial-year base in Wellington. It’s called Tierra Contenda, Spanish for “happy place,” and it’s been that for Ben.

Along with being a terrific school, Carnegie Mellon is located in Pittsburgh, only a two-hour flight from Wellington, so his parents and the horses were not far away. As a freshman, he started out without riding, which was “a bit tough coming from riding all day every day.” Another plan involved a heavy load of six classes and flying to Florida every other week to keep up with his riding. “That was insane.”
    

Photo: US Equestrian

Happy Medium

Ben then found a happy medium in a Monday-through-Wednesday class schedule, then flying to Florida to work with the horses and compete Wednesday afternoon through Sunday. Most recently, he’d scaled down his course load to better accommodate riding. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, he’ll study remotely as college students are doing throughout the country.

“We are super lucky in that we can continue working and we and those who work with us are kind of isolated in our site,” Ben explains. If the pandemic is contained and activity normalizes, the Ebelings plan to return to their Moorpark home stable in July — already postponed from their normal May return. The plan is to stay in California through November, when Amy is among those helping stage the new Desert Dressage CDI at the Desert International Horse Park in the Palm Springs area’s Thermal.

Like the rest of the world, the Ebelings’ plans are fluid in these uncertain days. “It’s a really scary time,” Ben acknowledges of the coronavirus pandemic. “ We need to take it seriously and take all the precautions to help ‘flatten the curve.’ At the same time, I think we all need to take a deep breath.” As the logistical leader of the Ebeling endeavors, Amy is handling the situation in a typically admirable way, Ben says. “She has been awesome with our staff, hosting meetings every day and making sure that everybody is safe and comfortable.”

If and when the competition season resumes, Ben plans to target the U25 Brentina Cup and possibly the Small Tour division. Continuing his jumper career isn’t on the current agenda: his horse, Caddilac FS Z, was sold last year. “It’s the first time I haven’t had a jumper and it’s a little sad because that is really where my heart is. I love every minute of the jumping, but with school and dressage, I needed to take something off my plate.”
    
Promise & Challenge

Doing so well with the 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding, Illuster Van De Kampert, is a major milestone in a partnership of promise and challenge.

The “jumper-like energy” Ben sensed and loved when he first tried Illuster in October of 2018 has been a double-edged sword. “The moment I sat on him he was the most fun horse I’d ever sat on,” he recalls. “He had that jumper mentality and energy and his gaits are fantastic.”

The process of getting him into the Grand Prix ring was “an awesome project for me and my dad,” Ben says. They started off well last January in the Young Rider division in Florida and enjoyed a good year of getting to know each other. “The whole season at Young Rider level, he was super hot in the ring and I knew, as we got into Grand Prix, he would get hotter and hotter.”

Indeed, the transition had its rough patches. During a Grand Prix outing last summer in Europe, Illuster’s energy was so excessive that Ben chose to retire from the test.

“He is very anticipatory of the next movements,” Ben says of Illuster, a half-brother to Steffen Peters’ Suppenkasper through their sire Spielberg. “He has such large movements, especially in the passage, it’s like he was afraid of himself.” Adjusting his nutrition with the help of sponsor Cavalor Feed and working to make the horse more comfortable with himself and in the show ring brought gradual improvements.

Their first three to four CDIs of the 2020 season saw scores from 59 to 64s, and “I was like, Yeah!” Ben shares. By Week 8 of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, Illluster was settling into the new groove of being both “calm and on,” resulting in Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle victories, and crossing the 70s threshold. “I was beside myself!” Although the Festival ended two weeks early, Ben was thrilled to close it on their Week 10 victory in the CDIO U25 Nations Cup win March 11-12 with the U.S.’ Stars and Stripes squad.

“Winning a team medal for me is one of the most satisfying and exciting accomplishments in the sport of dressage,” he says. “To have that result in our first U25 Nations Cup was very rewarding for the whole team. The most special thing about the whole weekend was realizing that after hard work and determination, great results are being achieved.”
    

Photo: Holly Smith / PS Dressage

Fortuitous Coffee Shop Stop

Ben and Illuster have a coffee shop encounter to thank for getting connected. It occurred while returning home from his first European Young Rider tour, in 2018 with Behlinger. With the horse quarantined before going directly to the North American Youth Championships in Old Salem, New York, Ben and Amy where staying with New York friends and had visited a coffee shop, both wearing their USA Dressage hats.

“This lady approached and asked if we rode dressage,” Ben explains. “I introduced myself and she said, ‘I’ve heard of you and I have a horse for you.’ At first, honestly, I thought she was a little crazy! It was my first experience having somebody approach me and know who I was.”

Four months later, visiting his folks in Florida during a break from his first semester in college, Ben remembered the woman’s offer to come see the horse. Illuster was at Marcus Fyffe Dressage program in the Wellington area.

The woman in the coffee shop, Sasha Cutter, was, in fact, crazy in the savvy sort of way regarding Illuster and Ben’s suitability. A rider herself, she’s now in training with Jan Ebeling and is a co-owner of the horse with the Ebelings.

Looking Ahead

Along with Illuster, Ben continues to compete Behlinger, his partner in 2017 NAYC Region 7 Junior team gold and a European Young Rider tour, plus a newer U25 horse, Diamond’s Diva. Longtime Ebeling family friend and owner Ann Romney has an ownership interest in Behlinger and Diamond’s Diva.

The Romney and Ebelings’ long friendship made headlines in 2012 when Jan and Rafalca represented the U.S. at the London Olympics, while Ann’s husband Mitt Romney ran for president of the United States. Exposure to life, events and ideas beyond the horse world has been a big part of Ben’s upbringing. That is reflected in his open-minded and enthusiastic outlook on future career paths.

Carnegie Mellon is providing a great continuation of interesting new friends and international connections, he explains. Pursuing a business degree with a marketing concentration is an invigorating path, whether as a “back up plan” to horses or as a career. “You have to have interests in addition to horses,” he says. “Whether that lines up as my career or I do horses after school will just depend on how things are going and how I feel.”

Meantime, Ben is enjoying riding an average of 10 to 13 horses every day while in Florida, appreciating every minute of being able to shelter in a happy place and do what he loves.