October 2019 - Arnell Sporthorses
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Tuesday, 01 October 2019 03:38
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eventing

Ongoing winning streak puts Central California eventing program in ascent mode.

by Kim F. Miller

Lauren Burnell’s 2-year-old son Royce already has an impressive point on his future resume: kickstarting Arnell Sporthorses into high gear as a source for top eventing prospects in America. His mom, Lauren Burnell, an accomplished amateur eventer, and professional Rebecca Braitling are the principals of the business and his grandparents, Roger and Joelle Burnell, are key investors. But without Royce’s arrival, Arnell Sporthorses might have continued as a small, quiet endeavor focused only on finding a few good horses for Lauren.

“It’s funny how it’s all evolved,” relays “Bec,” a native Australian who has come to exemplify West Coast talent and team spirit. “The initial goal was that we’d buy a few horses for Lauren and I would coach her.”

Bec took over the ride on Lauren’s few horses during Lauren’s pregnancy. “Then Roger got involved and that’s when the idea of us finding and producing nice horses evolved,” Bec explains.  An early success last year was equal parts conflicted and seductive when the team agreed to part with the 2010 Oldenburg mare, Santana II.

Bec Braitling & Dassett Richochet. Photo: Kim F. Miller

The winner of the 2017 Woodside Preliminary Challenge and 2018’s Woodside International CIC3* was galloping onto the national radar when an offer they could have refused, but probably should not have, came in.

“We do dance between the business and emotional side of the it,” Bec explains. “Roger loves the horses and he is very competitive, but we also realize, ‘OK, we can’t just be collectors.’” The sting of selling a beloved steed was eased when Santana’s new owner, East Coast young rider Elizabeth Welker-Ebling, quickly started excelling in U-25 competition, including a 3rd place finish at Bromont this past fall. To ease the business decision further, Bec and Lauren arranged for a painting of the beautiful gray mare for the Burnells.

Joelle & Lauren Burnell, Bec Braitling & Roger Burnell.

Arnell in Ascent Mode

Based at the Baxter family’s Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, Arnell Sporthorses now has seven horses and plans to maintain an average of 10 going forward. Prospects with a little bit of mileage, typically under 8 years of age, are the sweet spot. “You’ve got to get them when they’re going Training or Preliminary, so that you can produce them yourself and really make them your horse,” says Bec. They’re also more affordable at that stage. Solid amateur horses and those with 5* potential are focal points. In addition to attitude and athletic ability, there’s that certain something indicative of success in the U.S. eventing world, and on the West Coast in particular.

Mike and Emma Winter, of Wayfarer Eventing, are their go-to source for such horses, Bec shares. “Especially when the horses come here from Europe or Florida, there is a cultural adjustment required.” Running cross-country mostly on dirt, versus grass, and the typically long travel distance between events are a few of the factors that define those cultural differences. “Horses have to have a really good mind,” Bec explains. “Even with all the talent in the world, if they don’t want to do the job it’s not going to work.“

Lauren Burnell & Counterpoint. Photo: Kim F. Miller

The winning streak Santana started continues in the Arnell string. At the Preliminary Challenge at Woodside in May, Bec rode the then-very new Penhill Celtic to the win and two others to top 10 finishes: Caravaggio II to 6th; and Dassett Richochet to 9th. (She also rode Sunsprite Warmblood’s Kirschblute 3 to 5th.) Similar finishes unfurled at late July’s The Event at Rebecca Farm, where Penhill Celtic won the CCI2*-L division: Dassett Richochet was 3rd and Caravaggio II, 4th, all with Bec on board. Lauren and Counterpoint were 2nd in Open Preliminary.

Interest in the Arnell horses is increasing with the wins. “My goal is to be the place where you go to find your dream horse,” says Lauren. “We take the risk of going to Europe, picking the horses out and bringing them along.” Lauren began horse shopping in Europe for herself several years ago and, together with Bec, she’s grown confident in her instincts about each horse’s potential.

Lauren draws on her own experience when eyeballing horses for like-minded amateurs. She’s currently campaigning two top mounts: Counterpoint and Freedom Hill while angling to get back to the CCI3* level at which she was competing before her pregnancy. Simultaneously, she and Bec are ever on the lookout for internationally competitive prospects for Bec.

Bec Braitling & Penhill Celtic. Photo: Kim F. Miller

Unique Opportunity

Bec is beyond grateful for the unique opportunities presented by supportive owners. “I’ve had the odd horse here and there, but not the serious 5* type horses that we are now looking for and trying to produce. Until you are sitting on a horse that can really win, it’s a little hard to get ahead in this sport. It’s a real privilege to have this kind of support.”

Lauren and Bec’s privileges haven’t exempted them from heartbreak. In April of 2018, Walterstown Don collapsed between two fences on the CIC3* cross-country at a Twin Rivers competition. He died instantly, and Bec was taken to the hospital and treated for minor injuries.

While the Arnell Sporthorse name has risen quickly, Bec and Lauren don’t subscribe to the “quick flip” mentality with their horses. “It’s all about producing horses,” Lauren comments. “Especially when you’ve imported them and changed so much of their lives, they need to be allowed to settle in. Then, it’s all about having time to develop that partnership. That’s what is so special about each horse, and it takes time.”

Bec and Lauren are not overnight sensations either. Bec had a 4* career going in Australia when she moved to the United States in 2006, at 26, to work for Phillip Dutton. She moved to California in 2008, lured by the weather and then hooked on the camaraderie among contemporaries that she likens to the friendly, supportive scene in Australia. She came as an assistant to 2008 Olympic individual silver medalist Gina Miles, then later went out on her own.

With each move, Bec started from scratch building up clients, owners and horses. Thanks to the Burnells and a few other patient, supportive owners, Bec again has international competitions in her sights: ideally for the United States, which would require switching citizenship. “All of my opportunities have been here,” she explains.

Another advantage of being Arnell Sporthorses’ head trainer is the ability to work with a few other clients and owners. “My business is based on riding, coaching and clinics, so that is really nice to have that freedom,” Bec says.

Arnell Sporthorses also supports fellow top California rider, Andrea Baxter, who made her mark at both Kentucky and Burghley in 2019 with her own Indy 500. The business owns the young OTTB mare Melkenna for Andrea and considers their successes to be part of the Arnell endeavor.

Lauren started riding as a little kid growing up in the Peninsula area’s Los Altos.  She was introduced to eventing through local Pony Clubs, gravitated to the competitive paths quickly and hasn’t looked back since.

Roger and Joelle Burnell. Photo: Kim F. Miller

Giving Back

Putting gratitude to action, Bec has happily given back to the sport where she can, namely as coach of the Area VI Young Riders team for the past three years. “I enjoy being able to do that. Young Riders was a big part of my early career in Australia,” she says. “As a professional, you have to figure out ways to give back. Because I am showing so many horses, I can’t usually volunteer at shows, but I can share my knowledge.”

As the YR coach, Bec’s biggest priority is helping kids when they are out of their comfort zone and helping them do so as independently as possible. “I’m not a hand holder and it’s really nice for kids to work on thinking on their feet and honing their instincts.”

Comfort zone considerations apply in Bec’s assessment of the West Coast competition scene, which she likens to Australia in its relative isolation from the hub of the international eventing world. While it used to be the case that international hopefuls had to prepare on the East Coast, Bec points to riders including her close friend Tamie Smith, who prepared herself and her horses primarily out West en route to making an international team: in Tamie’s case, the gold-medal winning squad at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.

“With the quality of competitions that we have out here, you can really get good out here. Then you can go somewhere out of your comfort zone to test yourself.” Twin Rivers, Galway Downs, Woodside, Rebecca Farms in Montana and Aspen Farms in Colorado are among the venues that have upgraded to the point of “being a huge asset in the development of horse and rider,” Bec concludes.

While Arnell Sporthorses continues to dominate several divisions out West, it looks likely they’ll be carrying the California banner well beyond the region in the near future.