November 2020 - Horse People: The Ebelings
Written by by Kim F Miller
Friday, 30 October 2020 01:46
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California’s first family of dressage set to shine at Desert Dressage.

by Kim F Miller

The new, two-week Desert Dressage CDI competition Nov. 12-22 is expected to draw top contenders from far and wide. But it may be the familiar faces of California’s first family of dressage, the Ebelings, who dominate in and out of the arena.

German-born U.S. Olympian Jan Ebeling will have Diamond’s Diva in the Grand Prix, Status Royal in the Developing Grand Prix and a string of up-and-comers in other divisions.


Twenty-one-year-old Ben Ebeling resumes an interrupted show season.


When the Adequan Global Dressage Festival was cut short after 10 of 12 weeks, Ben had led his U25 Nations Cup team to victory and sat atop the national U25 Brentina Cup standings. His top horses at the Desert International Horse Park competition will be Illuster van DE Kampert and Behlinger. He, too, has up and comers in other divisions.

Ben & Illuster. Photo: US Equestrian

The founder and manager of the family’s The Acres in Moorpark, Amy Ebeling won’t be seen in the arena, but her work, influence and ideas will be everywhere. Last fall, Amy decided to do something about the lack of international competition in the West. The FEI landscape was sparse pre-COVID and got worse when publicly-owned venues faced restrictions that made it even harder, sometimes impossible, to stage shows.

By then, the Ebelings were in their third year of owning and wintering at their farm in Wellington, Tierra Contenta. Yet the family is proud to call themselves Californians and sought a way to support international competition and their contemporaries in the West.

Amy eschews accolades, but there’s no downplaying her gift for bringing the right people together to bring ideas to life. Through her travels with Jan and Ben on the international stage, she knew superstar dressage organizer Thomas Baur. Through Ben’s several years as a top Junior Jumper rider (concurrent with high level dressage), Amy knew the venue formerly known as HITS Thermal and was introduced to the leader of the property’s new ownership group, Steve Hankin. Steve leads the Apex Equisport partnership that purchased, in 2019, what is now called the Desert International Horse Park. The partnership of horse owners and exhibitors is staging its sophomore season of hunter/jumper circuits and now venturing into dressage.

“Thomas Baur agreed to take the new show on, and I agreed to help him,” Amy says. That’s what she’s been doing in every nook and cranny of the Ebelings’ already busy days since the idea was hatched. A few months ago, what had been slated as the Pacific Coast CDI in Temecula became a second week of Desert Dressage, providing the draw of encamping for back-to-back show weeks in the same location.

“Amy is really good at getting people together and organizing,” says Jan. “She is a great motivator.”

Amy, Ben and Jan Ebeling. Photo: Platinum Performance

The Family That Plays Together

However busy and stressful it’s been to help bring the key players together and launch the show, Amy is poised to enjoy the fruits of her behind-the-scenes labor -- as she’s been doing with Jan and Ben’s careers all along. Watching the work done at home translate to beautiful, often winning, performances in the show ring is a gratifying aspect of a bigger reward: sharing a life with horses and finding a balance that facilitates growth and the pursuit of goals as a family and as individuals, in and beyond the arena.

Like many college-age kids, Ben is back living with his parents full time during the pandemic. Unlike many college-age kids, he likes it and is thriving. “We are a close family and my parents are my best friends,” he says.

He paused his business degree pursuit at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to pursue dressage while COVID and online-only study options run their course. “It’s been an interesting shift,” he says. “I miss my friends, roommates and I miss the learning, which is my favorite thing outside of horses.”

Friendships outside the horse world have exposed him to other family business models -- from vineyard management to the tech industry to venture capital -- and that has given him a fuller perspective on what his parents have accomplished. “There is a lot of hard work to make your small business take off and seeing that as a business major, it’s given me a new perspective on my family, our business and on life. I’ve come to see my parents as real people and not just my parents. I’m really happy to be part of this business.”

International marketing and digital marketing are areas of special interest. Ben is enjoying gaining practical experience in building up the Ebelings’ social media sites and producing compelling content for sponsors.

In Moorpark or Wellington, there are always plenty of horses to ride. Ben’s equestrian education newly included a chapter on starting young horses, in this case the 4-year-old daughter of Jan’s 2012 Olympic mare, Rafalca. “Ben’s bones bend a little easier,” says Jan of Ben being elected to start the mare whose conformation, beauty and calm, eager-to-please temperament reflects Rafalca’s. Rafalca also has a 2-year-old, sired by Gaspard Du Nuit, by Steffen Peters’ Olympic mount Ravel. She is showing signs of being an even bigger star than her mother, the Ebelings say.

These pandemic months have given all the Ebelings more time to enjoy these two youngsters as they grow up in pastures at The Acres. With horses at the heart of their lifestyle, the Ebelings’ home, barn, irrigated grass turn-outs and the dressage court are all nestled together on the property. Long trail rides in the neighboring Happy Camp Park have always been part of their horses’ development and mental and physical training. They are an appreciated bit of variety since the Ebelings returned to their California base in June.

Ben & Behlinger.

Same Systems, New Mediums

While training the horses continues as normal throughout the COVID period, travel restrictions and concerns have changed the way Jan works as a coach and clinician. Along with the steady stream of young riders that rose up along with Ben’s pursuit of three North American Young Riders Championships, Jan has students at The Acres, in Wellington and many points in between and beyond.

During the pandemic, he is primarily coaching over Pixeo and Skype. “It’s better than I had anticipated,” he says. “Once you figure out how everything works, it can be quite nice and the clients seem to love it. They can video tape the lesson then go back and view it afterward, which is a great learning tool.”

In lieu of being on-site and able to physically demonstrate his instructions, “it really makes you think as a coach and trainer how to explain things,” Jan says. “And about how to explain things to each student.” Some students like things clearly spelled out and some are overwhelmed by too many words, he notes.

Amy & Ben.

Show Ready

Ben, Jan and The Acres-based young professional Claire Darnell all qualified for the USEF Festival of Champions in August. They made the difficult decision to play it safe and not travel to the Chicago area competition, so they are extra excited about getting back into the show ring.

Ben and his relatively new horse Illuster van de Kampert (owned by Amy Ebeling and Sasha Cutter), a half-brother to Steffen Peters’ Suppenkasper, made headlines in Florida this spring. Both Illuster and Behlinger have back stories that illustrate the extent to which Ben is carrying on the family legacy as a horseman.

Amy describes Behlinger, aka “Bugatti,” as “our miracle horse.” He was purchased as a 4-year-old by the familiar ownership group comprised of Amy, Beth Meyer and Ann Romney, aka “the Three Amigos.” Bugatti was a “very sensitive” horse from the beginning, a quality that often correlates to brilliant dressage work at the highest level. “But when we got him home, we found out he was much more sensitive than we had thought -- to the point that he was dangerous,” Amy shares. The Ebelings wound up sending him to natural horseman Monty Roberts for two years.

Through Bugatti’s progress, the Ebelings learned and embraced many of Roberts’ methods and partnered with Roberts on a few projects. When Bugatti returned to The Acres, Jan was coaching and competing in Europe, and Amy was confident enough to let Ben begin to work with the horse. “I didn’t ask Jan because I knew he would have said no!”

Ben Ebeling.

Amy credits Ben’s years riding jumpers up to the 1.50m ranks with helping develop split second reactions and sensitivity in the saddle. Only a year later, in 2018, Ben and Bugatti spent a summer in Europe on the European Young Riders Tour, culminating with a strong outing at the Future Champions FEI CDIO-Y in Hagen, Germany. And they were great USDF Region 7 partners in NAYC for 2017 and 2018.

Illuster is another very sensitive horse. He and Ben’s partnership had a rocky start. In one of their first Young Rider Grand Prix outings together in the summer of 2019, Illuster’s energy was so excessive that Ben chose to retire from the test.

By Week 8 of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, Illluster was settling into the new groove of being both “calm and on,” Ben explains. That resulted in U25 Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle victories with consistent scores in the mid 70s. “I was beside myself!” Ben shares. Although the Festival ended two weeks early, Ben was thrilled to close it on their Week 10 victory with the Stars & Stripes squad in the CDIO U25 Nations Cup in March.

“He needed to trust Ben, which he’s learned to do,” Amy says, an understatement for the pair that now tops the national U25 Brentina Cup standings.

Jan Ebeling.

Father & Son Showdown?

Beyond ensuring that Ben knew enough to be safe on and around horses, Jan and Amy deliberately avoided putting any pressure on him to ride. Ben and Jan have often said they think jumpers may be Ben’s true passion and eventual path, but dressage is the focus for now.     Jan acknowledges the dual roles of father and coach are interesting. As with all his students, Jan strives to “have my riders figure things out on their own, while I’m there to give them sort of a floor plan.”

“Growing up with me, Ben has learned my system of riding (the ‘only system!’ he jokes) right from the beginning. Yet, if you think of riding being a sort of language for communicating with the horse, then we all have our own accent or dialect.”

Father and son’s similar yet distinct languages have them on a track that may result in head-to-head competition in the Open Grand Prix ring soon.

Regardless the results of such a showdown, it would be a win for this family so devoted to their horses, each other and their sport.


The Ebelings are Sponsored by:


  • Carolina Arena
  • Cavalor
  • County Saddlery
  • Dressage Extension
  • Effol
  • EquiTrek
  • Fleck Germany
  • Frantisi
  • GEM
  • GPA
  • Haygain
  • Hermes
  • Herm. Sprenger
  • Ice Horse
  • Parker Equine Insurance
  • Platinum Performance
  • Robert Squared
  • Roeckl Sports
  • Wellington Agricultural Services