Catching Up with Strides for Equality Equestrians Ever So Sweet Scholarship Recipient Helen Casteel

Helen Casteel and Unapproachable. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

As Strides for Equality Equestrians prepares to award its second round of the Ever So Sweet scholarship, generously supported by Edy Rameike and the USEA Foundation, we sat down and caught up with our first scholarship winner, Helen Casteel of Silver Spring, Maryland.

The Ever So Sweet scholarship, which is the first of its kind, provides a fully-funded opportunity for riders from diverse backgrounds to train with upper-level professionals. The scholarship will cover expenses for full board and training costs for the horse, several lessons per week, housing for the rider, a stipend to cover living expenses, competition fees, and coaching at competitions. Participants will learn to manage, care for, and compete horses in an immersive program and will have the opportunity to work as part of the team in all aspects of running a large, competitive barn. For the upcoming winter session, the awardee will train with Sara and Brian at their Ocala, Florida facility.

SEE is currently accepting applications for the winter 2021-2022 round of the ess scholarship. the application deadline is october 15, 2021. click here to learn more and apply.

Photo courtesy of Helen Casteel.

SEE: What were your expectations coming into the Ever So Sweet Scholarship?

HC: Well, when I came into this I had applied but never imagined I would actually receive the scholarship. I didn’t know much about Sara, but everyone I asked had great things to say about her and she has an incredible reputation in the sport. So I really wasn’t sure what to expect — mostly, I worried about whether or not she’d like me or my horse, Abel. But I didn’t have to worry about that!

SEE: Can you describe your experience training with Sara?

HC: It’s been great from start to finish. I’ve never thought and still don’t think I’m a particularly brilliant rider, but doing this is kind of like going into boot camp where they pick you apart and then put you together. There was a lot of doing something different – so it’s not even a continuation, it’s almost a new beginning for my riding. It’s been a whole eye-opening experience as far as the training — what it means to be straight and forward, for example. We thought we did but we didn’t! And the details of care around the barn, little stuff that you just didn’t think of until you’re in a barn like this. All things that I’m so happy to have the opportunity to soak up and learn.

SEE: Tell us about a typical day working with Sara and her team.

HC: We would usually ride in the mornings — we did a lot of lessoning and received a lot of instruction. Dressage is a foundation of everything they do, so we’ve done a lot of flatwork. Show jumping has always in my head been my weakest phase so it’s been good because Sara is very good at it. When we do jump it’s very focused — two fences on a line, a lot of counting.

From there, every day is a little different. Sara has a great relationship with her staff and team, and as much as I offered to help out it really seemed like a well-oiled machine and I would have just gotten in the way! I was able to balance my remote work and my riding, while also making a ton of progress with my riding and my relationship with Abel.

First Virginia hack: check! Photo courtesy of Helen Casteel.

SEE: Do you have any advice for future recipients of the ESS?

HC: I would say the biggest thing is to keep an open mind on the training. The expectation is for you to get better. Be prepared to take it all in and just know that she wants you to get better. Horsemanship is so key. Really appreciate your horse when you’re there — even Sara will yell at me sometimes to pat my horse faster! And finally, enjoy the hell out of it. It will go by far too fast!

ESS Scholarship Description & History

Edy Rameika, Sara Kozumplik Murphy, and Brian Murphy will provide bi-annual sponsored internships for riders to train with Sara and Brian. Beginning in summer 2021, scholarship recipients will receive funding to immerse themselves in a high-performance training program with Brian and Sara at Overlook Farm Equestrian Center in Berryville, VA for three months. During the winter, the scholarship will provide two months of training with Sara and Brian in Florida. Sara and Brian will determine the exact dates of each scholarship period in coordination with the awardee. The scholarship will cover expenses for full board and training costs for the horse, several lessons per week, housing for the rider, a stipend to cover living expenses, competition fees, and coaching at competitions. Participants will learn to manage, care for, and compete horses in an immersive program and will have the opportunity to work as part of the team in all aspects of running a large, competitive barn.

Riders will also make professional connections that would otherwise be unattainable and play an active role in fostering a more inclusive environment within the sport. “I’ve had to overcome many challenges in my life as an upper-level event rider, but I never had the challenge of feeling like the sport wasn’t easily available to me. This scholarship allows access for those that currently don’t have a clear pathway to fight for their dreams,” Sara said when explaining why they decided to offer the opportunity. The Ever So Sweet scholarship is an important first step toward increasing diversity and inclusion in equestrian sports.

Edy shares the passion for providing opportunities for deserving riders, “Our family loves horses and the sport of eventing. My daughters, Roxanne and Nadine, began riding when they were quite young. They rode and competed through high school, and Roxanne continued into her college career. We are very fortunate. But there are students in underserved communities who have the passion and talent for the sport but perhaps not the means. Roxanne passed away in 2017 but her passion lives on through her family. Nadine, Sara, and I want to honor Roxanne and Nadine’s Native American heritage and their love of eventing through this scholarship in the hopes of helping to keep others’ dreams alive. Ever So Sweet is a song that was beloved to Roxanne and Nadine, especially during those memorable years of riding.”

Eligibility Requirements

The purpose of the scholarship is to provide education, experience, and networking opportunities for diverse young people interested in careers in competitive horse sports, particularly in the disciplines of eventing or show jumping. Please review the full description of this opportunity above and the detailed eligibility criteria within the scholarship application to determine if this opportunity is right for you or someone you know. Strides for Equality Equestrians welcomes inquiries for more information about the scholarship and/or application process.

The scholarship is offered twice annually for winter and summer sessions. Applicants who are not selected are eligible to reapply to future rounds.

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