Every eventing enthusiast knows how challenging the sport can be. To train and compete successfully requires perfect alignment of so many factors that are out of our control. Riders often have to overcome setbacks, challenges, and disappointments, but that also makes the wins that much more exhilarating. We often hear “it takes a village!” to be successful, which is particularly true in the context of Rebecca Farm because it’s a week-long destination event.
The FEI levels get a lot of attention because they’re exciting to watch and the riders and horses become household names. However, the foundation of our sport is in the lower and mid levels. There are many trainers who specialize in bringing along young horses, developing good lower-level riders, and introducing the next generation of competitors and trainers while striving to reach the upper-most levels themselves. I sat down with one rider and her village for a look behind the scenes of a successful operation.
Kelsey Horn is the head trainer at Inavale Farm in Philomath, Oregon. Her business, Pinnacle Equine Training, focuses on teaching her students and horses good dressage and horse management basics as a foundation for success. Kelsey is an accomplished FEI 2* rider and has successfully brought multiple horses from beginner novice through preliminary. Her ultimate goal is to be successful at the 5* level, although she knows that is incredibly challenging to do. For the time being, she is happy to put in the hard work so she and her students can meet their goals.
It cannot go without saying that Kelsey and her husband, Brian, had their first baby just four and a half months ago. After two months of maternity leave, Kelsey was back in the saddle and leading the “Pinnacle Posse” to success at Area VII events. Her village came together to bring six horses to The Event at Rebecca Farm this week.
The drive from Inavale to Rebecca Farm takes about 15 hours, with an overnight stop in Spokane. Kelsey’s mom, Kristin Tetrick, came on the trip to help take care of Kelsey’s daughter. At four months old, Skylar needs frequent meals, naps, and diaper changes! As Kelsey said, she couldn’t possible do this without a lot of help. Fortunately, Skylar has five grandparents – all of whom have offered to go along to events to help with childcare. Kelsey speaks with extreme gratitude for the help offered by her family members and friends so that she can continue to ride, compete, and coach her students. Rebecca Farm is a particular goal for the Pinnacle Posse each year.
Kelsey said she loves coming to The Event because “it’s an amazing venue, but it’s also the grandness of it all. You want to be a part of it! You also get great exposure – because of the upper levels, you see people from outside of your area.” Kelsey went on to say that she really enjoys watching other trainers coaching their students in the warm-up arenas because it gives her new ideas and opens her mind to approaches she might not have considered. “It helps educate you – whether it’s the dressage or jumping warm-up, you learn so much about other ways to do things that you didn’t think of. It helps you get outside of your routine.”
Kelsey’s main goal with her students is to teach them how to ride correctly and make smart, independent decisions. Once a rider leaves the warmup, it’s just them and their horse and, as we all know, anything can happen out there – especially on cross country. She encourages her riders to establish confidence and competence at each level before moving up.
Ali Johnson is one of Kelsey’s riders. Soon to be 13 years old, Ali has been riding with Kelsey since she was 8. Ali described Kelsey’s coaching style as “amazing… she is very calm, technical, and analytical. Which is perfect for me.” Ali’s mom, Kim Johnson, agreed with that assessment and said she loves Kelsey’s approach because she spends the time to make sure all of the basics are in place and the horse/rider pairs are ready to compete or move up a level.
Tarra Gakstatter is the assistant trainer at Inavale, and a key member of the Pinnacle Posse as well. Between Kelsey and Tarra, they teach dozens of lessons each week including basic “up/down” lessons with beginner kids and adults, as well as dressage and jumping lessons with more experienced adult amateurs. Tarra’s philosophy is to keep riding fun. Tarra and Ravaye, an eight-year-old Holsteiner owned by Katherine Merkle, won first place in the Sr. Open Training B division here at Rebecca Farm today. They finished on their dressage score of 23.9 – way to go Tarra!
For every successful event, there are key members of the village that stay behind to keep things running at home. They miss out on all the fun of traveling to events! Kelsey said she is “incredibly proud to be here representing Inavale Farm and the amazing people there.”
Owned and run by Caroline and Luigi Meneghelli, Inavale is a staple in Area VII in its own right. Not only do they manage a very large and successful boarding operation and lesson program, Caroline and Luigi (and an amazing group of hard-working volunteers!) put on a USEA recognized event in June each year. Kelsey is grateful for Caroline, Luigi, and all of her riders and cheerleaders at home in Oregon.
Event riders love the thrill of cross country, there’s no doubt. We also love the community, the friendships, and the support we provide for each other. We all have a village, and it really does take the support of everyone around us to make dreams become reality. Go Eventing!