Saugerties, N.Y. – A summer vacation in Hawaii had become a ritual for the Ebeling family, but the ritual was broken this year when Jan Ebeling qualified for the 2010 Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Festival of Champions. The family gave up the vacation so that Jan could compete at the Festival, which served as the U.S. National Dressage championships and the selection trials for the U.S. dressage team for the 2010 Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games.
Jan said that son Ben, 10, was a bit disappointed about trading Hawaii for New Jersey. “And then dad didn’t even make the team,” Jan joked. Well the trip east from the family’s base in Moorpark, California paid off this weekend when Jan and Rafalca took back-to-back grand prix wins in CDI competition at the Centerline Events CDI-W/Y/J/P being held August 20-22 at the HITS show grounds.
Rafalca managed the wins even after two grueling weekends of competition during the Festival of Champions, held at the U.S. Equestrian Team headquarters in New Jersey from August 6-15. In fact, she may have given Jan a career high grand prix score from Saturday evening’s winning freestyle ride, which scored 74.70 percent. “If it wasn’t a career high, it certainly was one of the higher scores,” Jan said. He decided to compete at Saugerties only days before the competition on the advice of USEF Dressage Technical Advisor Anne Gribbons. There are no CDI-W competitions in California this coming year, so Anne suggested that Jan stay on the East Coast an extra week and drive the few hours north to Saugerties from Gladstone. With one CDI-W out of the way, Jan and Rafalca will only need to make one trip back east for another CDI-W later this year.
Rafalca, is a 13-year-old Oldenburg mare owned by Ann Romney, Beth Meyers and Jan’s wife Amy, which makes Jan the lone man in a team of woman. “Yea, but I’m the one who gets to ride the horse,” he says with a smile. In truth, however, Ann Romney’s husband, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who ran for U.S. president in 2008 and is a potential candidate for 2012, also plays a role on the Rafalca team, albeit a more hidden one. “He really enjoys the horses, but then, what choice does he have with a horse crazy wife,” Jan said.
His partnership with the Romneys began when the couple was living in Utah while Mitt was overseeing the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Jan was traveling to Salt Lake City to do clinics and Ann began to ride with him. At the time, Ann’s multiple sclerosis was so severe she could only ride for five minutes. But Ann was determined to ride. “What willpower,” Jan said. “Now she rides three horses a day.”
It was actually Mitt Romney who picked the freestyle music for Rafalca, which comes from the soundtrack of the film The Mission. Jan designed the choreography and Karen Robinson put all the music together. Jan and Rafalca’s winning freestyle ride was clearly popular with the crowd that had gathered for dinner in the VIP pavilion at the HITS grounds. “Wow, what applause,” Jan said afterward of the claps and cheers that greeted the end of their ride. “The audience loves her. She’s an expressive horse.”
Jan said the freestyle ride “felt great. And I feel great. My horse is really good.” But not, he said, as good as she can be. “She’s become very settled at the grand prix and very sure of herself, but I think there is a whole other level of expression in her.”
Placing second in Saturday’s Grand Prix Freestyle was another pair that showed their stamina to handle three weekends in a row of grand prix competition. Pierre St. Jacques and Lucky Tiger, a 15-year-old Danish gelding, earned a score of 71.30. They also had competed in the 2010 Festival of Champions.