Adult Amateur Cecilia Cox, and owner of Donabella, Shelly Schoenfeld’s Journey to the US Dressage Finals: Thankful for the Arkansas Cowboy Heroes

Friday, November 29, 2013
Posted by Betsy LaBelle



Shelly Schoenfeld owner of Donabella watches Cecilia Cox compete in the 2013 US Dressage Dressage Finals Photo: DressageDaily
Shelly Schoenfeld owner of Donabella watches Cecilia Cox compete in the 2013 US Dressage Dressage Finals Photo: DressageDaily
With the great honor of qualifying for the US Dressage Finals through USDF Region 9, Adult Amateur Cecilia Cox and Shelly Schoenfeld wanted the chance to cross the country from San Antonio, Texas with the 7 year old AWS mare, Donabella (Highlight x Fair Rock) to compete at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. The drive involved a 1,150 mile journey through half of Texas, all the way through Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky. Qualifying to compete in the First Level and Second Level Adult Amateur Championships, the team set out on an unbelievable journey to join other American Adult Amateurs who also traveled from all across the vast expanse of United States.With forethought, Shelly and Cecilia prepared to leave Texas on the Sunday before the competition for Thursday's warm-up test, in order to help the seven year old mare gain some confidence in time for weekend championship competition. They knew it would be chilly in November in Kentucky, coming from southern Texas, but their main concern centered on the mare standing on the horse trailer for the long arduous trailer ride. First they decided to meet up with a caravan of other competitors for the journey.

Cecilia shared their story, “On Sunday November 3rd, I said good-bye to my husband Mark and daughter Amanda, before my friend and owner of Donabella, Shelly Schoenfeld planned to haul the three hours to our coach, Whit Watkins in Moody, Texas from San Antonio to travel with a group of others to Kentucky. Little did we know what challenges lay ahead for us.”  

They spent the night in Moody at Whit Watkins’s farm setting off early the next morning at 6:30 am with the expedition or posse of truck and trailers heading to Kentucky. Cecilia shared, “The sunrise was beautiful, the road was clear and we were on our way. We were making good time until an hour west of Little Rock, Arkansas, when passing an 18 wheeler, we heard a boom. At first we thought a tire had blown, but the truck check engine light said it was shutting down the engine. Shelly was able to maneuver the rig onto the right shoulder of the road at the end of an entrance ramp.

We were just outside of Malvern, Arkansas at 1:30pm in the afternoon and we split from the group. I texted ahead to Whit to let her know we were having engine trouble. They pulled off at the next exit to wait for us while Shelly contacted the equestrian roadside assistance company. The roadside assistance company said that a tow truck would help us within the hour. We decided to let Whit and company go ahead without us, planning to catch up with them, at our overnight destination. Shelly called the local dealership to give them a heads up that her truck would be coming in while I continued to document our status to our Facebook friends. 

An hour and a half passed by when a well dressed cowboy pulled up behind us in his pick-up truck to ask if he could help. We explained our situation, that a tow truck would be arriving any minute, but the nice gentleman, Scott Brown, left us his business card with instructions to call if we needed anything. 

By now my Facebook/horseshow buddies, Eva Oldenbroek Tabor and Marsha Lewis saw our dilemma, and offered to pick up both Bella and me, since they had room in their trailers. I told each of them I would let them know because I didn’t necessarily want to leave Shelly behind. 

Shelly Schoenfeld owner of Donabella and rider Cecilia Cox at the 2013 US Dressage Finals Photo: DressageDaily
Shelly Schoenfeld owner of Donabella and rider Cecilia Cox at the 2013 US Dressage Finals Photo: DressageDaily
Another hour and a half transpired when two flatbed tow trucks showed up. Shelly took one look at them and said there is NO WAY the gooseneck trailer with a horse on it was going up on that flatbed. About that time another kind local gentleman pulled up in his dually truck to ask if he could help. Since it was starting to get late, Shelly asked if he may know of a place where we could stable Donabella overnight. The fine gentlemen, named Tony Womble, offered his own place. Since the truck was the problem, he hooked up our horse trailer to his dually, driving both the mare and me to follow the men from the tow company with our truck up on the flatbed, and Shelly, who sat with the men in one of the tow trucks, to the dealership.

I know you are all thinking, how do you go with a stranger, but we didn’t have any other choice, and I felt pretty safe. It was pretty clear he was a horseman.  

Since the dealership was closing as we arrived, we dropped the truck off, and talked the dealer into a loaner car. Tony took us to his place so we could get poor Bella off the trailer, after close to twelve hours standing still. The stall was just what she needed, with a run in attached. She was able to go in and out as much as she pleased. I fed her, made sure she was settled, and we were off to the hotel Tony recommended. After checking in we found a cute Mexican restaurant and ordered Margaritas, only to discover that this county in Arkansas is a Dry County, meaning no alcohol, by law is to be sold.  

Shelly was back to making phone calls to find a way to get us to Lexington. I suggested she call Scott, the very first gentleman who stopped and gave us his card. She did and he said he would make some calls. We weren’t in the room 10 minutes when Shelly received a call. It was Blake Walters, a friend of Scott’s. He was willing to drive us the 10 hours to the Horse Park. Shelly decided to stay behind and wait on the truck. Once that was repaired she would head to Kentucky.

The next morning we went to feed the mare before dawn. She had enjoyed her time out and wanted to make friends with the other horses on the property. Tony came out to say good-bye as he was headed to work and he refused payment for all his trouble with us. We cannot thank him enough for all he did for us. Tony also mentioned that he knew both Scott and Blake from the rodeo board, which made us feel at ease about the situation.

Cecilia Cox riding Donabella at the 2013 US Dressage Finals Photo: DressageDaily
Cecilia Cox riding Donabella at the 2013 US Dressage Finals Photo: DressageDaily
Blake and his son Dusty arrived with their dually around 7:30am. I liked them immediately! I felt as if I knew them since they reminded me of my dear friend Elisabeth’s husband, Kirk. They hooked up the truck to the trailer, I loaded Bella, we made sure everything was back in the trailer, and we were on the road by 8am.  I told Shelly not to worry…everything would be fine and I would see her soon in Lexington.

A couple hours down the road Blake said his front tire doesn’t feel right. “Oh no! Not again! Are we ever going to get there?”  We pull off into a small town and find the only tire place in town. It is a used tire shop. Blake hops out, looks at the tire and sees that it is separating. Fortunately, the shop had one that would fit and we were back on the road within 45 minutes. The rest of the trip was uneventful. Well, not totally. Shelly called to say that the engine had blown a piston and would have to be replaced which would take a couple of weeks. Would the guys mind bringing the trailer back to Rockport where the truck sat after dropping us off in Kentucky. No problem. I cancelled our RV spot, Shelly found us the last hotel room in town and she rented a car to meet me in Kentucky on Wednesday (with all ready four days on the road). The rest of the trip was uneventful. Blake, Dusty and I had a wonderful time getting to know one another. We discussed what we enjoyed about our horses and training methods and realized we had a lot in common. That made us feel good. After 10 hours we finally made it to Lexington. Sad to say good-bye to my new friends, I was very grateful for their generosity of time.

Name on the Scoreboard Cecilia Cox and Donabella Photo: Shelly Schoenfeld
Name on the Scoreboard Cecilia Cox and Donabella Photo: Shelly Schoenfeld
The Dressage Finals were great fun. All the competitors were very encouraging to one another. I was able to see my cousin Mikala Gundersen, old friends, and make new ones. We had fun showing and ended up winning our last class of the show with a 70%.

Now our next challenge was how to get Bella home. Well, Whit Watkins had a spot in her trailer. I called my friend, Amy Allen, and asked if she would come pick us up. She said “no problem”.  So thanks to the kindness and generosity of friends and strangers, we were able to “hitchhike” to and from The US Dressage Finals and have an adventure we will never forget.”

Cecilia and Donabella did a fantastic job in USEF First Level and USEF Second Level Championship for Adult Amateur classes. It took true American grit get to the Kentucky Horse Park. Their smiles could be seen all throughout the competition. We look forward to seeing them qualify next year, as of now; they have friends in Arkansas to visit along the way!