Before sitting down to a home-cooked meal of pasta Bolognese and green beans at Tierra Contenta, their comfortable Wellington farm, Amy and Jan Ebeling were on Facetime with their son, Ben.
The Ebelings are a well-known family in the dressage world. Jan was on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in London, riding Rafalca, a mare co-owned by Ann Romney, wife of the 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He was also on the 2003 Pan American Games gold medal team and in four World Cup Finals. Their 19-year-old son, currently attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, is making some noise on his own, competing in Grand Prix classes in both dressage and jumping, a rare accomplishment.
Jan Ebeling continues to compete at a high level and hopes to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo aboard Indeed V. He trains and competes in Wellington during the week, and most weekends he is giving a clinic out of town.
Amy Ebeling is the CEO of Team Ebeling. She is a successful businesswoman managing their farms in Wellington and California, taking care of their clients as well as being a horse owner herself. She is also a terrific cook.
“We have a very busy life, and one of the biggest goals that I have with supporting my family is to make sure to stay in touch with our main objectives,” she explained. “There are lots of tasks that we do each day to help inch our way toward our individual goals, so helping to facilitate those things is a role of mine in helping these two guys.”
Ben Ebeling is a weekend competitor, flying down when he can, usually several weekends a month. He plans to pursue both disciplines while continuing his education where most of his mother’s Pittsburgh-based side of the family attended school.
“Dressage is technical; each step counts, and precision is extremely important,” said Ben, who has not outgrown his Star Wars fascination. “The feeling of being in harmony with your horse, asking them to perform movements that you yourself trained, is something truly special. Show jumping is similar to dressage in that it is very technical, but in a whole other way. I love jumping because of the rush, having to think on the fly while in a course of jumps, and, of course, the speed.”
His parents are not pushing him to decide between either discipline and marvel at the success he’s had in both, considering the fundamental difference in balance that creates quite a challenge for the rider.
“In the beginning, I wasn’t sure how Ben would cope with such a drastic difference, especially when the jumps got bigger,” said Jan, who turns 61 on Sept. 9. “Turns out it seems to have made him more agile in both dressage and jumping. I’m not sure how he pulls it off, but he seems to just do it. He rides a dressage horse, hops on his jumper, and gets right back on another dressage horse without any problem. So athletically, it has helped him for both disciplines. The biggest challenge seems to be to make it from the dressage show to the jumping competition on time.”
Many people have told Ben that he will have to choose one over the other at some point because it is too hard to transition between the mindsets of higher-level dressage and jumping. But he disagrees.
“One of the integral parts of my training that is different from other riders has been learning how to transition from discipline to discipline, even multiple times in a day,” explained Ben, who was also an amateur magician when he was younger. “Not many other riders have to deal with this aspect of the sport, but I’ve worked hard on it, and usually it only takes a few brief minutes of visualization to transition between calmness (dressage) and intensity (show jumping). I do not think I will ever choose one over the other; I love both sports so much. In my opinion, they balance me as a rider. I’ve certainly been extremely blessed with the opportunities that my family makes available to me, so I would like to always take advantage of both sports.”
Ben’s routine before a major competition includes eating a protein-filled breakfast cooked by his father. He also visualizes each movement for about 30 minutes, whether it’s a rollback turn in a jumping course or transitioning from piaffe to passage in dressage. And he always wears his yellow Pittsburgh Steelers bracelet for good luck.
“I think as long as riding is a hobby for him, it doesn’t really matter if he does both disciplines at the same time,” Jan said. “However, our sports have become so specialized that as a professional, you would have to choose one or the other. That, of course, would be his decision. I have a feeling that his true love is the jumpers.”
His mother also has some ideas for her son and his future. “Be happy, get good grades, do his best in school, experience a different life other than horses,” Amy said. “Find a passion and pour yourself into it. Achieve your goals with horses by taking tiny steps toward them, be realistic about the journey and getting there to avoid big letdowns, and love every moment of this amazing life with horses and cherish all that they give to us.”
If Ben chooses horses as a career, he certainly has the background to succeed, as riding and managing horses are second nature to him.
“He has seen his father and I work very hard from the ground up in the sport to the Olympics, and I hope that life lesson will take Ben many places,” Amy said. “Understanding the successes and the failures, learning along the way how to handle each of these in a very humble and gracious way, has been a lesson I have always tried to teach him. I hope that his father and I have been wonderful role models in working hard.”
When they are together, they relax by playing cards or Monopoly or Scrabble, and it’s gets very competitive.
“The biggest challenge is keeping everyone focused,” Amy said. “I am particularly focused, and it’s hard for me to relate to those who become unfocused; that’s my downfall.”
But it’s one of the keys to the success of her husband and son.