Father & Son Share Olympic Dreams
What is it about fathers and sons? Sometimes sons follow in their fathers’ footsteps, and other times fate steps in to take a different direction. For 16-year-old Ben Ebeling, the son of dressage superstar and Olympian Jan Ebeling and his wife Amy, there’s a little bIMAGE HEREit of both.
I’ve seen first-hand how well Jan works with young riders, as he has coached my daughter Genay at many clinics. He has helped countless aspiring Olympians as the USDF Young Rider clinician and Chef d’Equipe for Region 7.
But I learned a lot more about his role as a father recently when I talked with the Ebeling family: Jan, his wife Amy and their son Ben.
Remember the old saying that behind every successful man stands a woman? The same holds true for successful sons. Amy Ebeling not only manages their ranch, The Acres, with all its clients, staff horses, and facility details, she also manages the planning, travel and support involved in the competitive careers of Jan and Ben.
Somehow, I had imagined Jan coming from an equestrian family, but not so. As a city boy, Jan grew up in Berlin, Germany, and thought he was destined for the sport of soccer. One day when his grandma was driving him to sign up for soccer, they passed a riding facility on the same road as the soccer field, and his grandma decided that he needed to learn how to ride.
One thing led to another: riding lessons; then leasing a horse; then buying a horse. Jan had fun riding with the other kids, learned to jump in addition to flatwork, and found he had a natural ability for dressage. By the time he finished high school, he was ready for the next step.
That’s when his father and fate stepped in. Through a connection of his father’s, Jan got the opportunity to become an apprentice to the late German master Herbert Rehbein who was many times German Professional Champion, Winner of the German Dressage Derby and International Trainer of the Year.
Jan literally began with behind the scenes work in the barn of feeding, mucking and grooming, with lessons on schooled horses leading to more advanced dressage training. He was with Herbert Rehbein for many years, and in 1984 immigrated to the United States, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen and representing his adopted country internationally, most recently at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Growing up at The Acres
By contrast, Ben Ebeling grew up on his parents’ farm, The Acres, in Moorpark, watching his dad Jan train and teach, and his mom Amy manage the ranch. Family reminiscence has 2-year-old Ben riding double with his father, doing two-tempis on the family’s Grand Prix horse Ricardo. As father-and-son experiences go, that may be one of the most unique.
The Ebelings didn’t push Ben into a life with horses; they wanted him to explore his interest in a variety of sports and activities. Horses happened to be one of those interests. He grew up riding with friends, jumping and just generally horsing around at first. Although there was no pressure to show, or to focus on any one discipline, his mom and dad made sure that he learned to ride well, no matter which style of riding he pursued.
They also made sure riding was fun, whether competing or not. Jan’s view is that even if you compete at the highest level, you have to have fun. Ribbons come with dedication, and if you don’t have fun, it won’t go well.
For Ben, hanging out with his dad at work means traveling to shows like Aachen, Hagen and the London Olympics, where Jan was a member of the USA dressage team, as well as top U.S. shows. Being around the superstars of the international dressage and jumping world became just a normal day for Ben, who instead of being star-struck, takes the opportunity to watch and learn from the best.
A Passion for Jumping
Ben always liked jumping, and it quickly became his passion. When he was old enough to get serious about competition, he began training with Will Simpson and showing the now 17-year-old KWPN mare Scarlett, first at local hunter/jumper shows and eventually working his way up to the 1.2 meter jumpers. When Will is away, Ben takes lessons with next-door neighbor Peter Lombardo. He’s been showing Scarlett for three years, and enjoying every minute.
He worked for that enjoyment, however. When the Ebelings bought Scarlett, they knew she had some problems with arthritis in her front legs, and as it turned out, she needed surgery to clean out her fetlock joint. There was no guarantee that she could ever be ridden again.
Ben was with Scarlett every step of the way, from being in the surgery room at Alamo Pintado, to doing the icing and hand-walking, to patiently trotting for one minute a day, then two, etc., until she was back in full work about a year later.
Amy says they are very proud of Ben and Scarlett. For Ben, it has been a learning experience through vet checks, surgeries, lay-ups and recovery. Scarlett taught him so much, and his dedication paid off – today Scarlett is jumping great.
Dressage Gives Jumpers the Advantage
The Ebelings always insisted that Ben learn to ride well, whether he rode jumping or dressage, and they instilled in him the time-proven perspective that dressage is the foundation for all riding. It’s as important to Jan and Amy that Ben is able to put his jumper on the bit – for his safety and the benefit of his horse – as it is for a dressage horse.
Consequently, Ben has the firm opinion that in jumping, dressage between fences gives him and his horse the advantage. Ben says that when you can collect your horse between fences, she can round over her back, jump better and use less energy. She can also handle tighter turns for a faster time. Dressage actually helps horses jump faster.
Dressage, the Next Goal
At Hagen last year, Ben watched the Under 25 dressage competition, and was intrigued by another second-generation rider: Juan Matute, Jr. Ben thought, “I want to do that, too,” and he didn’t let any grass grow under his boots.
Back at home, he connected with Cathy Shelton and her 2001 Oldenburg stallion Descartes, by De Niro. Jan showed Descartes for several years at Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire I, and this year Ben was fortunate to lease Descartes to compete and try to qualify for the Region 7 Young Riders team.
Ben has been competing in both show jumping and dressage this year. During one memorable spring weekend, he rode his horses in two different shows at Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park (The Oaks) in San Juan Capistrano: Scarlett in the 1.2 meter jumpers at the Blenheim Spring Classic II, and Descartes in the FEI Young Rider tests at the California Dreaming Productions’ Festival of the Horse CDI3*.
Asked if he feels pressure from his parents, or because of their stellar reputation, Ben replied, “I don’t feel pressure from anyone else. I probably put pressure on myself; I want to be the best rider I can be.”
Ben has seen what it takes to be a champion, and his dream is to become an Olympian like his dad. The question is: will that be in show jumping … or dressage?
Dressage Life author Michele Vaughn is a dressage rider and trainer who earned USDF gold and silver rider medals.
She has coached her daughter Genay from her first ride through Grand Prix competition, and now coaches other riders as well.
At her Starr Vaughn Equestrian in Elk Grove, CA, she breeds and trains champion Hanoverian sport horses, manages dressage and hunter/jumper shows, and hosts clinics and breed inspections.