Jan Ebeling, The Acres Team, and Their Success with Oldenburgs Rafalca and Sandrina

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Rafalca and Jan Ebeling

Jan Ebeling always knew he loved dressage. Growing up in Germany, where dressage is the foundation of all riding disciplines, many kids could not wait to be considered good enough to go on to jumping. “But I was always drawn to dressage, the thrill and the puzzle of training the horse to successful Grand Prix,” he confesses.

In Germany, he earned his trainer’s license while working for mentor Herbert Rehbein, the legendary ‘trainer of trainers’. U.S. Olympic rider and coach Robert Dover, a shrewd judge of talent, asked Jan to consider a move to the United States, and Jan agreed to do so in 1984, moving to Dover’s East Coast base. “Robert made it possible for me to start right away with good horses and clients. I have always been grateful for that,” says Jan.

Ebeling eventually moved to the West Coast, fi rst to Colorado and then to Southern California, and has been here since the early 1990’s. But the most signifi cant change for Ebeling came when he married his wife, Amy, and became a U.S. citizen. “I always tell people,” says Jan, “riding is a team sport!” A rider without a team may be talented, may have success, he continues, but will not be able to reach the top. He adds—that is the same for any sport today.

Amy, an FEI rider herself, helps organize and run the Ebeling barn, The Acres, oversees the training schedule, is often the critical eye on the ground for Jan. And without doubt, it is the strength of their relationship that provides the strong foundation required to not only establish but keep running—and improving—a top sport dressage barn. Amy helped develop their barn in Moorpark, California, from the ground up, naming it The Acres and deciding where the pastures would go, what footing to use in the main dressage arena. Small trails wind through and around the property, as Jan believes in the horses being able to hack out before and after work—which is fairly often in the weather that gives Sunny Southern California its name.

The string of successful horses that this husband-andwife team have produced include Ricardo, the U.S. Intermediaire One Champion of 2000; Liberte, who won the 2002 Reserve Champion title at Intermediaire One and has since gone on to a very successful career for an Ebeling student, Amanda Harlan, now 20, who won Young Rider honors with the horse and is currently competing in Brentina Cup , the Grand Prix competition for younger adult riders. “He told me from the start, ‘I know this horse is meant for you,’” Harlan recalled.

In 2003, Jan qualified for the U.S. Intermediaire One Championship with the stallion, Feleciano, and then was selected for the Pan Am Games team. The Canadians were very diffi cult to beat, and it was Jan’s ride which gained the team gold for the United States. “Feleciano was just the most fun to ride,” says Jan. “There was not one bad day—he was so ridable, so willing. It is just amazing to look back and realize that every day, I looked forward to sitting on him!”

But Feleciano was always an investment horse, so when the owners wanted to sell him, Jan agreed this was the wise course, and the stallion was sold to a wonderful home in England, where, Jan says, “he is very happy.”

During this time, Ebeling worked intensively with dressage uber-coach Harry Boldt. “Harry Boldt was just amazing,” says Amy Ebeling. “He came every month, to help Jan. He went with us to Gladstone, and to the Pan Am Games.” Jan nods, “ Harry taught the meaning of being patient with the horses. That tomorrow is often soon enough. And if not tomorrow, then next week. Or next month.”

Several of the Ebeling owners decided to invest in the long-term goal of seeing Jan with a top sport horse that he could keep all the way through Grand Prix and hopefully, team success: Pat Crow, a friend since his days in Colorado; and two other friends, Beth Meyer and Ann Romney. “I like geldings and for sure stallions that are like Feleciano,” says Jan, then admits that he has never thought of himself as a mare person. “And then Christian called,” says Jan, laughing.

Christian Heinrich , who lives in Germany, started as one of several contacts Jan would call when searching for new horses. “It started as business,” says Jan, “but over the years, our families have developed a real friendship and strong connection. So much so, if he tells me he has found a special horse, that means we just get on a plane. We don’t wait for a video or anything.” In 2006, Christian had found TWO special horses. “Both young mares!” exclaims Jan. “I groaned, and Amy and everyone else laughed.”

But they got on a plane, and the mares turned out to be Sandrina and Rafalca. Sandrina (Sandro Hit x Ganymed) bred by Bernhard Seelhorst, has earned scores in the 70%’s at Intermediare II, and at her second outing at Grand Prix she scored a 70.65% in the Freestyle at the Del Mar CDI in March.

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Jan Ebeling and Sandrina. Photo: Terri Miller

Still, it is Rafalca that has turned out to be the biggest star so far. Rafalca was the sensation of Dressage World Cup 2007, in Las Vegas. It was a last-minute decision to have the mare be ‘test ride’ before the Grand Prix; a sort of guinea pig ride for the judges to score and then calibrate scores. Judges and spectators alike were charmed by the mare’s performance, and even though the scores were never announced, more than enough people knew the results to be quite happy for the Ebelings. For Jan and Amy, it was all quite stunning –this was also Rafalca’s fi rst Grand Prix!

Rafalaca is a 1997 Oldenburg mare by Argentinius (Absatz) out of Ratine (Rubinstein I) bred in Germany by Erwin Risch. Her first owner-trainer was Melanie Sandig who trained with Isabel Werth’s trainer, Wolfram Wittig, and won several Prix St. George classes in Germany.

In 2009, Jan and Rafalca returned to Las Vegas World Cup to represent the U.S. as part of the three combinations that qualifi ed. Jan then took his top horses back to Germany to work intensively with Wolfram Wittig, coach of riders including Isabell Werth, and showed Rafalca at the prestigious Oldenburg3* as well as “indoor Aachen,” Stuttgart CDI-W5*.

What keeps Jan focused and keeps priorities in order is Ben, his son with Amy. “Life now includes family bike rides, hiking, sleepovers!” Amy and Jan both chorus, “Friends who have nothing to do with dressage, let alone horses!” Ebeling says this is great, allows him fully to enjoy the time with the horses, and adds that dealing with Ben has taught him patience in a wonderful new way. “When you are young, you’re hungry to get there. When you get a bit older, you realize it’s better to take the time.”

Wanting to give back to USEF and the sport, he accepted a post as a member of the USEF High Performance Committee, and will serve through 2012. Currently, he is preparing his horses for the upcoming WEG qualifying shows, but still fi nds time to give clinics all over the United States –and steal quality time for family and friends. Working towards the fi rst qualifying CDI, Rafalca showed Grand Prix under highly-respected U.S. judge Natalie Lamping (“I) and received a 70.85 score. “And there’s more in the tank!” says a happy Jan.

The Oldenburg Horse

Report: Lita Dove
Photo: Terri Miller