Tower Hill School freshmen Ellen Kettler is ranked seventh in the nation in her division after she competed in a national horseback competition.
The 14-year old Brandywine Hundred resident placed seventh place out of 75 riders in the beginner-novice division at the Wellpride American Eventing Championships in Wayne, Ill.
To qualify for the championship event, a rider must be a member of the United States Eventing Association and must place high in recognized events throughout the year. The categories are dressage, cross-country and show jumping.
Eventing is one of the three equestrian sports represented in the Olympics.
For dressage, the horse is controlled in certain, difficult steps by very slight movements of the rider. Kettler had to memorize a five-minute routine that includes making the horse ride in a pattern in a ring, halt, trot, walk, turn and circle. The tests are not always the same.
For show jumping, she had to quickly try to negotiate courses she has not seen before to memory and get her horse to then jump it. Once a rider and her horse go off course, they are eliminated.
For cross country, Kettler faced a mile or two of jumps, fields and forests that she hiked in order to familiarize herself with the ride.
“For the level that I do, you have to be able to manage your time very well because for people my age, horseback riding can’t be their only occupation,” Kettler said. “They have to manage it between everything they’re doing for their school, finishing homework, keeping up grades.
“I just think it’s great because you’re taught to do something with an animal that you can’t talk to, besides giving aids through your body language,” she said.
Ellen’s mother, Karen, said this sport takes a lot of mental preparation.
“Some of these jumps are high and some are them are scary looking. Some of them are constructed in order to scare the horse so that the better horses will jump over them and the lesser horses won’t,” she said. “So, she has to be really brave. She has to really concentrate and she had to have a good memory.
“She has fallen off plenty during competition. You fall off, you get back on and keep going. There’s never a second to say, ‘Oh, I quit.’ Or, ‘I fell off. Ouch.’ You have to keep going unless you’re injured.”
Each week day, Kettler devotes about four hours to her favorite sport at Broad Run Farm in West Chester, Pa. where she works with trainer Erika Nesler and takes care of horse, Ace of Spades.
“Only about half an hour to an hour is actual riding,” Kettler said. “The rest is just taking care of him.”
Because of Ace of Spades’ small size, he is somewhat of an underdog, Kettler said.
“He came from a dealer in Texas and had been left in a field for three months,” she said. “He ended up being really great. Ace is exceptional. He was not bred for the sport, which requires a certain movement of the horse for dressage. Ace has to work twice as hard just to even look like he belongs.”
She and Ace, a 9-year-old gelding, have trained with Nesler for the last two years and they compete out of Broad Run.
Kettler is planning to be in small shows in December, and in January and plans to compete as the defending champion in the Fox Crossing Jumper Series in Cochranville, Pa.
She is working to qualify again this year but she’s aiming for a higher division.
Karen Kettler said she is grateful to Tower Hill, which requires all students to play sports, for being flexible in terms of Ellen’s horse riding training. Ellen plays volleyball for Tower Hill in the Fall and tennis in the Spring.
For the eventing championships, Tower Hill allowed her to take off the first week of school off make up the work, Karen Kettler said.
“They believed in what she was doing,” she said. “I don’t think she could have concentrated and come in seventh if Tower Hill had not supported her.”
by Antonio Prado, The Community News
published with permission of The Community News