By Jason Tyson
Not many people realize it, but the North Carolina Sandhills are home to a current bona fide sports superstar. What Phil Mickelson and Danica Patrick are to their respective sports, Susan Beebee is to eventing.
Eventing is a triathlon for horses, an equestrian competition usually set over a couple of days. It carries the flavor of both sport and presentation — part gymnastics competition, part Westminister Dog Show. While eventing may not be the most recognizable athletic competition, Beebee is searching for glory on its biggest stages, or should we say, fields. The upcoming Stoneybrook Steeplechase, a Sandhills tradition, as well as the start of the competitive equestrian season, is an ideal time to spotlight eventing, which is linked to that old horse race.
Beebee is currently celebrating the one-year anniversary of her Vass farm Hollybrook, located just 30 minutes from Fayetteville and 20 minutes from Southern Pines. Beebee grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia and spent time in Dayton, Ohio and Charlotte for many years, before settling in Vass. She also boards and trains horses, as well — and has an intense training schedule.
“Equestrian training is a seven-day a week job,” said Beebee. “I started riding when I was 6 years old and I have had horses in my blood ever since.”
Beebee says she knew eventing was the type of sport she wanted to pursue around age 11, while watching the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Now she prepares for competitions that are considered on par with the Olympics, such as the Rolex 3-Day in Kentucky.
Training for these events can present unique challenges, considering that there are two athletes present, the horse and the rider. The two must be perfectly in sync throughout the trials in order to succeed.
One phase, dressage, is like ballet, where the horse and rider are put through a series of precise movements, while cross country involves an obstacle course. The third event, show jumping, involves guiding the horse over a series of rails.
Eventing used to formally contain a steeplechase element, a 3.5 kilometer timed test, but that phase was dropped six years ago in hope that a smaller format would be more conducive for elite competitions. There are currently only a handful of events held around the world on the scale of Rolex, and Beebee hopes for continued success at these competitions, such as those held in England at the Badminton and Burghley Houses.
She credits her horses and trainers with helping her get to this point in her career where she can train for such high-level competitions. Beebee and Olympic hopeful Will Faudree, who has a 45-acre farm in nearby Hoffman, both train under Robert Costello, a respected teacher in equestrian sports. The three not only have helped to continue to help promote the sport in an area rich in equestrian traditions, but have worked with horses, such as Beebee’s “Prowler”, that have shown as much passion for it as their riders. Beebee is also excited about the Steeplechase, and the fun and awareness of horse sports Stoneybrook brings to the area.
“I have horses that have a lot of heart,” Beebee said. “This is more of lifestyle than a job. It’s non-stop work but its also fun to be a part of something like this.”