Scholarship winner makes her mark in Eventing with Retired Thoroughbred

August 12, 2021

Casteel, ‘Abel,’ earn first scholarship for Riders from Diverse Backgrounds

Baltimore, Md. – While preparing one morning last week for the Millbrook Horse Trials in upstate New York, Helen Casteel said, “I never thought I would get here. It’s so very, very cool.”

Indeed. Not only was Casteel at Millbrook, but she was training with five-star eventer Sara Kozumplik Murphy and her husband, Irish show jumper Brian Murphy, as part of her award for being the first recipient of the Strides for Equality Equestrians and the United States Eventing Association’s Ever So Sweet Scholarship.

The unique scholarship, the first of its kind for riders from diverse backgrounds, provides Casteel the opportunity to train and care for horses while her expenses are covered for three months.

It also gives her a chance to work with her partner Abel.

Abel, you see, is retired Thoroughbred Unapproachable, who has taken Casteel on the ride of her life.

“He’s so great, so willing…he’s a Thoroughbred. They are just so smart. I didn’t think something like this would be possible” she said.

Abel, or Unapproachable, is a Virginia-bred son of Not For Love who raced 18 times at Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, Charles Town and Colonial Downs for Hillwood Stable LLC and trainer Rodney Jenkins between 2011-2013. Fifth in the Maryland Million Turf Stakes in 2012, Unapproachable won three races and earned $78,040 before retiring.

“Yeah, I remember [Unapproachable],” recalled Jenkins, a multiple graded stakes-winning trainer based at Laurel who is also a member of the Show Jumping Hall of Fame. “He was a nice looking, big horse. He was a pretty strong-made horse.”

Unapproachable was originally to be trained as a fox hunter at Pleasant Prospect Farm, but that wasn’t working out. Meanwhile, Casteel, who graduated from George Washington University and had been intrigued by eventing since attending Groton House in Massachusetts as a high school student, was serving as a barn manager and giving pony club lessons in exchange for lessons for herself at Waredaca. 

That’s when Abel entered her life.

“He was one of three horses from Pleasant Prospect,” Casteel said. “He was the third I looked at. He was a little immature at first, but I was in no rush. I wasn’t planning on making him an amazing eventing horse. I mean, it took two, three years before we really got going.”

Casteel and Abel clearing an obstacle on the cross-country course, the second leg of eventing. (Maryland Jockey Club)

Abel and Casteel, who made their eventing debut in 2016, have since moved up to Novice and have had a Top 10 finish in the 2018 Waredaca Novice Three-Day and a Top 20 in the 2019 USEA American Evening Championships Novice Rider Championship.

Jenkins isn’t surprised.

“Not at all,” he said, “because he’s the right type. That’s a big, strong horse that has a big stride. He’s physically built to be able to jump and gallop. He was a decent-minded horse, too.”

Added Casteel: “I’m really fortunate to have a horse that was trained by Mr. Jenkins. The thing with Thoroughbreds is they go through a lot of training when they’re young. They’re smart. They want to please you. And right now, he’s just thriving, and he always wants to do more. He’s eating up all this training.”

For more information on Strides for Equality visit: https://www.stridesforequality.org/

Maryland Jockey Club Press Release
Top Photo: Helen Casteel and Abel in a gallop on the cross-country course, the second leg of eventing. (Maryland Jockey Club)

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