By Meredith Burow
Children often dream big, but for middle schoolers Elinor Samarias, 12, and Caleigh Coleman, 13, their dreams of becoming national-caliber athletes are already coming true. The girls are competitive horseback riders, set to compete in the Arabian and Half-Arabian Horse Association Youth Nationals in Oklahoma City July 20 through July 27.
Trained at Casperey Stables, a family owned and operated, 10-acre farm nestled neatly behind rustic wood fences in Loxahatchee Groves, the girls had wildly successful rides at the Arabian Horse Association Region 12 Championship in early May. There they qualified for the Oklahoma City event.
Both Coleman and Samarias have been riding since elementary school, so this isn’t their first rodeo — or rather, dressage, jumping and equitation competition. This is to be their first time contending on the national level and in eight classes each.
Thanks to Casperey Stables’ leasing program, the girls will each be riding their favorite Arabian mares — a red-maned chestnut named Precious and a bright-eyed bay named Star.
“I’m so excited that they love what we love and [that] they’re going to nationals,” said Gina Pengue, their 25-year-old trainer. “They’re going to nationals. You guys are qualified for nationals, you know that, right?” she said to them.
Pengue was promptly answered with excited giggles from the regional champs.
While this will be the first time the girls are showing at Youth Nationals, it isn’t their first opportunity to do so. The two qualified in 2018, but they decided to wait and work to improve and compete in higher-level events this time around.
“We wanted to get more classes in and place better,” Coleman said. “We just waited until we were ready.”
As the competition and accompanying fees add up to roughly $5,000 each, waiting seemed like the smarter option. Now, older and more experienced, the young ladies have more opportunities to pin — or place — in their many events.
“Like every day, [my mom’s] like, ‘It’s a lot of money, it’s a lot of money!’” Coleman said. “But they’re pretty OK with it because they want me to do well.”
For all the time and expenses that go into riding in Youth Nationals, the winnings do not include cash prizes. First-place and second-place winners — otherwise known as Grand Champion and Reserve Champion — win red roses that are elegantly draped over the triumphant horses’ shiny, curved necks. Top-10 winners are awarded glossy ribbons and, in the words of Pengue, “bragging rights.”
“You know what we get? Gina’s tears,” Samarias said.
The trainer readily agreed.
Not only is the trip a financial stress, but it is a stress on the horses, as well. While the riders are planning on flying to Oklahoma, Pengue and Casperey Stables owner and professional trainer Lori Cooper are making the 21-hour trek via highway and horse trailer. As horses have fragile gastrointestinal systems, this tends to be a challenging trip, so the trainers take extra precautions.
According to Pengue, because of the risk involved in this type of transport, the competing horses are given electrolytes by mouth, along with mineral oil in their grain before they leave and after they arrive. They are only fed hay on the journey, however, so as to not irritate their stomachs. The mares are also offered water at every pitstop, and the trainers are even planning to arrive in Oklahoma City early enough for the horses to have two days of recovery time.
“I’m not as nervous as I would be,” Pengue said, “because Star and Precious have done plenty of traveling, and they’re used to it.”
Although Samarias and Coleman are set to compete against each other in almost every class, they plan to be happy for one another no matter what.
“I cry when I get really happy, she doesn’t,” Samarias said. “So, if she got roses, I would cry for her.”
“We’re proud for each other either way,” Coleman said.
For Pengue, taking the girls to Youth Nationals is more than ribbons and roses and radical rides; it’s a pixel in the bigger picture of Arabian horse recognition and appreciation. According to Pengue, people commonly mislabel the Arabian breed as being “small, dinky and crazy.”
“Some of them are,” Pengue said with a smile, “But the horses that we buy and that we get here are all-purpose horses; they can do it all. They’re well-balanced in their conformation. We buy horses that have good brains — and you can make that into anything.”
Pengue considered the fact that Team Casperey is rolling out of the western Palm Beach County communities — which are largely populated by long-legged Thoroughbreds and brawny Warmbloods — a testament to a “step in the right direction” for the Arabian horse reputation.
“I really wish that I could get more people drawn to this and love it the way I do, but we’re trying,” Pengue said. “We’re trying, and I think going to Youth Nationals is one step closer.”
In the meantime, the riders and their trainers are preparing to enjoy this opportunity regardless of the late-July results, following Casperey Stables’ show motto: “Ride for the ride and let the ribbons fall where they may.”
Learn more about Casperey Stables at www.caspereystables.com.