first published in the July 2021 Equiery

Shannon Brinkman photo

On June 17, Strides for Equality Equestrians (SEE) and the US Eventing Association Foundation announced Helen Casteel of Silver Spring as the first recipient of the Ever So Sweet Scholarship. The scholarship provides riders from diverse backgrounds with a fully-funded opportunity to train with upper-level professionals. Scholarships will be awarded bi-annually.

Casteel and her event horse, Unapproachable, barn name Abel, will be training with Sara Kozumplik Murphy and Brian Murphy at Overlook Farm Equestrian Center in Berryville, VA, for three months this summer. The Murphys and Edy Rameika have sponsored the opportunity with the scholarship covering all expenses for full board and training costs as well as several lessons per week, housing for Casteel and a stipend to cover living expenses, competition fees, and coaching at competitions.

Casteel will also have the unique opportunity to learn how to manage and care for upper-level horses and gets to be part of the Overlook Farm team. She stated that the horse care and management part of being in a high-performance program is one of the parts she is looking forward to most about this program. In addition to competition and horse management skills, Casteel’s goals also include playing an active role in fostering a more inclusive environment within the sport.

This scholarship will provide Casteel with the opportunity to make professional connections, which not only help her as an individual, but will also contribute to improving access and opportunities for other BIPOC riders. She said, “Though I personally have been fortunate in my circumstance, I still feel that as a Black woman, I can contribute to the conversation and the solution. The opportunities to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the equine world and sport can fall into two buckets … exposure and opportunity.”

As a scholarship winner, Casteel will also act as an ambassador for the ESS scholarship, which is part of the Professional Pathways programs SEE is developing. “If we continue to actively prioritize inclusion and highlight participation of people of color and LGBTQ+ peoples, we will see the profile of not just Eventing but all equestrian sports rise,” Casteel wrote in her application essay.