By Laura Scaletti
Portraits by Adrienne Morella
Do you believe in fate? Eventer Noah Stanlaske does. At 14 years old, Noah has repeatedly been in the right place at the right time to let his equestrian aspirations take flight.
For Noah, first grade was more than just learning about reading, writing and arithmetic; it’s where his passion for horses was first sparked. “My first grade teacher rode and she did a lot of her lessons around horses. She was very enthusiastic about riding and it made me want to give it a try,” Noah said.
Although Noah’s mom had spent her own childhood riding, it was Noah who initiated the conversation about giving riding a go. At age 7, Noah put his foot in the stirrup for the first time and today he’s been riding for more than half his life.
Like many young riders starting out, Noah got his feet wet in the world of hunter-jumpers. As a member of the Rolling Rock Hunt Pony Club located in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, Noah got to try his hand at a variety of disciplines. It was through Pony Club that Noah got his first taste of the thrill of traversing a cross-country course.
“I was drawn to eventing after my first experience schooling cross-country. It was so different from anything I had done before,” Noah said. “I remember thinking how much fun I had galloping around the field and that I couldn’t wait to do it again.”
Noah credits Pony Club for both introducing him to the sport he loves and teaching him the importance of horsemanship. “It was through Pony Club that I was given a solid foundation of horse knowledge. Pony Club stresses the whole picture: how to take care of your horse both in and out of the saddle,” Noah explained.
In just two years, Noah has gone from eventing newbie to tackling the Preliminary Level. The first of the “upper” levels of eventing, Preliminary takes guts, talent and qualification.
Noah is extremely grateful to have two talented mounts, without whom the rapid rise in the ranks wouldn’t be possible. “Chesterland and Dancing Queen are my partners in the competition ring and out. I am so lucky to call them both mine,” he said.
For the past two and a half years, Chesterland has been helping Noah advance in the sport. “Chester is definitely the horse that changed my life. He helped show me the ropes of eventing and gave me the confidence I needed to keep growing,” Noah said.
It was the summer of 2019 when Chesterland and Noah really found their stride together. The duo became a solid pair and gave each other their complete trust. “Chester’s such a special horse. He gives you 100%, 100% of the time.”
In fact, Noah and Chesterland were recognized for their teamwork last year at the Cobblestone Farm Horse Trials, winning the Charles Owen Technical Merit Award. According to the US Eventing Association, “The award represents effective precision and execution by horse and rider on the cross-country course at the Training Level of competition.”
“Chester and I were one of 10 young riders to take home the award last year. It was a very special award for me because it recognized all of our hard work, but more importantly, acknowledged we were doing things not only correctly, but also safely,” Noah said.
Over the past year, Noah has also built a solid relationship with his newest partner, Dancing Queen. A full sister to Chesterland, she has given Noah an opportunity to learn new skills and further refine his style of riding.
“Dancing Queen has really helped me finesse my technique in dressage. She’s a cross-country machine; she has so much fun on course,” Noah said.
While Noah’s two mounts are full siblings and they both excel in the cross-country phase, they are two very different horses to ride and compete. “I’m really enjoying learning what makes each of them tick,” he said.
Lesson from a Legend
For Noah, one of the most exciting aspects of eventing is getting to meet some of his heroes and watch top riders in the sport compete. When Noah was looking for his next competition horse, he not only found his partner Chesterland, he met living legend and Olympic gold medalist Bruce Davidson, Sr.
“We were in Florida looking at horses and Bruce had Chester for us to try. Bruce actually bred and started both Chester and Dancing Queen,” Noah said. “After we brought Chester home, we kept in contact with Bruce and updated him on how we were doing.”
Keeping in touch with Bruce has paid dividends for Noah. The past two winters, Noah was able to take a few lessons with Bruce down in Florida. This summer, Noah went to Bruce’s Chesterland Farm in Unionville, Pennsylvania, to prepare for the American Eventing Championships — and still rides with Bruce.
“I’m so fortunate to be able to train with Bruce full time. It’s really special to train with someone of Bruce’s caliber; his knowledge and attention to detail is extraordinary,” Noah said.
Noah’s taking advantage of every moment he can be with Bruce and learn from the master of eventing himself. He’s learned more about competing from Bruce, and he’s gained valuable insights into how to condition a horse properly for the upper levels of eventing.
“Bruce has been a great mentor, dedicated coach and a devoted teacher. Every interaction with Bruce is an opportunity to learn something, and he’s so giving of his time,” Noah said. “My favorite moments with him are just going for a hack in the countryside.”
Noah is determined to do whatever it takes to make it to the top of his sport. Although young in years, he’s wise in knowing that it’s going to take a strong drive and work ethic to achieve his goals.
“The moment Chester became my partner, my whole life changed,” Noah said. “I was at the barn several days a week learning, riding in the morning, riding at night. I did whatever I could to keep moving forward.”
With two horses in training and high aspirations for his future, Noah’s training regime has increased, resulting in more time spent at Bruce’s farm. “Once a month, my mom and I travel to Bruce’s and stay for two to three weeks at a time,” Noah said.
Like many young riders tackling the upper levels of their sport, Noah attends Laurel Spring, a private online high school. Every day is a balance of eventing and education for Noah.
“Going to Laurel Springs ensures that I’m meeting all of my academic requirements, but it also gives me the freedom to train every day and have a flexible schedule. While I’m very committed to training, I know that school is equally important,” Noah said.
With two strong partners, a devoted trainer and family behind him, the future is bright for Noah. “Eventing is so exciting and thrilling to me. I hope one day to compete at the top level of the sport,” he said.
But with the healthy mentality fostered from Pony Club to training with Bruce, he’s also sure to enjoy the journey.
“My favorite aspect of eventing has to be the partnership and trust you form with your horse,” Noah said. “Developing and building a bond with your horse takes time, but once you have it, it makes everything you go through that much more rewarding.”
Photos by Adrienne Morella, adriennemorellaphotography.zenfolio.com