By Ruby Tevis
Portraits by Adrienne Morella
When Becca Roth thinks about her future, she envisions galloping along the cross-country course at the Olympic Games. The 17-year-old eventer from Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, has big dreams and the courage to conquer them. With her partner, an off-the-track-Thoroughbred called Deuce, Becca has already achieved a lifetime’s worth of accolades, and she doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
Becca’s affinity for horses comes from her mother, but her love of jumping is all her own. “My mom used to ride saddleseat,” Becca said, “but I didn’t know that until second grade, when I brought home a flyer for riding lessons with a Saddlebred on it.” Becca told her mom she wanted to take lessons, but she was involved in synchronized figure skating at the time, and that took priority. “My mom taped the flyer on the cupboard, and it took me about two years to talk about taking lessons again.”
When Becca finally swung a leg over a horse at 9 years old, riding immediately became her passion; but it was when she took her first jump a short while later that eventing became her calling. After some time taking lessons and leasing horses, Becca found her first event horse, Otis. She did her first Beginner Novice with the Clydesdale-Thoroughbred cross, and thus embarked on her competitive eventing journey.
“Otis taught me everything,” Becca said. “Sadly, he sustained a suspensory injury, and after a long rehab, was retired.” This unfortunate turn of events left Becca without a horse to ride or compete, so she began seeking out a new partner for her next chapter in eventing.
Enter Chapter Two
Becca’s chapter two starts with Deuce, also known as Chapter Two, an off-the-track-Thoroughbred and graduate of the Retired Racehorse Project’s famed Thoroughbred Makeover competition. “I had no idea what the Retired Racehorse Project was when we tried him out, but he’d come in first place in dressage and second in eventing with Allison O’Dwyer at the show!” Becca said. “He was the first horse I tried, so I kept an open mind, but I knew instantly he would be coming home with us.”
At just 5 years old, Deuce was still in his baby stage when he came to Becca. “He was still trying to figure out his body, and his balance wasn’t the greatest,” Becca laughed. “It took a while to get him strong and get all the right muscling on him, but we learned right away that he loved cross-country and jumping.” In fact, Deuce loved cross-country so much that he galloped away with Becca in the passenger seat during their first schooling. Though he was young and green, Becca looked forward to learning and growing with him.
“Deuce thought Beginner Novice was too small—he didn’t respect the size of the jumps—so we moved up to Novice fairly quickly,” Becca said. “That first year, we competed at Hagyard MidSouth Team Challenge at the Kentucky Horse Park, where we ended up placing second against 28 professionals and amateurs, and I was only 14 then!”
As Deuce and Becca’s partnership grew and their potential became more and more apparent, the pair decided to head to Florida for their first winter competition. “We went to Florida for a week and a half to train and compete,” Becca said. “When we came back, we knew we’d be ready for a step up.”
For eventers, competing at Training Level for the first time is like a rite of passage, but it can be intimidating, too. Though they were moving up the levels together, Becca and Deuce’s trust in one another made the transition a success.
“Most of the time, I’ve got Deuce’s back, but when I slip up, he’s got me,” Becca said. “He used to work off of raw talent, and he thinks it’s very hard to apply himself sometimes. He has his little tantrums and acts like a child, but I wouldn’t trade that personality for anything else. He’s a very good cross-country horse.”
Out of the start box for their first Training Level event at Otter Creek Spring Horse Trial, Becca was reminded just how rewarding it can be when hard work pays off. “We came home with a win, and we did Training Level the rest of the season. I wasn’t planning on doing Training Level at the American Eventing Championships because we’d already qualified for Novice, but he was doing so well, we went for it, and he did very well,” Becca said.
To Preliminary and Beyond
With a successful season at Training Level wrapping up, Becca wanted to test the waters at Preliminary before winter. She didn’t expect to place, let alone place second and qualify for the next year’s Area IV Eventing Championships.
“The ground was wet on cross-country day,” Becca said. “I was scared because of the footing, so my only goal was to jump clear. I didn’t care how slow we went around the track. I knew he could go faster, but with the conditions I didn’t want to over face him, especially at his first Prelim. Looking back on that day continues to amaze me!”
Having checked Preliminary off of her list, Becca looked forward to 2020 and the prospect of more Preliminary competitions. First order of business—another trip to Florida. Becca planned to polish up a few things and head to more winter competitions, but as they say, even the best-laid plans often go awry.
“We left for Ocala to train with Missy Ransehausen the day before everything shut down for COVID-19,” Becca said. “Our three weeks turned into five weeks, but it was one of the best things that could have happened.” While she didn’t get to show, Becca’s extended stay in Ocala was still a success.
With her high school moving all classes online for the pandemic, Becca could still balance school while focusing on riding with Missy. “Missy took the time to break down some of our mistakes,” Becca explained. “We went back to basics and rebuilt from there. Looking back, we really needed it.”
Becca returned home feeling energized and ready to get back in the game, but another wrench was thrown into Becca’s plans—Deuce popped a splint just a week before her second Preliminary run. “He was out of work for two months while his leg healed,” Becca said. “2020 was an odd year, but we were able to finish it out on a high note. We competed in the Area IV Eventing Championships, and though it was our second Prelim, we ended up winning!”
The Big Leagues
It’s one thing to look up to your idols, but riding beside them in the warmup arena is a whole different story. At just 16 years old, Becca found herself in this exact situation at the Ocala International Festival of Eventing last spring. Needless to say, her first CCI2* L was a whirlwind of emotion.
“Buck Davidson was riding in the ring. Leslie Law was out riding and coaching, and I was so nervous. The cottonmouth was real!” Becca laughed. “It was my first time doing a jog, so I trotted up and around and back, but they didn’t say anything. I was so worried that he wasn’t accepted, but turns out I just hadn’t trotted him long enough!”
As her first true three-day competition, Becca was also shocked by how the weekend felt so long. “With dressage one day, cross-country the next and show jumping after that, it feels like you have all the time in the world because it’s just one event per day,” Becca said, “but I was also putting a lot of pressure on myself, so the extra nerves were for no reason.”
Finishing double clear, on her dressage score and ahead of Buck Davidson, Becca soon realized there wasn’t much to be nervous about. “I saw a lot of new things that I hadn’t seen at regular horse trials. I’d never seen horses getting IV bags to rehydrate after cross-country, so that was new to me. The environment was different, so there was a lot of learning,” she said.
With COVID-19 and other factors changing the landscape of competitions like the North American Youth Championships, the United States Eventing Association unveiled the Eventing Youth Team Challenge in 2021, modeled after the Nations Cup Series, where Becca was an inaugural competitor at the East Coast Final.
“The series was really fun, and I got to be on a team with my friend Claire Strehlow, who I started riding with in Wisconsin. Claire is in college right now, so I don’t get to see her that often, but it was really cool to get to compete with her,” Becca said. “Our team ended up winning second overall, and Deuce and I were overall individual champions. I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until I got home and took the time to look at my awards, and then it hit me!”
The Future Starts Today
When looking ahead to the future, Becca has big goals, but understands the importance of patience. “I could see Deuce going all the way. He has the scope. I would love to ride our first five-star together,” Becca said, “Beyond that, I would love to be an Olympic rider. That’s my ultimate goal—to be a professional, to have a string of horses and compete at the upper levels, but I also understand that I need money to pursue those dreams. I do plan to go to college for a business degree.”
Becca’s dream school is the University of Florida to continue to train in Florida. “It would be so close to Missy, so I could still do school and continue to train. Although if Florida doesn’t work out, University of Kentucky would be a close second. My friend Claire goes there, so she’s constantly trying to get me to go to UK instead of Florida!” Becca laughed.
Until then, Becca decided to graduate early to spend another season in Florida. She is preparing Deuce for more Intermediate competitions, and is working on his fitness and longevity with Missy. “I’d like to compete at the CCI3* level next year and maybe the season after that, but I hope to move up from there,” Becca said.
“Deuce is an awesome horse, he’s so fun to work with,” Becca said. “Our journey has been amazing going from Beginner Novice to Intermediate together. We’ve achieved so much, and it wouldn’t be possible without him. Also, none of this would be possible without my parents being super supportive. I’m very grateful.”
Photos by Adrienne Morella, www.adriennemorellaphotography.com, unless noted otherwise