By Susan Friedland-Smith
When the high school bell rang signaling the end of the day, a young Barb Crabo, backpack in tow, bolted from the classroom and sprinted across the sports field where a bus driver was keeping an eye out for her. If he saw her running, he’d wait for the budding equestrian whose dash across the green field was perhaps a foreshadowing of her future career as a three-day eventer.
That bus was the first leg of what was an hour and a half ride, one way, on public transportation. After changing bus lines and traveling a total of about 25 miles, the final destination for the Northern California teenager was a horse farm. There, Barb rode borrowed horses and later her first horse — a Thoroughbred named Siera. Those long and solitary commutes to the barn via public transportation fostered independence, a trait invaluable for the road ahead: filled with challenging horses and an international four-star event in Kentucky.
According to Barb, now an Arizona resident and the owner and trainer of Four Peaks Farm in Scottsdale, when she was a little girl, horses were “all I could talk about or think about … One of my first memories was seeing a brochure with a horse on it for summer camp and freaking out.” Although Barb was the lone horse lover in her family and her parents couldn’t completely identify with her passion, they were supportive — allowing her to lease a horse during the summer and for two weeks during winter break when she was about 12 (and let her ride a city bus alone as a teen!) This regular exposure intensified her horse fever and set the stage for her life’s work.
Eventing in Earnest
While some young horse lovers take a break during their college years or leave riding pursuits behind altogether, that was precisely when Barb got even more deeply involved with horses and fell in love with three-day eventing. Barb attended University of California-Davis and there was eventing fairly close to campus. Once she tried it, she was hooked immediately.
Barb’s first eventer was a 15.1-hand leopard Appaloosa with the show name Modern Art. “He was such a fancy mover so people thought he was a Warmblood,” she said. The onlookers would never have guessed that he was a Quarter Horse/Appy cross.
Barb said riding and eventing him was like the blind leading the blind. “He taught me how to sit a buck … I can’t count how many times he bucked me off,” she said. The flashy horse and tenacious rider competed together up to Preliminary Level, and that perseverance — sticking with a horse in spite of its behavioral challenges — set the stage for Barb’s relationship with future horses, especially the one she’d ride at Rolex.
Special From the Start
Eveready II, Barb’s current mount whom she bred, raised and trained, exited the womb with an abundance of self-confidence. According to Barb, “Most babies are timid, and shy. Not him. The minute he was born he was like, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ He was very curious and brave — full of himself.” She claims he has more attitude than any horse should ever be entitled to possess.
The dark bay gelding out of a Thoroughbred dam and Swedish Warmblood sire was born challenging. “He has always been exhilarating and fun, but he’d charge around the course as fast as he possibly could — he used to be quite the runaway on cross-country,” she said. Only in the last three to four years has Barb felt like the now 16-year-old Eveready has been a pleasure to ride.
When at home, anyone from Barb’s groom to her 11-year-old daughter can hack Eveready. However, the gelding is a different horse at a show. Barb describes his show demeanor as, “tense but manageable in dressage and crazy, jumping out of his skin” during the other two phases of her sport. When asked how Barb handles the challenge her mount presents she said, “He makes me laugh now. We’ve been together so long and I trust him so much. He’s going to do his job.”
Rolex Preparations and Beyond
Last November Barb won the Galway Downs International Three-Day Event CCI3* in California and now Barb and Eveready will make the three-day trek from the Sonoran Desert to lush Kentucky bluegrass for their third outing at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. Joining the pair will be Barb’s husband, Martin, a third-generation veterinarian who specializes in equines, and her daughter, Jordan, also an equestrian who rides at the Novice Level partnered with her new Connemara pony, Eclipse. Many riders from Four Peaks Farm family have purchased their Rolex tickets and booked a horse-themed vacation to support their trainer and friend.
In 2009 and 2012, Barb and Eveready competed in Lexington, but they have not yet completed all three days. Barb recalls, “The first year we were so green I didn’t ride as well as I needed to and we got eliminated on cross-country, but it was a great learning experience. We didn’t get through soundness-wise in 2012 … third time’s the charm, right?”
Barb is coached in dressage by Kathrin Hain, who’s based in New Mexico. The German trainer flies in to give clinics to Barb and her students. When Eveready’s not in the dressage court or jumping, part of his fitness regimen involves twice-weekly water workouts. He’s minimally galloped prior to a competition, yet leading up to Rolex the gelding will do two 10-minute sets in the water with a short break in between. When asked if he enjoys his “swim class,” Barb said he doesn’t dislike the water workouts, but he gets bored with it. She said he kind of gives her a look and then jumps off the ramp into the pool every time.
Regardless of the outcome at this year’s Rolex, Barb’s equestrian journey has been a success. The Rolex contender, who used to gallop to get to the bus, says the most gratifying part of her work is seeing happy horses and proud owners when they’ve just completed a ride. “I have fantastic clients, and it’s so fun to see their success, have a good ride and come out beaming going, ‘OMG!’ It’s so amazing! Nothing is better than a happy animal, and nothing is worse, to me, than an unhappy animal. I love feeling a horse that enjoys its job and is having a good time.”
And it’s apparent that Eveready, the formerly challenging runaway on cross-country, is doing just that — having a good time, enjoying his job.
Update: Visit Susan’s blog Saddle Seeks Horse to learn more about Barb – including a photo of Barb and Susan meeting at Rolex. Here’s the link: