Rachel Long and her grandmother Debbi Long arrived at the first USHJA Gold Star Clinic in 2018 as outliers. They hauled Rachel’s horse themselves and camped in their RV at the venue in Southern California’s Thermal. Hailing from their home base in Horseshoe Bend, Idaho, they were “nobodys,” as Debbi likes to say.
Not for long.
Rachel’s tenacious, intuitive and determined riding impressed all. Her capabilities in the barn even more so. Developing well-rounded, self-sufficient horsemen of ambitious young jumping riders was the objective of the clinic and Rachel was well ahead of the game in that regard. The reason for that is Debbi, matriarch of the Long Family, head trainer of Long Farms, and “Grammy” to nine.
During the USEF’s Pegasus Awards Night Jan. 16, Debbi will (virtually) accept the USEF’s Walter B Devereux Sportsmanship Award. It’s well-deserved recognition for epitomizing the best in horsemanship and horse people and passing it on to two generations and those in their spheres of influence.
It’s more limelight than Debbi would like. However, the results Rachel and her younger sister Kayla Long have accumulated these last few years have helped the Long riders get more comfortable in the spotlight.
“You’re From Where?”
National notice started in 2015 and 2016 when Rachel and Kayla were silver medal winning Zone 9 teammates at the USEF Pony Jumper Championships in Kentucky. When they moved onto horses, the HITS circuit in Tucson was their next showcase during winters in Arizona.
There were no ribbons to be won at the USHJA Gold Star clinic with Richard Spooner in 2018, but people noticed Rachel’s riding abilities and work ethic. Individual gold and team silver at the 2019 1.3-1.35M Zone 9-10 Jumper Team Championships came next. Rachel and Kayla are now well known on the West Coast circuit and continually broadening their good reputation in and out of the ring.
When COVID cancelled 2020’s hopes for a third North American Young Riders Championship appearance, the family revised their agenda. Rachel had been eyeing the Tryon International Equestrian Center competitions in North Carolina, so they made the cross-country trip with their horses this past summer.
“You’re from where?,” Debbi recalls being asked anew in this novel milieu of top hunter/jumper contenders. “There I was in the warm-up ring schooling Rachel next to Beezie Madden coaching her student,” Debbi recounts.
The “Who are you?’ inquiries turned into a few “Can I buy your horse?” inquiries when Rachel campaigned the Holsteiner stallion HH Diamant Blue to top 10 finishes in the 7-year-old Jumper division. Plus, continued good finishes on her longtime partner, Pampa Helada, including a 6th place in a $25,000 Grand Prix class. And Kayla held her own in the medium Jr/AO divisions.
Diamant Blue is owned by Marsha Ball. Marsha and her husband Roger Ball are exactly the type of owners that industry leaders would like to see brought into the sport. Relatively new to the hunter/jumper discipline, Marsha was introduced to Debbi by her horses’ veterinarian at Idaho Equine Hospital. A horse owner and rancher all her life, Marsha came to the discipline when a pony they bought “kept jumping the fences.” She thought some of her 24 grandchildren might enjoy jumping and took the pony to a trainer for that purpose in 2017.
A few years and a few horses later, Marsha was in need of a new situation. She recognized immediately that Debbi had the integrity and honesty she was looking for. “They are really honest, good people and they value their reputation in the jumping world. It is important to them that they never bring any dishonor to their family. From my heart, I recognized that about them and it has proven to be true.”
There is a lot of talk about pairing young horses with young riders as a win-win for breeders and the horse and human development pipeline. Rachel Long and Diamant Blue are proving the viability of that idea with ongoing successes. In fact, the stallion is USHJA Zone 9’s 7 yr. old Young Jumper Champion of the Year. “I’m sure it’s Rachel’s riding that’s helping him get there,” Marsha says.
The Family Business
Along with their passion for horses, the Longs and Balls have common ground in big, close families engaged in interesting businesses.
Debbi’s husband Tom is as crazy about whitewater sports as she is about horses. They moved from Northern California to Idaho in 1992 and started Cascade Raft & Kayak. Their three sons and daughters-in-law now mostly run Cascade’s whitewater adventures on the Payette River in Horseshoe Bend and in Pucón, Chile.
Debbi continues to “not be a kayaker,” but fully enjoys and supports that family business. Concurrent with helping establish the now very substantial river adventure company, she maintained a training business as Long Farms. She scaled that back in 2011 to focus on Rachel, Kayla and Isabel’s equestrian interests. Kenneth and Anne Long are the girls’ parents. During the whitewater off-season, their all-hands-on-deck modus operandi transfers to the horse show circuit.
The Balls, meanwhile, run large bison ranches in Idaho and Montana, and two of their grandsons are earning fame through their Bison Brothers TV show.
Family businesses can be “extremely challenging,” Debbi acknowledges with a laugh. “Everyone is strong willed, opinionated and hard working. It’s always an exercise of saying that the good of the entire unit takes precedence. There is always a lot to talk through and work through.”
One family business challenge is whether every descendant wants to carry on the tradition. Whether the young Long equestrians will pose that question, Debbi doesn’t know. She is sure that whatever is best for her grandchildren is what she’ll support. The youngest of Kenneth and Anne’s daughter, Isabel, is already veering seriously onto an international kayaking path.
Rachel remains rock solid on equestrian while studying online, through the University of Florida, to earn a degree in sports management. “We never want her to feel corralled in the family business,” Debbi explains. “She needs to explore and become Rachel. If she wants to continue with Long Farms, she can. We are showing her more the numbers and budget side of the business now. We’ve taught her to work hard, to aspire and dream. There could be loads of opportunities. She’s not ‘stuck’ in Horseshoe Bend.”
One such opportunity arose on short notice, while the Longs were in Chile in early January: an invite to ride in the United States Equestrian Federation’s Horsemastership Training Series in Wellington, Florida. The prestigious opportunity set off a slight scramble to arrange transport and line-up a horse, but Debbi and Rachel figured it out in time for the Jan. 17-21 event. (Which Rachel has agreed to write about for TheWestEquestrian.com!)
Regardless how far the Longs venture from USHJA Zone 9, the Idaho, Washington and Oregon region remains close to Debbi’s heart. Along with coaching Rachel and Kayla, Debbi has long been an organizer and cheerleader for region’s riders. Her cheerful backgate prompting at shows helped turn out 38 people for the Zone Team Championships in 2019. Her pitch focused on “joining forces and having fun,” a message that easily overcame territorial tensions that often exist between training barns, she reflects. The zone has great riders, trainers and horses, Debbi stresses. “We just have to believe in ourselves!”
“Awestruck” describes her reaction to the Devereux Sportsmanship honor. Though not a horn tooter, she will acknowledge having a larger circle of influence for the Long brand of hard work and horsemanship. She sees receptivity as partly a result of industry education programs like the Gold Star clinic that emphasize horsemanship knowledge and know-how as much as riding skills.
She likes the fact that it’s now seems “cool” to be that barn girl or guy caring for their own horse, mucking stalls, cleaning tack, figuring out the feeding regime, even at high-stakes A shows. “Maybe nobody is embarrassed anymore if you are washing or walking your own horses,” Debbie reflects. “There is a lot of emphasis now on teaching kids all aspects of horsemanship.”
The Devereux Sportsmanship Award winner won’t take much credit for triggering that trend. But it can’t hurt that the Longs’ down-to-earth horsemanship has launched impressive show ring accomplishments and earned respect and appreciation wherever they go.