“I always loved horses and I remember as a little girl, putting pennies in my piggy bank to save for a pony and begging my parents for one,” the 28-year-old rider and trainer recalls. Her family lived just 10 minutes from Checkmate Farm, an eventing facility in Feversham, ON, and farm manager Jen Thompson was her babysitter. When Ruppel turned 10, her parents agreed to let her take riding lessons. “I was hooked from the beginning and spent as much time at the barn as possible,” she says.

When she was 14, Ruppel finally got her own horse – a four-year- old Thoroughbred/French coach-cross mare. Ruppel “lived and breathed” horses and after graduating from high school went to live and work at Checkmate to pursue a fulltime equestrian career, where she was coached by Nicole Parkin and helped train horses.

Ruppel took her mare to the preliminary level, where the horse’s abilities were maxed out. About the same time, she started training Chance, a colourful 15-hand three-yearold Morgan/Arabian/Appaloosa gelding that belonged to a riding student’s mother. “I broke him, then another kid started riding him, but the kid hated him. I ended up riding him and I hated him too – until I realized how fun he was going cross-country,” Ruppel recalls. “He was a typical Appaloosa, really hard-headed with a mind of his own. He would spook in the corners of the arena. He had a really hard mouth and would grab the bit and truck off.”

Although his owner had dreams of someday riding him, it was obvious Chance would never be a suitable mount for her. Ruppel competed him, bringing him from entry to preliminary level. She chose Naughty By Nature as his show name, inspired by the name of a 1990s’ rap group. After doing just four preliminary horse trials in 2003 (winning two), “we went to the North American Young Rider Championships at Bromont, where we placed sixth. That’s when I decided I had to have this horse,” said Ruppel.

So the diminutive white gelding with the black spots became hers. “At every stage of our career, I was told he will never do preliminary, never do a one-star, never do a twostar…” But in 2007, the pair won the CIC** at Bromont.

Ruppel spent several months out of competition in 2008 after breaking her back in a hacking accident and in March 2009, her young prospect, Bella, a three-year-old Hanoverian, was euthanized after she and Ruppel were struck on a rural road near Collingwood by a hit-and-run driver. The mishap generated huge publicity and raised awareness for the issue of rider safety and driver conduct on roads.

Ruppel bounced back from those extreme adversities to finish 10th in the CCI** in 2009 at Bromont with Naughty By Nature and in 2010, they finished 17th in the CCI*** there, which Ruppel considers their “ultimate performance.” Ruppel had been working with Ian Roberts, who didn’t try to change her gelding’s unconventional style and gave her the confidence to tackle the threestar. “He walked around with me and said ‘there’s not one other rider here who would get on your horse and ride it around this course.’” Ruppel had learned to “sit back and shut up” and let the little horse figure out the cross-country questions with minimal interference.

Although she and Chance were named to the 2011 Canadian Equestrian Team short list, Ruppel decided to retire the little horse due to his age and the demands of the advanced level. Retirement didn’t seem to sit well with Chance, however, so Ruppel has loaned the now-15-year-old gelding to a former student who is showing him at the preliminary level.

Life has come full circle for Ruppel. She boards her horses at McCowan Stables, a hunter-jumper facility at the former Checkmate site. She coaches at several different barns and lives with partner Dave Russell, a musician, in Singhampton. Her hopes for the future lie in her two young horses: Abacus, a four-year-old, 16.3-hand Trakehner gelding by Ferrari GS, and Finn, a three-year-old Irish Sport Horse by Sea Quest. She competes two other horses for clients.

“Finn is just backed, but Abacus is very kind and sweet, willing and brave. My goal is to one day represent Canada at the Pan Ams, the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics. That would be amazing.”