Rolex bound – Ellie MacPhail – 30 Under 30

Ellie & Bobby at home on the farm and getting pumped for their four-star debut.


Placing 11th at her first CCI3* at the 2014 Fair Hill International, Ellie MacPhail (USA) is now aiming to do her first CCI4* at Rolex. She finished 24th on the overall USEA leaderboard and 63rd on the FEI World Eventing Athlete Rankings. Ellie runs her own farm in Florida with 12 horses in her string and has recently started a small breeding program with some proven eventing mares and exceptional stallions. She also buys and sells horses as part of her business. At only 24, Ellie has the horses, is getting results and has a long-term plan for success making her one of the world’s ‘Top 30 Under 30’.

OTTBs to schoolmaster
Ellie grew up on a farm in Ohio and was raised around horses as her mom was a fox hunter. She started her eventing training with Bruce Mandeville and as she progressed and became more immersed in the sport, she would go to Florida during the winter to train with the O’Connors.

In the beginning of her eventing career, she rode thoroughbreds off the track. When she was 18, she got her first school master, Woodstock, from Amy Tryon. She says, “Before Woodstock, I did not know what it was like to ride an upper level horse. In the beginning, we had a tough time getting to know each other and then it all kind of came together. I competed at my first two-star on him. I went to Fair Hill with this horse that knew exactly what he was doing and I didn’t even realize what a big deal it was. He totally showed me the ropes. Looking back on it, it was crazy. We finished 8th and I was the top young rider. Back then I had no idea what it meant; I just thought it was cool to be there.”

Growing business
Fast forward a few years and now Ellie has every intention of making a living as a professional rider. After moving to her farm in Florida a couple of years ago, she now stays in the sunshine state year-round. She has a beautiful farm with 12 horses to compete. Getting them all ridden each day is a challenge so she has another rider come in and they each ride six. Ellie enjoys the buying and selling part of her business. In particular, she loves working with young horses.

In the last couple of years, she has also ventured into breeding. So far, she has a yearling and a weanling. They are out of a mare that she had imported from Holland. After the mare had an injury, she decided to breed her. This year, she is expanding her operation through embryo transfer. She has leased additional mares to carry the embryos to term. One foal will be from her mare True Dynamite and the other from RF Panamera that was sourced from Holland by Marilyn Little. Elllie is planning to compete RF Panamera at a CCI2* in 2015.

She has been sourcing European stallions using frozen semen and is having great success. Her first two foals are full siblings and were sired by Mighty Magic. Mighty Magic won the 2010 Le Lion d’Angers CCI2* with Andreas Dibowski.

The two stallions she used this year are Weston Justice and Kevin Z.

  • Weston Justice was ridden by Oliver Townend and placed 17th at the 2003 Boekelo CIC3*.
  • Cevin Z was the most consistent 6-year-old in the UK in 2003. He is the sire of Borough PennyZ currently ridden by Vittoria Panizzon. They placed 11th at the 2012 London Olympics.

Ellie’s breeding goal is to produce babies that are at least 70% thoroughbred. She says, “I want to have a great deal of thoroughbred in them. So that has been my main concern. With a couple of our warmblood mares we are looking at really nice thoroughbred stallions that have babies with records. True Dynamite is full thoroughbred so that has given us a little more freedom as I can breed her to the appropriate warmblood. I find the breeding really cool and I enjoy it.”

Ellie and one of her babies

Ellie and one of her babies

RF Eloquence
This promising upper level horse is only 10-years-old and came into her life a bit by chance. She explains, “He was actually found for someone else and then the whole deal fell through. Karen O’Connor ended up calling us and saying that Marilyn Little had found this amazing horse and that I really needed to take a look at the videos. So that is how I ended up getting him. It was the most impulsive and crazy decision but it turned out to be for the best.”

Considering they just competed their first CCI3* together with an impressive result this crazy decision has worked out well. Ellie and RF Eloquence (Bobby) came through as a solid team at the 2014 Fair Hill International CCI3* with an 11th place finish. This was one of Fair Hill’s most competitive and largest fields ever with over 50 entries. Fair Hill is arguably North America’s most challenging and prestigious three-star event.

She says, “While walking the course, I felt prepared but it was definitely intimidating. It was bigger than anything I had ever jumped and bigger than anything Bobby had ever seen. I knew we both could do it but with him so green, I did not necessarily know how he was going to react.”

Bobby did not disappoint and the cross-country round was almost perfect. Ellie says, “He felt great. He came out of the box really confident. He jumped the first six fences and I made a little mistake going into the first water but he was just going straight through and getting it sorted. Once we both settled in and got in a rhythm, it was great.”

Ellie was not sure how they would measure up at this highly contested event. “Our 11th place did surprise me. The whole year he had good results but we had just been competing in the south against the same horses and riders. Going up north and being with the best in the country was totally different. I just wanted to get a qualifying score and finish. I know he is good on the flat and could get a good score in dressage. I was more concerned about getting around cross-country clean. I was thrilled with the end result. Much better than I dared to imagine.”

Ellie’s FEI horse power

RF Eloquence: 3*

  • 11th – 2014 Fair Hill CCI3*
  • 1st – 2014 Poplar Place CIC3*
  • 2nd – 2014 Ocala International CCI2*

Rendezvous With Charly: 2*

  • 3rd – 2014 Poplar Place CIC2*
  • 5th – 2014 Ocala International CCI2*
  • 3rd – 2014 Red Hills CIC2*
  • 1st – 2013 Midsouth CCI1*

True Dynamite: 2*

  • 6th – 2014 Red Hills CIC2*

Shadow On The Wall: 1*

  • 12th – 2014 Ocala International CCI1*
  • 7th – 2013 Midsouth CCI1*

Spare time?
With 12 horses in work, babies, and a growing maternity ward, Ellie does not have much time for anything else. However, she does like to travel when she can fit it in. She says, “The past year has been hard and I have been kind of stuck in Florida. But I did get to go to Honduras for my stepsister’s wedding this summer and that was cool. Last Christmas, we spent it in Paris for a few weeks. The first few days we hit Paris really hard and saw everything we could see. Then the last few weeks was just eating good food and hanging out, and that is really what I enjoy.”

2015 agenda
This year Ellie has been named to the USEA Under 25 list. Ellie is excited for the coming year for a variety of reasons. She has a few babies that she will be introducing to eventing and a couple of young ones that will be competing at the one-star and two-star levels. In 2014, she competed True Dynamite at the advanced level and is planning to compete her at the 2015 Rebecca Farms three-star. Her most ambitious goal for the year will be competing at her first CCI4* at Rolex with RF Eloquence. She is training and preparing with Clayton Fredericks.

We will be closely following her journey and won’t be surprised to see her move from the USA’s Under 25 List to the 2016 National Team by next year.

Good luck Ellie and Bobby.


Thank you to Ellie’s brother, Cameron MacPhail, for this great video that shows a typical day in Ellie’s life which is very accurate for all eventers:


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