Megan “Meg” Kepferle of Long Valley, N.J., was a longtime groom for Sinead Maynard (née Halpin) before starting her own business and pursuing her own riding goals. Kepferle groomed multiple times for Maynard at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS Equestrian™, and she made her riding debut at the 2023 event in the CCI4*-S with Anakin, Rogue Won Syndicate LLC’s 2009 Thoroughbred gelding.
When asked about her favorite memory grooming at the LRK3DE, she said it was the first trip to Kentucky that was the most memorable.
“My favorite memory was our first year we were here, because it was Sinead’s first five-star and she finished third,” said Kepferle of the 2011 event, where Maynard and Manoir de Carneville were the top U.S. combination. “So that was pretty crazy, actually. That was forever burned into my DNA. That feeling was unbelievable. I don't think I've ever had a feeling like that in my life again.”
After grooming for Maynard for six years, Kepferle struck out on her own, creating Kepferle Equestrian. Kepferle had the opportunity to dedicate more time to reaching her riding goals. She had high hopes for a horse that Maynard helped her acquire, but the horse preferred show jumping over eventing.
“She was my first real horse, and I was very sad to sell her, but I did, which was the best thing that ever happened to me because the next horse I got was Anakin, who was actually owned by a student of mine, Daphne Soares,” said Kepferle.
When Soares required time off to heal from back surgery in 2017, Kepferle temporarily took over the ride on Anakin.
“Honestly, I thought he was really annoying when I first got him because he didn’t walk and he was mean,” said Kepferle. “And then over that time, I realized how special he was. He gave me so much confidence in a little bit of time. Our first event we went Novice, and we were going Intermediate within that year, and that was my first Intermediate. He is my first FEI horse.”
Kepferle purchased Anakin from Soares to continue developing their partnership. She was content to stay at the Intermediate level, but she was encouraged to take the next step by Maynard.
“I went Intermediate for a very long time because that was always my goal—a three-star. I never really thought I would make it this far and ever have a horse that would be this good,” said Kepferle. “I did a few three-stars and did Intermediate for 800 years, and Sinead was like, ‘You have to move up now.’”
Kepferle listened to Maynard’s suggestion, though she wanted financial assistance to compete at the international level. Kepferle formed the Rogue Won Syndicate LLC to help with Anakin’s expenses and give people a taste of equestrian sport.
“It’s actually a bunch of first-time horse owners. They all have little tiny shares of him, so it's not a huge financial burden on them,” Kepferle said. “Some of them are really involved, and some of them I don't think have ever even seen him go, and they're just happy to help me. It's been pretty fun. Kind of a little bit of an underdog or dark horse story.”
Kepferle had her own chance to compete at the 2023 LRK3DE thanks to Anakin and their supporters. With her years of being a groom, she likes to remain heavily involved with her horse’s care, but she brought help to juggle the various aspects of being a competitor at a major event.
“It is very different. [Friday's] kind of the first day that I felt like I could leave the barns,” Kepferle said after the arrival of Haley Glofka, her head working student and groom for the event. “It feels at the beginning of the week that there's so many things that you have to do, but the horse has to be the priority. So when you have someone who can actually help you, I can go see my sponsors and I can hang out with them in the [hospitality] tent. I have so many people here who came—most of my owners and friends and clients. They aren’t all super-fans of the sport, so it's nice to be able to hang out with them and kind of show them around. Hopefully, this gets them a little more excited about the sport.”
Kepferle and Anakin relished the experience at the LRK3DE. The atmosphere at the event can catch horse and rider off guard with the crowds, the Rolex Stadium, and the busy surroundings. But the pair took everything in stride.
“It was kind of overwhelming. I tried not to look [at the crowd], but it's pretty special,” Kepferle said after her dressage test with Anakin. “Honestly, I didn't know how he was going to handle it because he obviously has never seen anything like this before, but he really kept it together.”
Next up was the cross-country phase over Derek di Grazia’s solid track. Kepferle and Anakin’s round went smoothly, and Kepferle was impressed with Anakin’s enthusiasm for his job.
“That was awesome. He was so good. I can’t believe how good he was,” Kepferle said after her cross-country round. “I was a little bit indecisive in the beginning, probably too much adrenaline, and he saved me. So then, I was like, ‘All right. It is time to focus.’ But he just kept trying, trying, trying. He understands the job so well. He sees the flags. It is almost like he knows the course before I’m even telling him where he’s going.”
While he was a bit surprised by the crowds in the dressage phase, Anakin thrived galloping around the cross-country course with thousands of fans.
“I think he really enjoyed the energy of the crowds, when I wasn’t really quite sure how he would feel about that. But he is loving this,” Kepferle said. “At the beginning, he was a little nervous, and at the end he was looking around at everybody, seeing who wants to pet him. He is feeding off of it.”
The crowds weren’t a concern for Kepferle either. In fact, they provided an added benefit by lining the galloping lane ropes and directing her focus.
“Honestly, I didn’t notice them as much as I thought I would. I mean, I noticed. I could hear them and saw them,” said Keperle. “It is kind of nice; they tunnel your vision a little bit. But once you leave the [start] box, you aren’t really thinking about it. It is nice to hear people cheering.”
The show jumping phase was the last stop on Kepferle and Anakin’s LRK3DE journey. They delivered a solid round over Steve Stephen’s track to close out their time in Kentucky.
“It feels so good,” Kepferle said after her round. “He just jumped so good. I am so happy. He just jumped clear. I had one second over [the time]. I just can’t believe how good he feels. He is really special.”
While the LRK3DE wasn’t a major goal for Kepferle this season, the timing was right, and it seemed fortuitous to return to Kentucky as a competitor.
“This year, I didn’t really need to come here, but why not? He feels good. It is time to do it,” said Kepferle. “He has seen all of the events, so this is the last one he hasn’t really seen at the four-star level on this coast, at least. So it was time. I had no expectations, so it made it less stressful.”
Kepferle hoped that she and Anakin can compete at the five-star level this fall or next spring.
“It would be fun to come back next year for the five-star. If he’s not ready, then I will come back for the four-star hopefully and try to be more competitive. I did not go fast enough yesterday [on cross-country]. I think I was just feeling a little overwhelmed. But I feel way more confident. I’m glad I came,” she said.
After making memories as a groom at the LRK3DE, Kepferle added a Kentucky completion to her riding resume. With hopes of reaching the top level of eventing, Kepferle and Anakin just might earn another Kentucky completion at the CCI5*-L level in a year’s time.