Spend too long perusing the dark, depraved passageways of the internet’s equestrian chat forums and you might find yourself feeling a little ill at ease. Wading through pages of scandal, gossip, and cattiness, it’s easy to wonder if any of that dirt will have rubbed off on you by the time you slam your laptop shut.
But chat forums, while exaggerated, do occasionally present a discomforting level of truth. In a sport where fairytale endings – in both marriages and business partnerships – can be as elusive as hack-winning unicorns, you learn to celebrate where you can.
Enter Angel Karolyi.
Last month, the Venezuelan show jumper posted a dramatic before-and-after picture of a horse named Brandee on his Instagram. The 10-year-old, amateur-owner jumper, owned by the Anand family, had joined Angel’s string in 2018 when he moved to Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. to start his own business.
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8 months later.... 🤷🏼♂️ All I want to say with this picture is express my love and appreciation to one of my most significant mentors to date! One of the first things you said to me that really embedded in my brain was: “The problem with you, South Americans, is that you all think it is all about you! You must understand the horses come first then comes the riding! That is why it is called a “HORSE SHOW!” #horsemanship Andrea King, thank you for everything that you have taught me and continue to teach me! You should be proud, because when I look at this picture that is how I feel! PROUD! ❤️🦄🙌🏻💥 #angelkarolyillc #blessed🙏 #thankful #angelkarolyihorsesales #charlesowenhelmets #usanimo #butetsaumur #fabbriboots #horseflight #farmvet #redmillshorsefeeds
Andrea King had been instrumental in Brandee’s turnaround, but that’s only a small part of the story. That she was Angel’s first call asking for help – despite living across the country and three time zones away – comes as no surprise to anyone who knows them. As both an owner and trainer, Andrea, who currently runs The Creek in Aiken, S.C., has half a century of experience to her credit and was a winning fixture alongside American show jumper, Aaron Vale, for years.
“I’ve done horses my entire life. I started doing racehorses in the morning and the show horses in the afternoon when I first came to Camden, S.C. in 1968. I did that through 2000. I did hunters and steeplechase horses – I’ve done every aspect of the sport,” Andrea says, noting that her own mentor, Hall of Fame racehorse trainer Frank Whiteley Jr., had the largest impact on her career.
“I worked for Frank for years [and] I learned so much. Frank Whiteley is one of the best horsemen this country has ever seen. He trained Ruffian, he trained Forego, and I was there for all those horses.”
An Unlikely Meeting
In 2007, Andrea had parted ways with Aaron Vale and found herself in need of a rider. At 19, Angel had relocated to the United States from Monterrey, Mexico, and was a young professional looking for his next step. Despite their shared predicament, however, both remember that their first meeting was somewhat dubious.
Andrea, for her part, mostly remembers Angel’s socks.
“Through Kyle King, I ended up at Andrea’s farm, and she offered me a job,” Angel says. “I said that I really didn’t want to work for her, but I would entertain trying to become a business partner with her. I said, ‘Let’s give it six months, and six months down the road, if we see it doesn’t really work, we can go our separate ways.’”
Andrea, for her part, mostly remembers Angel’s socks. “Kyle came and he kind of dumped Angel in the driveway. He was this cute little kid that lived in a camper up at the barn,” she says. “The first two to three weeks, he was just here with Kyle’s horses, and he had shavings in his socks, but he was such a happy little thing. Every day [he’d come down to the barn] and be like, ‘Good morning!’
“I was [thinking], ‘Who is this kid?’”
Against the odds, Andrea and Angel’s six month business arrangement became the basis for Hollow Creek Farm, a successful training and sales endeavor that lasted nearly eight years – a lifetime in the horse show world.
“Andrea and I got along great and I realized she had a lot of knowledge,” Angel says. “There’s a lot I learned from [her]. The biggest thing is that, if you can apply common sense with the horses, you will be successful. But she’s always told me, ‘Common sense is a lot less common than you think.’”
Photo by Starting Gate Communications.
“Angel really turned [my business] around. He started winning and riding the horses that I had, and McLain Ward was a huge help and sent a lot of horses here. As Angel grew, he got on the [international] teams, and it was great,” Andrea says, noting that Angel even earned a degree at the University of South Carolina-Aiken in his spare time.
“[Angel is] a great person – he’s very gregarious, and he’s very, very smart. Everything that he learned here, he remembers. It’s amazing how much he remembers because if you’re around Angel, you don’t think he’s paying that much attention!” she laughs.
Evolving Into a Top Rider
Angel credits his mother, Gladymar Verswyvel, and his stepfather, Jorge Verswyvel – both former international show jumpers – with helping to launch his career. He says it is their lessons, along with Andrea’s, which have helped to mold him into the rider he is today. But Angel adds that the biggest shift in his education has been his mindset about the horses themselves.
"Andrea is one of the best horsemen, in my opinion, in the world."
“We can all be great riders and [we can all] find the jumps as well as [we] can. But if your horse isn’t in great condition, you’re only ever as good as your horse. Andrea always taught me that horses come first before the riding.
“I love the sport, I love winning – and who doesn’t?” he continues. “But at the end of the day, it only makes sense to me that if my horses aren’t in the condition to win, [it doesn’t matter] how well I ride. I’ll have no chance.”
According to Andrea, Angel’s likability and ease with people made him a natural fit for horse sales, obtaining sponsorships, and assisting with Hollow Creek’s client base. His talent in the irons boosted the business even further. Hollow Creek Farm horses such as Amigo and Indiana 127 went on to earn top placings in CSI4* and CSI5* classes at venues including Spruce Meadows, Tryon, and Amsterdam. In 2014, Angel and Indiana earned team bronze for Venezuela in the Central American and Caribbean Games in Veracruz, Mexico. The same year, he and Amigo competed at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™in Normandy.
“I saw the world [with Angel],” Andrea says. “Europe, yes, but I’d already been to Europe with Aaron. This was a whole different [thing]. We went to Puerto Rico, we went to Mexico City, we went to Ecuador.
“He changed my life.”
Making It On His Own
In 2017, Angel decided it was time to strike out on his own, and he and Andrea parted ways amicably. Though he eventually landed in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., Angel remained in close contact with his mentor, catching up on horses, their businesses, and the sport by phone every few days. Last spring, the pair’s conversation began to include Brandee, who, while otherwise healthy and well cared for, had arrived at Angel’s farm looking ribby and lackluster. It soon became apparent that the horse would be difficult to keep weight on.
“I remember looking at his coat and his ribs, and thinking, ‘This horse needs some help’,” Angel says. “We were feeding him just enough for him to be gaining some weight, but he wasn’t.”
He snapped a picture and called Andrea back in Aiken, and the former partners put their heads together. “We started brainstorming all the things that [could be going on] – ulcers, hind gut, et cetera. Instead of scoping the horse – because scoping is not only expensive, it’s risky – we decided we would just [start to treat him],” Angel says. With Andrea’s help, he adjusted Brandee’s feed and exercise program and added supplements to support his digestive track. In short order, the gelding began to turn around, and eight months later, the results speak for themselves.
“Andrea is one of the best horsemen, in my opinion, in the world, and I think many other people share that opinion with me,” Angel says. “Her program is special. She has a beautiful farm in South Carolina, and she’s big on the fitness of the horses, she’s big on the shoeing on the horses – she’s all about the horse.
“Andrea always taught me that the horse is like a painting, and little by little, you’ve got to put it together.”
Andrea admits she misses Angel. They had a great partnership and a good run, but it brings her joy to see him go out on his own and be successful. “Angel has really evolved, and I think he’s doing great in California. His horses look good, they’re jumping well, he’s riding well,” she says. “I’m really proud of him.”
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Photos by Sportfot.
Written by Douglas Crowe
Nina Fedrizzi spends her days writing about horse sport, food, and travel. She began her career at Travel + Leisure and is a former editor at NF Style. When she's not tapping away on her MacBook, Nina can usually be found on a horse, sleuthing out the local pho, or refusing to unpack her carry-on. Watch her do all three on Instagram @ninafedrizzi.