I’ve grown up with horses. My mother is a trainer/instructor and has always had a barn full of horses for me to ride and learn on. Now, though, I am the one doing most of the riding and training of our horses. She still occasionally takes an outside client but she and I both find more joy in working our own horses than we do taking on projects for other people.
I grew up riding Arabians and could only dream of riding an American Saddlebred. Every year, my family attended the Lexington Junior League and World Championship Horse Show which luckily for me was in my backyard. We unfortunately were never in the financial realm to have a horse of the caliber needed to compete in such circles – so I spent most of my years watching and learning from the rail.
When I was 11 years old, I got the opportunity to go and “work” (i.e. help) at Nelson Green Stables in Nicholasville, Kentucky (my hometown). Nelson and Josie graciously allowed me to come to the barn on Saturday mornings and complete any odd job that I could perform. I know it was probably as a favor to my mother, but I was thrilled to have the opportunity. Plus my favorite horse in the entire world was housed at Nelson Green’s at that time – WGC Winter Day.
Quickly, Saturday mornings turned into mornings before school, summers, snow days, and holidays. Every free day I had was spent at the show barn helping to prepare horses for their daily work. By the time I was 12 I had my own string to care for. I even got to ride and jog quite frequently – soaking up every ounce of knowledge I could from Nelson, Steve Wheeler, and everyone else who graced the barn. I spent a total of 7 years at Nelson’s until I went to college. After that, I would still help him out when I was free, and also spent time learning from several other area horse trainers. I worked for Martin Teater for a year, Jack Noble for a summer, took lessons with Bill and Nancy Becker, and taught lessons at several different barns.
During all of this I would always have a project horse. At one point it was a 3 Gaited mare who came from Nelson, later on it was a Country Pleasure mare I had rescued from the life as a broodmare. I was able to make some nice shows with these horses and they carried me to the upper levels I had never been able to achieve as a child.
In grad school, I moved down south and took on the world of Eventing. I loved every minute of it and got to ride with Olympic competitors Karen & David O’Connor, Buck Davidson, Boyd Martin, and the great Sally O’Connor. The information I learned in my four years riding in the sport of Eventing has proven to be invaluable to me as a rider. I have taken the principles I learned with them and paired them with my show horse background to prepare my current horses.
This year I have been on the path to take my current American Saddlebred gelding Abraxus to the World’s Championship Horse Show. I acquired Abraxus (a son of Designed and out of a Champagne Fizz mare) last December when his living situation suddenly changed and he was to be moved out of his farm immediately. I do not know the details of how or why he had to go, but all I was told was that he needed to be picked up that day. I called around and found him a ride and on the same day he was headed from previous his home in Pennsylvania to his new home with me in Kentucky. I took him sight unseen – just based off a couple of photos and some information from his previous rider. He had not shown in 2 years and had been living outside with some occasional riding. He was barefoot and fuzzy when he arrived but in excellent condition. It was obvious someone had cared deeply for him.
From the first ride I fell in love. Dark bay with bright big eyes like a Hackney pony, he is every little girl’s dream. However, despite his dashing good looks, he can be quite quirky to handle and work. He dances in the crossties, rubs his head on all stationary objects, and jumps up and down any time he is left alone. Under saddle he has perfected the art of the 180 degree turn and in the long lines he can escape faster than a jackrabbit if you are not two steps ahead of him at all times. He is a character.
Although I have had a lot of experience with many different types of horses and ridden many different disciplines, I have always had to succeed with what was given to me – mostly castaway horses that other people couldn’t fix or didn’t want to. It has taught me a lot and pairing that with my experience in top show barns has helped me mold those ‘castaways’ into the types of horses I could only wish to own.
This week I am doing my final preparations to show Abraxus at the World Championship Horse Show next week. It has been a long 9 months learning his quirks and preparing him in the best way I know possible for the horse show. At our first show in April, he spun around at the canter and proceeded to gallop head first into on-coming horse traffic with his head in the air. By his last show in July, he was a seasoned gentleman.
Preparation up to the show has focused on remaining calm and not changing the routine too much. I prefer to long line him the day before I ride him. He does not wear any sort of action devices or blinkers. He long lines in the same bridle as he rides. I try to keep things simple for him. He is a busy horse who can get nervous very quickly – he thrives in situations that he can predict so I try to keep things the same.
Mostly this week is about making sure he is happy and healthy. I check his legs every day. I go over every inch of his body to inspect that he doesn’t have any new lumps and bumps. I am mentally checking off my to-do list – drop off the dry cleaning, unpack the trailer, clean the tack, organize the trunk. With a full time job in the school system, it can be hard to balance all of these things, but I am fortunate that I only have one horse to prepare.
It is all worth it in the end. Even though it is tough to face the world of Louisville as an AOT – it is also insanely rewarding to be the one prepping the horse of your dreams for the biggest competition of the year. Win, lose, or draw – we will give it our all.
Brooke has worked many years in veterinary medicine at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, Equine Medicine and Surgery, and Red River Equine Hospital.She has a Masters in Communication Disorders and currently works in the Mercer County School System in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Brooke also portrays her knowledge and love of horses through her artwork and business Keepsake Equine Custom Art.
Latest posts by Brooke Schafer (see all)
- Trainer Armband: An AOT’s Experience at Louisville – September 22, 2015
- On the Road to Louisville – From an AOT Perspective – August 18, 2015