Dear Brunello: You Gave Me the Confidence I Never Knew I Needed

Dear Brunello: You Gave Me the Confidence I Never Knew I Needed

We're honoring the deep bond between horse and rider in our series, A Letter to My Horse. Over the last weeks, readers have submitted their own letters, and in mid-July we'll be choosing the top 3 to publish (and award prizes!). Stay tuned to meet the winners. 


If the world was coming to an end, you’re the horse I’d want to ride. You taught me to be a strong competitor, and how to get to the top (and stay at the top). You put me on the map as a professional, and gave me the confidence I never knew I needed. You were there for me after I had my two girls, and when I came back from my pregnancies you were my rock – even when my pants were too tight, I could hop back on you and not question myself at all. Through every injury, through every illness – you’ve always shown up for me.

You’re a softie with a bad boy personality (other than the time you tried to slam Jersey Boy during the World Equestrian Games – then you were just a bad boy), and you never let me get greedy.

You knew when to peak, but I knew that I couldn’t ask you to peak all the time. You weren’t going to be the horse to win every smaller derby, but you always knew when, and how, to rise to the occasion. We didn’t like to do things traditionally, from our annual pre-Derby Finals 1.30m class (during which we always made up our own courses) to my dad’s Derby-morning rides. You taught us both that less is more, and to trust my instincts and training methods. Your confidence was infectious.

The last year we won the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals, I didn’t think you could have gone any better than you did during our two wins prior. I was so nervous the last year that we won – I really wanted to win for you. We had won for me and we had won for my dad, but that last win was for you, Ike. You went in there and put on such a show, and I just stayed out of your way. A five-year-old could have been on you, and you still would have won that day. 

For me, your Breyer horse presentation in Tryon will always stand out as your retirement “ceremony.” While it wasn’t official, it just felt right. I wanted you to finish a winner, and during our last class together, a $50,000 derby in Tryon, I just knew. There was nothing fancy about it, and I didn’t even say it was our last time showing, but I knew in my heart that you were ready to be done. 

The frustrating part is that every time I try another horse, I’m too picky. The way that you could jump those oxers with such ease, in such perfect style, so slowly, using every part of your bascule, with your knees up and your hind end following through – I know that I’ll never find another horse like you. Although there aren’t many horses that can jump those big jumps that well, you jumped them so fluidly, and it felt so easy. 

I’m not sure what your career would have been if the derbies hadn’t come along. The 3’6” was easy for you, and you weren’t going to be the flashiest, fanciest junior hunter on the scene. You evolved with the derbies – you started doing them as soon as they began. The same year you were imported, we were champion in the 4’ division at all of the indoors. While I knew you were a nice horse, I realized you were different once we started galloping down to those big 4’ oxers – I remember thinking to myself, “this feeling is like no other.” You always shined in the night classes, when you felt the pressure. As my dad used to say, you were like Robin Hood – you made the shot when it counted, and you always wanted to win. 

I wish I could say that you were hard to ride and that this was all me, but you’re just so, so easy. I never worried about a swap or a late lead change and I have to say, these derbies are just a bit more challenging without you. There was no course that was too hard, no jump that was too big or spooky, no lighting that was too trappy. If anything, you didn’t like day derbies because the environment was too dull – so I just stopped doing those classes with you. As I’ve learned as I try to find another horse like you, there are derby horses, and then there are championship horses. 

So thank you Ike, for teaching me how to truly rely on a horse, and for teaching me what it truly means to be a champion.

Feature photo via Finally Farm. Inset photo by Sportfot. 

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