“We Have a Common Bond”: Jamie Barge, Karl Brocks & World Cup Horse, Luebbo

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As Jamie Barge rounded the last fence during the jump-off of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final Round II, her smile said it all. Falling on her horse Luebbo’s neck to pat him, the 32-year-old had just jumped double-clear on one of the biggest show jumping stages in the world.

Up in the kiss and cry booth, Jamie's team shared her excitement, perhaps no one more so than German rider and Luebbo’s former owner, Karl Brocks, whose joy was almost palpable. Of everyone in Jamie's corner, Karl knew firsthand what it has taken to get the notoriously opinionated gelding into that ring in Paris, on that day, and with that impressive result.

“That he was a good horse, I always knew, but to jump [at] the World Cup the way that he did is absolutely [insane],” Karl says. “The first time I saw Luebbo with a friend of mine, I thought, What a crazy horse! His jumping was always unbelievable, but the dressage work was terrible. He was always shaking his head and was sensitive in the mouth. With a lot of time and [patience], we found a way to be successful at shows.”

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Most show jumping sales tend to be cut and dried affairs. Papers are signed, money is exchanged, and in many cases, a horse flies off to his new owner, with little more by way of interactions than the cursory Facebook exchange, or an occasional glance at the FEI records. But Luebbo isn’t just any horse. The 2005 Oldenburg gelding’s unique character, extraordinary talent, and ‘big heart’ have made a distinct impression on the two riders who know him best—in profound and lasting ways.

Jamie Barge and Luebbo. Photo: Thomas Reiner

In 2011, Karl purchased Luebbo as a six-year-old from his breeder, Volker Harms, and trained him up to the CSI2* level before passing the ride on to Germany’s Eva Bitter. “After a few good placings at international shows, I gave him to [Eva], because I thought that I’m too big for him and that he needed a girl as a rider,” Karl explains. When the time came to market Luebbo for sale, Karl maintained that opinion, and, as luck would have it, the first ‘girl’ who came to try the spicy grey gelding was none other than Jamie Barge. Both show jumpers recall that the pairing inspired some early doubts.

“Karl and I both had people ask us, ‘You want to buy what?! Are you sure?’” Jamie jokes.

“I would not have believed it, at first, that they could work together,” Karl adds, “but I think Jamie loved him from the first moment she jumped him. I was really, really happy when she bought Luebbo, because I could feel that she is the perfect rider and would try her best to be successful with him.”

As Karl himself had learned, patience, according to Jamie, is an essential part of Luebbo’s recipe for success in the ring. “We’ve grown so much together over the last four years. I feel that he has really learned to trust me, and to try to stay calm and focused,” she says. “In a way, this has also given me more confidence in him. I know that he will always try his hardest and step up when I make mistakes.

“[My trainer] Gaby Salick taught me to always be conservative, especially with a new horse, because it takes time for riders to get to know new horses, but it also takes time for the horses to get to know us. For this reason, I jumped small with ‘Bo’ for a long time until we really became a team. Then, moving up was easier, as he has talent and a big heart.”

“It is only through Jamie’s patience that [Luebbo] is now what he is,” Karl adds. “In the end, they have success because they are a team—Jamie is doing everything for Luebbo, and he is doing everything for her.”

Jamie Barge and Luebbo. Photo: Thomas Reiner

Patience is one important part of the Bo equation, a good sense of humor is the other. “He does have a big personality!” Jamie says, adding that if the gelding doesn’t like his particular handler, he can be impossible to put a halter on. “[Bo] is also always making sure you are paying attention. If not, he’ll slowly move his foot closer and closer to you, and if you don’t notice, he will step on you!”

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Though Karl has helped Jamie occasionally in the past when she’s shown in Europe, the World Cup™ Final in Paris was the first time she asked the German rider to attend as part of her team. “I asked [Karl] to come to Paris because I trust and appreciate his advice—we have a common bond with Bo,” Jamie explains. “It’s also nice to have a set of eyes on the ground and Karl has a great eye and we work well together. He adds good suggestions, but doesn’t try to change Luebbo’s whole training program.”

“Karl always says, ‘It’s just the feeling!’ I think this means you must always have a good feeling with your horse and [try] to trust your instincts.”

 

Jamie Barge and Luebbo. Photo: Thomas Reiner

This season, those instincts seem to be especially well placed. In Paris, Jamie and Luebbo finished 16th and were part of the American contingent that took the FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final by storm, with five riders finishing in the top-20 overall, well more than any other nation.

The pair’s rides at World Cup™ Finals, along with a series of strong performances this winter at HITS Ocala, Live Oak International, and others, earned them a place on the short list in contention for team selection for the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina this September.This month, Jamie and Bo will head back to Europe to compete at observation events in Sopot, Poland, and Dublin, Ireland.

To prepare, the California girl says she’s been spending extra time with her boyfriend, friends, and family at home—and soaking up as many hours on the beach as possible. For Bo, the secret to happiness is far simpler.

“[It’s] grass turnout—seriously! He loves to go out and get dirty,” she says, adding that, as a rule, she is also careful never to over-jump Luebbo and actively works to make life on the horse show circuit fun for him. As Jamie's Instagram reflects, that often includes allowing him frequent rolls in his stall and taking trail rides around the showgrounds.

But on other days, Jamie is just as likely to be found visiting her retired first pony, dressing her horses up in Santa hats for the holidays, or doling out treats to her nickering troops at night check. It’s this “horse girl” mentality that has made Jamie a fast favorite among international show jumping fans, and it’s an honor she doesn’t take for granted.

“Being a ‘horse girl’ is important [to me] because it is the reason why I do this sport. I love the horses so much, and that’s what fuels every decision - doing what’s best for them,” she explains.

“It’s why I ride at 5 a.m. when it’s the only quiet time in the ring, or why I put the best show schedule for my horses before what I want to do. Sometimes, it’s hard to leave the barn to go to the gym, do paperwork, planning, billing, grocery shopping…[all the] normal life things, because I’d rather stay at the barn with the horses all day!”

That kind of dedication is another thing that Jamie and Karl have in common, and something the German rider is already passing on to his young daughter, Louisa—who, coincidentally, also happens to be Bo’s biggest (smallest) fan. “Bo loves Louisa and is so gentle with her,” Jamie says. “It’s an indication of his big heart and [his] love for Karl and [his wife] Ann Katrin’s family.”

One week after World Cup™ Finals, it was the California rider’s turn to cheer on Karl and Ann, when Jamie and her boyfriend attended the couple’s wedding ceremony in Europe. “We’ve always stayed in touch and have become good friends,” she says. “Bo is so special to both of us, [and] I feel that he is also lucky to still have both of us in his life.”

Karl Brocks couldn’t agree more. “It makes me really proud to see them jumping around the big shows now,” he says. “I think, for [Jamie], it is a horse that you have only one time in your life. I am happy to be a part of it.”

Written by Nina Fedrizzi

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.