Number one on the leaderboard is a regular occurrence for Jennie Brannigan (USA). This year, Jennie and her amazing mount Cambalda won the Advanced division at Richland Park and Plantation and then went on to triumph at the most challenging three-star track in North America, The Dutta Corp Fair Hill International CCI3* in Elkton, MD. Jennie, 27, has trained with the best in North America. With a barn full of horses, owners and results most will ever only dream about, she is running a successful business and has the 2016 Olympics in her sights. Jennie has proven repeatedly she is a champion and she is one of the world’s top 30 Under 30.
Working her way to the top
This year Jennie finished the season in 10th on the Bit of Britain’s USEA Leaderboard and 59th in the FEI World Eventing Athlete Rankings. Not bad for a girl who grew up in Galena, Illinois and did not come from a horsey family. However, with a supportive mother, she was able to start riding at a stable in her community under the instruction of Jane McGirk. At the age of 13, she began as a working student. “I was lucky to be a working student for Allison Springer, before she was Allison Springer. Straight away, I was in a good program from the start. Allison taught me everything: how to braid, wrap, all of that stuff. Not everyone actually knows that but I was her first working student, it’s kind of crazy.”
Moving to California with her family brought her to Natalie Rooney-Pitt when she was 16. She says, “It was good timing because Natalie was pregnant and that is the first time I got to ride for an owner. I rode Splendor Of The Sun, which Hawley rode later. I have been riding full on from 16. I did independent study so I could be a working student and I actually graduated school nearly a year early.”
Jennie remained in California until she was 20. When Natalie moved up north, Jennie began working for Susie Hutchison. She credits Susie with helping her to develop as a horsewoman and improve her skills in show jumping. She also worked at Kingsley Farm where Hawley Bennet-Awad was based. She says, “I rode and sold young horses for them and Hawley coached me up to Advanced when I was 19.”
Jennie wanted to run Fair Hill on a thoroughbred she was competing and the timing worked out to move east when she was offered a job with Mike Winter at Wayfarer Eventing in Georgia. “The horse ended up going lame and did not do Fair Hill, but through this connection, I ended up working for Phillip.” At this time with her famous and beloved Cooper she was making a name for herself and was on the radar of the USA’s selectors as she was getting named to the lists and getting grants to head overseas.
Golden Young Riders
Before heading to Phillip’s, her and Cooper had to make a little road trip. Travelling to Colorado to attend the 2008 North American Young Riders Championships was a trip to remember. Remaining on their dressage score of 36.30, they easily won individual gold with a spread of almost 20 penalty points to the next placed pair and were part of the gold winning team.
Cooper set the standard for life
Jennie produced Cooper from nothing to the three-star level. She credits him with where she is today. “To be honest it would be very surprising to me if I ever ride a horse that was as good as him. He was phenomenal. I went to Europe last year and William Fox-Pitt remembered him. He was the horse that everyone wanted. He was good on the flat, a good show jumper, he was a bit chicken hearted so a little too careful and spooky but he was a good horse. He won 18 events in a row. He took me from being nobody in the Eventing world to all of a sudden I had sponsors and tons of articles, and all this stuff I wasn’t even ready for. All of a sudden I was going to Europe and I was 21-22 maybe. That horse made my career there is no question of that.”
“My Grandfather bought me Cooper as a 4-year-old. A horse of a lifetime, I got Cooper through Canadian, Kelli Temple. Cambalda and Stella Artois have come from her as well. In fact, I have bought quite a few horses through her. Not every horse is going to be an Advanced horse, but certainly every horse I have gotten from her is a quality one. I trust her. She gets the horses all from Europe.”
Cooper and Jennie were at the top of their game and unfortunately, he suffered an injury at the 2009 Fair Hill International CCI3* and after an attempted rehabilitation, and things just going wrong, Jennie made the difficult decision to euthanize him. Jennie says, “ When you are around horses you have seen some tough stuff. I don’t think Cooper’s death is something I will ever get over. It is still very tough for me to talk about. He was a horse that touched my life in many different ways. It went on for months and months and I kind of knew he was not going to make it but I wanted to keep trying. It was a difficult thing to go through especially when he was a protégée. It was sad because he never got to be what he could have and I wish that horse came into my life a little bit later. He was a great marker to make me realize what quality you need in a horse and he definitely set a standard for me.”
At the time of his injury, Jennie was trying to syndicate Cooper because she could not afford to pay for him to compete at the advanced level internationally. “I was very lucky and not a lot of people know this but Jim and Sarah Wildasin sponsored me on the horse the year he died. They paid for his expenses, it is something people do not know, and I do not really talk about. We are still close because of it and I will forever be very grateful to them. Still to this day, they send me good luck texts and it is very special to me. They never wanted anything out of it. They just wanted to support me, this young girl, which is very rare. I had great people around me, Phillip was really there for me when Cooper passed away and luckily Cambalda stepped up the next year and I had a great year.”
The Dutton era
Jennie is incredibly grateful for her time working for Phillip Dutton. The job evolved over the years and this is where she learned to run a business and acquire owners. She says, “In the beginning I was merely a glorified working student. I got to ride and show a little bit but I was mucking stalls. Phillip is really good about improving someone’s job as they go along, and I find that very motivating. He was great and by the end of that job, I was just riding and teaching. He always made the job better and better. When Phillip was applying for the coaching job, the Gardners started helping me and those people have significantly made my career.”
“I would say that the job that Waylon has now is the best job in the USA for an event rider, you do not get any better than that. Phillip lets you do your own thing but at the same time, he is there for you and gives you opportunities. I know I would not be here without that job.”
“I definitely owe a ton to Phillip. There were a lot of things that happened in those five years. I’ve seen barn fires, I’ve seen horses die, I lost my best horse and it was a job that really taught me how to wake up the next day and push through. Phillip is a good guy and he was always there for me,” says Jennie.
CCI3* winner and not on the training lists
Social media was abuzz after the USA announced the 2015 Training Lists and Jennie Brannigan, the Fair Hill CCI3* champion, was missing. Jennie is dealing with her exclusion with class and determination. She says, “Originally hearing it, I thought that is interesting and I cannot say I’m thrilled, especially for my owners. I have grown up in the team spotlight and have had a lot of involvement from them throughout my career. I am pretty happy with the way last year went doing things on my own and obviously, I have been able to turn Cambalda around a little bit. I really believe in the people that I am training with at the moment. I am not losing sleep over it. I like the team, and I would like to ride for the team, but I understand their decision, probably more than the public does. I completely understand where they are coming from and that makes it easy for me to stomach. It is not a personal thing. I am training with Scott Keach now and he has been helping my riding a great deal. It’s all good.”
Jennie’s current FEI horses:
Cambalda (Owners: Tim and Nina Gardner): 3*
- 1st – 2014 Fair Hill CCI3*
- 3rd – 2014 The Fork CIC3*
- 1st – 2010 Galway Downs CCI3*
Henry (Owners: Tim and Nina Gardner): 2*
- 1st – 2014 Virginia Horse Trials CIC2*
- 3rd – 2014 Cosequin Stuart CIC2*
- 8th – 2014 Plantation Field CIC2*
Indie (Owners: Tim and Nina Gardner): 2*
- 1st – 2014 Poplar Place CIC2*
- 1st – 2013 Red Hills CIC2*
Cool As Ice (Owners: Beth Battel): 1*
- 9th – 2014 Morven Park CIC1*
Outside of riding her own horses, Jennie loves to snow board but that has not happened for a while. When she is in Florida during the winter, she takes time to go to the gym every morning. During the summer, when she is in Pennsylvania, she exercises racehorses every morning for Michael Matz. She says, “The galloping is not only a fitness thing for me but it also improves my riding and it is fun. I am usually on a horse between 5:30 and 6:30am depending on what time of the year it is and I am not usually done riding until 4:00 or 5:00pm. Usually I am pretty tired to be honest so I don’t have much time for anything else.
Jennie left Phillip’s last year and is currently running her own business. Jennie owns only one horse, but has over 22 in her program. She says, “I am very lucky, Tim and Nina Gardner are huge supporters and they own probably half of the string.” She had purchased Henry with the hopes of competing at the 2015 Pan Am Games. But after suffering a bruise at this fall’s Fair Hill International CCI2*, she is not sure if he still has a chance to prove himself in time. She is aiming for Rolex with Cambalda and is out to better their 2014 result where, after a great round, she was technically eliminated for jumping the wide part of a corner and missing the flags. She is looking forward to her Intermediate horse Bella moving to Advanced next year. She says, “I am quite excited about Stella Artois, she just moved up to prelim.”
Jennie Brannigan has the horses, owners, and she knows how to win. Look for her to be riding for the USA in the next few years.
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