Neysa Bryant isn’t afraid to jump into any challenge feet first. Whether it’s starting a judging career after a chance job, starting her own business, or going for a cattle drive, she’s game for anything.
“The older I get the more anxious I get about things, but I’m not afraid to try something at least once,” said Bryant.
Bryant got her start in the horse world on the back of an Arabian. Her father had an Arabian breeding business, so she started showing saddle seat at 5, but by the time she was 9, jumping was calling her name. So she made the switch and never looked back. But many of her hunter ponies were Arab crosses her father bred.
She’s stuck with the hunters since then and leases Son Of A Sailor, whom she shares with owner Emma Fass. Her partnership with “Ernie,” a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood by Popeye K, was a bit of a fluke. Another horse she was riding wasn’t quite the right fit, and since Emma’s mother Rebecca Fass had two horses going to Blowing Rock Charity (North Carolina), she offered Bryant the opportunity to ride Ernie.
A couple shows later Bryant was smitten, and she’s been competing Ernie in the adult hunters for the past three years. “He’s really perfect,” Bryant said. “He’s a totally different horse at the horse shows. At home he’s really wild. We have winter Ernie and summer Ernie, and he really knows how to turn it on. He’s never, ever let me down.”
Bryant keeps her show schedule to a small, manageable number, but she likes to make big goals. In 2017 she was second in both the NAL Adult Hunter Championship at the Pennsylvania National and the Washington International Horse Show Adult Hunter Championship (District Of Columbia) and hopes to return this year.
“At Harrisburg, I get very, very nervous. I’m not sure why,” said Bryant. “It’s definitely a more equestrian-friendly venue. I think obviously your horse gets to be prepared a lot better there, and maybe that’s what takes the pressure off at Washington is that everyone is sort of at an equine disadvantage, so at Washington I’m not one bit nervous. And no one comes to Harrisburg to watch except for [trainer] Peg [Seals] and our barn manager Laura [Wright], and one awesome barnmate comes and holds my hand. Then at Washington, everybody comes. His owners come, my mother comes, my mother’s friends come, so it should be so much more nerve-wracking at Washington, but it’s not. I don’t know why.
“I have entered this year,” she continued. “I anticipate only showing four or five times, but I have joined Washington and NAL, and if it works out, it works out, and if it doesn’t that’s OK. I’m incredibly grateful anytime I get to sit on him.”
Like Bryant’s equestrian background, her career choices have been varied. She attended Christopher Newport University (Virginia) for two years before deciding the college route wasn’t for her. She then worked for Smithfield Foods processing medical claims, but after she had her first child in 2008, she decided to take a different path. She opened her own embroidery business, which she sold four years ago. Now she works for her father’s horse trailer business, Trailer Country LLC, as the sales manager.
“I like what I do now; I liked what I did before, but this also provides me flexibility, and I like to say when I go to horse shows that I’m networking,” Bryant said. “People introduce me to people. Somebody who shows with me talked to me about trailers [at a show] in Lexington, [Virginia]. The announcer and I talked trailers while I was there, so I would say that it still took me out there to people that I know.”
Becoming a judge wasn’t originally part of Bryant’s life plan, but when she was in her early 20s one of her trainers was offered a judging gig she couldn’t accept, and that trainer threw Bryant’s name in the hat. That chance job took her from judging a couple local shows to between 10 and 12 a year. Because she has two young kids Bryant hasn’t pursued getting her judging card for rated shows, but she hasn’t ruled it out for the future.
“I like judging,” Bryant said. “It hopefully keeps me in the know, and I get to see a lot of the comings along. I get to see a lot of people coming up in the world, and it helps pay the bills.”
As if she didn’t have enough on her plate, she also helps her mother Debbie Bowden, who is the secretary at Deep Run Horse Show, Warrenton Pony Show and Warrenton Horse Show, all in Virginia.
“I like sitting on that side,” she said. “Those horse shows, especially Warrenton Pony Show, you see so many new people and local people, and they’re clueless about what they’re doing, so it’s nice to be able to help them from the ground up as far as the horse show is concerned. It’s nice to hopefully be teaching them the right way to horse show.”
And it’s certainly made sure she’s always on top of her own entries.
“I make sure my paperwork is right from Day 1,” she said. “It’s gotten easier with the internet, and being able to click something in the software is so great. For the most part the secretaries can click one button as long as you’ve submitted your USEF [number] correctly; people don’t realize how important that is. Then they can click one button, and it populates all the fields for them.”