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March 6, 2009

Brzoza Brings Along Another Winner At Lake St. Louis

This Eads, Tenn., rider holds her own in the amateur ring and against the pros.

Most amateur riders gladly hand over the reins to a professional when it comes time to show a young horse in the pre-green ring, but that thought never crossed Linda Brzoza’s mind. After all, she’s been picking out her own young mounts, training them and showing them in the amateur and professional divisions for years.

She rode her latest project, Vocarday, to the top of the adult amateur, 36 and over, and 3'3" pre-green hunter divisions at the Lake St. Louis IV, Feb. 11-15, in Lake St. Louis, Mo.

This ease with green mounts formed the cornerstone of Brzoza’s success over the years, as she’s brought along talented but inexperienced youngsters most amateurs would leave to their trainers. Over the years, Brzoza has spent plenty of time picking up ribbons with self-trained mounts, winning a U.S. Equestrian Federation Horse of the Year reserve championship title with her Adelante in 2007.

“I enjoy working with young horses and bringing them along—I always have,” she said. “When I was a kid it was the same way; I never got made horses.”

Brzoza started with Vocarday a year ago when the Dutch-bred 5-year-old was just two days out of quarantine. The gelding showed off stellar form over fences, but according to Brzoza, getting the chestnut to the top has been a matter of patience.

“In Europe they steer and rate and so forth very differently, so it’s been a process getting him American-broke to ride,” she said. “He’s always jumped great, but getting him to the jumps was the problem.”

Within three months, Brzoza steered Vocarday to the top of the adult amateur and pre-green divisions at Memphis in May (Tenn.). A minor injury slowed his training over the summer, so Brzoza opted to keep him in the adult and 3'3" pre-green rings for the season, rather than stepping up to the first year green and amateur-owner divisions as she’d planned. That decision has been paying off this season, with the pair picking up tricolors at the first four shows they attended.

Two other horses, Van Gough and Second Hand Smoke, join Brzoza in the show ring, with another two horses sitting out the season on her farm.

“I’m trying to get down to three, but the market right now isn’t really good for selling anything,” she said. “I try to buy them young, put on enough mileage so that another amateur or a junior can deal with him, then hopefully resell.”

Brzoza’s self-sufficiency extends beyond just tackling all her own riding duties. She cares for her own horses at her farm, hauls them to shows and prepares them herself. Brzoza meets a trainer at horse shows—Richard Cheska, Jane Schweiger and Phoebe Sheets all give her pointers from the in-gate—but at home she’s on her own.

“I really enjoy taking care of my own and having them at home,” said Brzoza. “Sometimes it runs your life—your schedule is based on when the horses eat and do this and do that—but I’ve lived my whole life that way, so I’m used to it.”

Brzoza’s do-it-yourself formula involves a low-key attitude about competition. She keeps her calendar light, attending a show or two a month, and makes sure first and foremost that the showing stays an enjoyable experience for her and her horses.

“I try to combine visiting friends or relatives with the shows I go to,” she said. “Each season I try to find a show I haven’t been to and try somewhere new. I like to go to different places and meet new people and show against different horses.”

Brzoza grew up riding outside Chicago, Ill., and ran a busy boarding stable for years until changes in the area inspired her to migrate south and start over. “We had a barn where I didn’t necessarily ride because I was too busy,” she said. “I didn’t get to spend as much time doing my own horse as I’d have liked, and the area was making it impossible to have horses.”

She found a great fit in the equestrian community outside Memphis in Eads, Tenn., with a centralized location and plenty of shows within a few hours’ drive. These days she keeps a smaller operation running with a handful of boarders, mostly retirees and pleasure enthusiasts, as well as her own mounts, and works at a mom-and-pop grocery store on occasional afternoons for a change of pace.

“Honestly, taking care of the horses ends up being the smallest part of the job,” she said. “We’re a do-all situation, and you can spend all day cutting the grass, fixing the fence and keeping the property up.”

Mollie Bailey

 
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