When dressage rider Kristen Becker lost all four of her horses in a barn fire earlier this year, she was first faced with trying to recover from the catastrophe. Becker had been aiming for the Young Adult “Brentina Cup” Grand Prix classes in her final year of eligibility before her top mount Ramses was one of 18 killed in the fire at Brookwood Equestrian Center in Bishop, Ga. Becker also lost young horse Direct Flight, her pony of 18 years Moo-Llennium, and retired schoolmaster Frankentraum.
“There aren’t even words to describe it,” she said. “It was terrible. You just stand there kind of staring. You don’t have anything. I was lucky enough I was able to dig out bits and shoes. My dad went in and got the shoes out of their stalls. I didn’t even have a brush or a hoof pick. I was completely devastated, but I didn’t want to quit. I didn’t want to stop riding. I wanted to keep going, so the first step was getting a horse.”
Just days after the fire, fellow dressage rider Emily Wagner, who Becker met at the USEF Dressage Festival of Champions (Ky.) last year, contacted her to offer condolences and a very generous gift. When Wagner’s mother, Jana Wagner, was seriously injured in 2007, the dressage community around them hosted fundraising clinics and donated much-needed help and farm items.
“After the fire, she called me, and she said, ‘When my mom hurt herself, people in the community came out to help at our farm, and what comes around goes around. I can’t send you money, and I can’t bring your horses back, but I can give you a horse,’ ” said Becker.
She flew to Wagner’s Wally Woo Farm in LaCygne, Kansas, and picked out 2-year-old Wilhelm, who’s sired by Wagner’s top mount, WakeUp, a 9-year-old American Warmblood (Wagnis—Maiden Montreal, Macho). He arrived in February.
“He’s just as sweet as can be,” said Becker, 24. “When I got him, he was basically halter broke, but he learned really quickly. I can groom him and play with him. He’s such a phenomenal horse. It will probably be another year before I start him, but he definitely helps, that’s for sure.”
Wagner also helped Becker secure a sponsorship with Weatherbeeta, and SmartPak donated items to help her get back on her feet.
“That was also the struggle—financially, where do you start again?” said Becker. “So much money goes in to these horses, and we didn’t really get much back out of it. We had a huge benefit here in the area and had a fund on GoFundMe.com, and I think we gained about $20,000 that was split evenly amongst all of us involved.”
Before the fire, Becker had inquired about a 3-year-old Oldenburg stallion, Baldour, at GT Malibu Sporthorses. She was able to purchase him with the help of some insurance money.
“He’s going to be my breeding stallion,” she said. “I found his video online before the fire. I loved him and was looking for a friend of mine for a horse for her, and I came across him. I call Baldour my Ebay horse. I bought him online.”
Baldour was started under saddle in April, and Becker is looking forward to training both horses, just as she had with several of her previous mounts.
Becker is the proud owner of Wilhelm.(Photo by Payton Adams Photography)
“He and Wilhelm are with me for the long haul,” she said. “I plan on bringing them both up the levels. I would like to keep Baldour a stallion. I’ve never been involved in breeding, and it’s definitely a whole new world I want to learn and get into. They both have the potential for Grand Prix; it’s just getting them there.
“I have phenomenal horses now, and I love them, but dealing with a 2- and 3-year-old every day, you definitely miss the 15-year-old confirmed Grand Prix gelding that you can get on and do anything with,” she continued. “It’s tough starting all over, and for me, I wanted to start over with unbroken horses.
"I didn’t want to ride somebody else’s horses," she continued. "I trained my horses, and I wanted to do it again. Every day I think about them, and I miss them, and it sucks just having shoes and bits for the last 20 years of riding, but it’s what I have.”
The new barn at Brookwood Equestrian Center, owned by King and Melanie Howington, is about six weeks from completion, but the cause of the fire, which was deemed electrical, is still under investigation.