Over the weekend I had this dream where I won some sort of drawing to spend a day in the life of Jennie Brannigan and her four-star horse Cambalda.
It was amazing—Jennie was there and coached me and I was able to wear all of her signature equipment and experience what it is like to look through Ping’s ears at a cross-country jump.
The craziest thing is this actually happened!!!
My first grooming experience with Cambalda was shortly after starting to work for Jennie and braiding the morning of their advanced dressage test at Plantation Field in the fall of 2014. I decided that I needed to sew in the braids, which I had never really done for an event before, and he was shaking his head so vigorously I was really feeling the pressure to get him ready in time. It was quite astonishing how he was able to time the head shake right as I was getting my fingers to the end of the braid. He had me figured out.
Moving forward a month or two to the Fair Hill International CCI, Jennie called in a special forces team for the vet box after cross-country. I ran around with buckets of ice water as Kelley Merette and Steven Rodgers successfully navigated the head tossing and legs flying that ensued when handling a very fit and opinionated Irish Thoroughbred. If I had been there with the halter at the end of the course, Ping may have made his own way back to the stabling with a lot of people running after him.
To Ping’s dismay, I learned that year how to make it through a thorough curry session, clip his legs, outsmart his pirouettes in a stall when trying to get a shipping halter on and generally avoid coming in contact with his overbite.
He is a quirky, athletic horse that you definitely grow with as you build a relationship. It was a very rewarding experience to be able to take charge of him in the Pan American Games prep. It felt like an accomplishment for the year to feel confident that I understood him and his behavior to care for him to the highest standards. We spent weeks together and even slept together in the back of a trailer. He was forced to be my best friend.
Fast forward to the fall of 2016, when with Ping’s return I was beyond ecstatic to have him back to curry and talk to in the barn. It was even more exciting when Jennie had me sit on him for the first time to start his rehab. The walking was amazing, and then the jogging and before you know it we were cantering. I was 90 pecent sure Jennie was joking every time she mentioned that I could compete him in January.
Ping worked on his fitness through the holidays and then before you know it Jennie was back and I was on the board for a jump lesson. This NEVER happens, so let’s just say I was a little nervous!
I kept it together for the most part, and for reasons I’m still trying to understand, she decided to enter us in the Three Lakes January Horse Trials in Florida. Ping is a well-schooled champion and with a few refreshers in basic riding skills and trying not to miss at every jump, it was looking doable.
I’m not going to lie, I may have required an inspirational talk or two and a reality check in the ring at Southern Cross Equestrian but I greatly appreciated the support, patience and encouragement! The week leading up to the event was insanely cool with a jump school at Silvio Mazzoni’s and cross-country schooling at Exmoor Eventing in Ocala. We were having too much fun.
The morning of the event, to Ping’s dismay, Jennie herself whipped out some professional grooming skills and crafted some braids between riding sets and we went on our way. I was under strict instructions to not braid him!
Jennie braiding Ping for me! Talk about a role reversal!
I dug some white spandex out of my closet, begged, borrowed and was gifted the rest of my outfit. I would like to take a moment to appreciate how high the waistline of these pants is!
Ping the rockstar was nice enough to entertain the 20-meter circles of our novice dressage test and I am not joking when I say I’ve already framed the test. It’s not every day you get to trot down the center line on Cambalda.
So thrilled after the dressage. Photo by Jennie Brannigan
Moving onto the show jumping, my main goal was to remember the course, keep smiling and set Ping up for success. I’ve watched him over countless clear rounds. Surely, I can keep my leg on around 2’11”.
Jennie stepped it up again to be the most super groom ever and Ping obviously loved every second of the experience.
My four-star rider super-groom Jennie!
And drumroll…we did it! It was so much fun. Like renting a Ferrari when you don’t really know how to drive it but appreciating all it can do!
After a quick wardrobe change and basically trying to look like Jennie in disguise, we headed off to the start box! I haven’t run around an entire cross-country course since the summer of 2010 so I was very excited to get back out there, but also worried about keeping Ping safe/not falling off or making other bad decisions. This was harder for me than you would probably think!
Our jumping warm-ups went strangely smooth on Saturday and before I had time to process what was happening, Jennie was leading us into the start box.
Here’s me NOT MISSING! to a cross-country warm-up fence!
Ping characteristically prefers to stay with the other horses in the warm-up than enter the start box by himself, but at the novice level the energy was very relaxed and we were off with minimal sideways or backwards movement.
Cantering around was such a breeze and I felt like we might be moving a little quickly for novice. We loped around the middle section of the course, appreciated the beautiful trees and lakes at the venue and then realized that we might need to pick it up towards the end. We finished on the optimum time which was such a fluke but very entertaining. Definitely didn’t want to embarrass Ping with time faults at novice!
A very happy end of the day! Photo by Jennie Brannigan
The nature of the eventing community is so supportive. The downside of the busy schedule, traveling and work hours results in the perk of having so many friends who have the same goals, interests and schedule surrounding you. I greatly appreciate everyone who has made this opportunity possible and supported the little adventure with kind words and encouragement.
I will always be the biggest fan girl to Jennie and all her horses and it was surreal to get to share this experience with Cambalda, one of our most important and influential team members. I also of course need to continuously thank his owners, the Gardners, who make all of our dreams possible!
Sorry Ping, it looks like the bar will be raised over the next couple of weeks, but we will make the ride as fun as possible. I can honestly say we do all of this for the love of the horse.
Erin Rose left a full-time, non-horsey job behind in 2014 and took on the job of running four-star eventer Jennie Brannigan’s barn. She grew up eventing, but had put her riding career on hold to get her degree in psychology and start her career in that field when the opportunity at Brannigan’s came up. Read more about Erin in her Groom Spotlight and follow all her blogs on COTH.