Brooke Cole tried to retire her horse Poetic Justis several years ago, but he didn’t seem interested in that life. She brought the 22-year-old Hanoverian back to the show ring last year, and they now lead the World Champion Hunter Rider adult amateur section, the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Zone 3 adult amateur, 18-35, and Virginia Horse Shows Association standings.
Cole purchased “PJ” in 2013. The pair topped the zone standings in 2014 before moving up in 2015 to the 3’3” amateur owner, 18-35 where they won Zone 3 Horse of the Year title as well as earned 10th place nationally in the U.S. Equestrian Federation standings. After leasing PJ out for a couple years, Cole retired him to her farm, Breezy Knoll. But the chestnut gelding (Parabol—Abundance) had no desire to slow down. Upon their return to the show ring last year, they were year-end champions in the VHSA adult amateur, 18-35, division.
Cole, 31, runs a boarding barn at Breezy Knoll, but when she’s at horse shows, she’s working, too. She braids professionally (although she’s recently cut back her client list) and grooms for her trainer Chris Wynne at Breckenridge Manor. We caught up with her during the Lexington National Horse Show (Virginia) to tell us about her day.
No matter what, morning comes quick at that hour.
I usually have to take a shower because that’s what wakes me up that early. I have dogs in the camper with me, and my mom, who stays with me at horse shows, gets cranky if I don’t take them out before I leave. If I don’t, they will run around the camper jumping on and off her bed until she wakes up to take them out. And when it’s 3:30 in the morning, she would rather get a few more hours of sleep before getting up for the day. Luckily, they’re pretty quick. I have four that usually come, but at Lexington we only brought two. I left the other two at home with my husband Richard. But Charlie and Lucy (here with us this weekend) are my mom’s. My mom is my No. 1 fan for sure. And she drives the trailer—I wouldn’t get there without her.
During this time, I’m telling myself hour by hour what I’m going to do for the day. Then that way, if I get to a certain time, and I haven’t completed something, I’m like, “Oh, I need to hurry because I’m not on my timetable.” (Or, “I have plenty of time. I can sit down.” But that usually never happens!)
I have to get up really early because when I get here, I have to feed the horses for my trainer Chris Wynne. It’s just feeding, but it takes at least half an hour to get to every horse.
I help him groom his horses at the shows. I started doing it off and on at bigger ones when he really needed an extra hand. But I was braiding for clients most of the time, and I’ve always told him if he ever really needed me, to let me know.
Angela Walke Bievre and Joy Stewart are the ones who really run Chris’ farm. I report to them. I couldn’t do it without their knowledge. They constantly keep me up to date on what they’re doing and how we’re going to handle everything at the show.
I get “PJ” braided, mane and tail. I like braiding PJ myself because it’s our bonding time. And I can never get enough bonding time with PJ.
I started braiding when I had my ponies, and I worked off the trailer. I wanted to show really badly, and my parents were like, “Well, you have to work for it.” They suggested I do my own braiding, and I was like, “I’ll do anything to get to the horse shows. Anything. You name it; I’ll do it.”
So, I started when I had my children’s ponies. We’d ship in, and I’d braid on the trailer. They’d be horrible, and I’d be so embarrassed. My dad would say, “If you lose a class because your braids aren’t pretty enough, then I will pay for the horses to get braided.” Of course, it never mattered; that’s never made a difference. But that’s how I got into it.
We had to ship some horses off to Kentucky for the Platinum Performance USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Championships. So yesterday we packed everything up, and this morning we finished up the little details, like the fans and buckets.
The shipper got here about 6:45 a.m. and had them picked up by 7:30.
I braided two more horses.
I started braiding professionally in college. It was a way to be at the horse shows without having a regular job. I could slip in a weekend here or there and still come to shows.
I’ve tried to back off on the braiding recently just because it was too much to do in a single day or weekend. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in a day. I’d always tell myself, “Just get an hour nap before I show. I’m OK,” and that was getting rough. So now I at least get sleep at night. Even if it’s only for five hours, it’s way better than one.
I got on PJ to hack him before our division started. Good thing I went to the end of the division; I need all the hours I can get.
He was a dressage horse before J.T. Tallon spotted him. He saw the potential in him, and he was all excited about him coming into the hunter world. I’m very glad he was able to accomplish that.
I actually first saw PJ when I braided him at Upperville (Virginia) for Melissa Zimmerman and Gordon Reistrup who had him as a sales horse, and I loved him. I just thought he was wonderful. And then by Lexington National—how fitting!—the opportunity came up for me to be able to buy him, and I jumped on it. I had to have him. So right after Lexington National 2013, I bought him.
We thought he was going to retire in 2018 and planned on retiring him. But after a while, he was just miserable. He couldn’t stand it. He just hated not being used. I brushed him and played with him, but it wasn’t enough. He knew the difference, and he was having a fit in his stall every time there was any mention of a horse show. I was like, “You don’t have to retire. I just thought you would like to retire.” But it was not in his plans, so we put him back in work, and he felt great. Then last year, 2020, he came back.
PJ and I show in the adult amateur, 18-35, division. This particular day was the start of the division, and we ended up getting second and first over fences.
We call him the “Mary Poppins of horses” because he really is practically perfect in every way. He is a dream to ride. He’s balanced and rhythmic, and he’s just easy. He wants to win as badly as you do. He is constantly calculating the course with you.
I don’t want to waste any horse shows with PJ at this point, so I want to make every moment the best I can. I get extremely nervous thinking about it.
I think that’s why I ride well with Chris. He can tell when I’m really nervous, and he’ll try to say something that makes me laugh and gets me really chill at the ring.
It’s so nice to have someone who has that much confidence in you—or who can give you that much confidence—and supports you in what you do. That’s hard to find. I’m forever grateful for what he does for me.
After we showed, I came back to the barn and bathed PJ, unbraided him and cleaned his stall.
I have my green horse Charmer at the show with me, so in the afternoon I finally have time to get on him. My plan for him is to be my next show horse, so he has some big shoes to fill.
He likes to drift right. We’re really working on trying to go straight and getting him to use his hind end, so he learns how to jump up and over instead of just sort of across the fence. We set up some rails and guiding points to help me teach him. It was definitely working. I got really excited.
We kind of clobbered it once, but missing the jump with Charmer was what Chris wanted me to do to help me get a better jump out of him. It felt like a miss to me, but I am learning there is more to improving green horses than just finding the right distance. The next time he came, he nailed it, and he jumped it so darn good. I was like, “Oh, Chris is right. How about that!”
We feed around 5, so I helped with that.
I also have my boarding barn at home, so I have to manage that from afar when I’m here. When I leave here, I go straight to taking care of the barn and cleaning stalls at home, which is why it is nice that I can groom for Chris because it’s just at the shows.
I did try other jobs. I tried several. I worked at a doctor’s office. I worked at a school in education; I was even taking education classes. I just hated all of them because they kept me from the horses.
Eventually, I decided to go where I’m happy, and I don’t really care if other people think I work really hard or, “Golly, I can’t believe you do that. Why do you do that to yourself? You must be exhausted,” or, “It must be really hard work.” It is, but I just love it so much I don’t notice it. I don’t really care if it’s not the ideal/normal job.
I went over and did the tail for a horse who was going to compete in the Virginia Horse Shows Association Hunt Seat Medal Finals that wasn’t starting until 8 or 8:30 that night. Then I went back to taking care of my own horses. I made sure they had hay and water and cleaned stalls. I wrapped PJ and took care of him and finished up at 9.
9:30 p.m.–an undocumented hour
I ordered Domino’s that night. I had it delivered to the campgrounds, since I was like, “I’m not going out and getting food at this point.” I had some grapes in the freezer at the end of the barn that I just plucked off and grabbed throughout the day. And Joy taught me to get little squeezable baby food things that have a bunch of nutrients in them, and you grab them out of the fridge and go. So, I eat those, too, and I keep going. But dinner is the only time we eat.
I have a nightly ritual: My favorite movie is “Mean Girls.” I watch it every night at a horse show. Joy and I have a thing: On Wednesdays we wear pink—and we really do. I fall asleep with it running.