Monday, May. 20, 2024

Craig Bernstein Puts His Horses First

Even with a broken leg, he remains a “team player” for Arlene “Tuny” Page.

After 20 years in the film industry, when Craig Bernstein decided he wanted to change pace and move to Europe, he hit the ground running as a groom for Arlene “Tuny” Page.

Page, of Wellington, Fla., flew him to Germany, where she was training and competing, and two days later Bernstein was grooming for her at the Rotterdam CDI (the Netherlands).
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Even with a broken leg, he remains a “team player” for Arlene “Tuny” Page.

After 20 years in the film industry, when Craig Bernstein decided he wanted to change pace and move to Europe, he hit the ground running as a groom for Arlene “Tuny” Page.

Page, of Wellington, Fla., flew him to Germany, where she was training and competing, and two days later Bernstein was grooming for her at the Rotterdam CDI (the Netherlands).

That was almost seven years ago, and he’s never looked back. He’s seen Page through ups and downs in her career, but he’s also encountered one of the hazards of his profession—an injury that has plagued him since 2006, the repercussions of which have sidelined him for most of this year.

In 2006, Bernstein was accompanying Page and Wild One to the FEI World Cup Final in the Netherlands. They were also bringing along Page’s former Grand Prix horse, Claire, to be bred. Claire was particular about loading, and while she was being led onto the plane in Miami, she went backwards and came down on Bernstein.

With the horse’s well-being still foremost in his mind, Bernstein didn’t notice right away that he’d fractured his tibia and torn his anterior cruciate ligament. Instead, he got Claire on the plane and then got on himself, with ice to pack around his knee. After a long flight, with several delays, he finally landed in Amsterdam with the horses and made his way to Klaus Balkenhol’s stable in Germany.

“I was dreading the jog [to see how they’d come off the plane],” said Bernstein, 46. “I took two steps and handed the lead rope off. I couldn’t do it. I thought it was just bruised badly, and I’d been using five rolls of vetrap a day to tape it up. I mean, I’m a team player, and my boss had just made it to her first World Cup. You think I’m going to say I’m going home?”

Page finished seventh, as the top U.S. rider in the Grand Prix, but even as Bernstein celebrated her accomplishment, he was beginning to realize the serious damage he’d done to his leg. He had arthroscopic surgery in October of 2006 and was told he’d eventually need a knee replacement. The knee continued to deteriorate until he finally decided to have the surgery, in December of 2007.

“Everything went wrong at that point,” said Bernstein. “I’ve had six procedures done on it. May 9 was the last one, and I hope it will be the last. There was an infection in the bone. I just want to get back on the road with my horse.”

Bernstein is hoping to be back in action at the end of August, and he and Page may be back at work, picking up right where things left off, on a fall tour of Europe.

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“After seven years we know each other’s every move,” he said. “If I see her looking for something, I know exactly what it is. It’s like that [TV] show, “M.A.S.H.”—I’m Radar with her. She’d go to ask me something, and I’d answer before she’d even asked the question.”

When Page’s daughter, Charlotte, was a baby, Bernstein could often be found backpacking her around the show grounds. “It’s not your typical job,” he said. “I became Uncle Craig, and now she’s turning 8. It became a very family-oriented job.”

About Craig

Age: 46

Home: Wellington, Fla., originally from Huntington, N.Y.

Always Travels With: His Corgi, Skylar. “She even has her passport,” he said.

One Thing He’d Change About Dressage: Although he enjoys
traveling, Bernstein said he’d prefer it if the Italians had invented dressage instead of the Germans. “I’d much rather be eating pasta,” he said with a laugh.

Special Talents: His knack for
building good relationships. “For our vet in Germany, he knows his favorite wine and when his kids’ birthdays are,” said Tuny Page. “When the people at the horse hotel at [the Amsterdam airport] Schipol know that he will remember their size jeans and which kind of pockets they like, then your horse gets the best stall.”

“Within two or three weeks, it was apparent to my husband Dave and me that this was an extraordinary person,” said Page. “You can’t pay someone what they’re worth when they go above and beyond. If my babysitter was sick, he’d take Charlotte to the playground.

It would never occur to him to not do that. It was clear that this was someone who was going to be basically part of the family.”

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But it’s not just his friendship with Page that keeps Bernstein addicted to his job. He clearly adores his charges, especially Wild One.

“He’s my dog,” said Bernstein. “I hadn’t seen him in a while, and then I went to the Palm Beach Dressage Derby [Fla.] since Gil Merrick offered to rent me a golf cart. When I got there, he was getting braided, and he saw me and walked forward on the crossties. I talked to him, and when I walked away, he had a temper tantrum, pawing the floor.

“He’s a guy’s horse,” he added. “He has a mischievousness in his eye and likes to play around. He’s a lot of fun, and I just miss him.”

Bernstein picked up Wild One in Denmark five years ago for Page. “When Tuny buys a horse, I’ll spend a day there [at his previous owner’s stable] to see what he’s like, in turn-out or with clippers. He was a rough, tough brat. You put on a blanket, and he’ll grab the chest and rip the buckles off. He hates clothes. So we have to have the buckles taken off and the fronts sewn. I think he’s gone through 10 Baker sheets.”

Still, Bernstein said he looks forward to seeing the horse every day. “I never rush out of the barn at the end of the day,” he said. “When you open his stall door in the morning, he’ll look at you and turn his head sideways, then if you give him a treat and you point your finger in a circular motion, he turns his head the other way.

“He makes working a pleasure,” he added. “It’s like working for a rock star. He has charisma, and people love him.”

Bernstein has also found some of his favorite moments in life on the job. He recalled one morning at the Aachen CDI (Germany) last year. The weather had been terrible, and when it finally broke, the sun came out during a misty morning while he was hand grazing and hot air balloons were flying overhead.

“Wild One stopped dead in his tracks at the balloons and snorted,” he said. “That was a beautiful morning and one of the coolest times I’ve ever had.

“I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t love horses,” he added. “I love my job. I love traveling and meeting new people.” 

Beth Rasin

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