It’s 5 a.m., and I am wide awake. It’s a horse show morning, and I have woken up before my alarm and gone over my tests, which is something I do often, certainly at the first competition of the year. I’m breezing a race horse before the show, which also isn’t abnormal for me. This morning is definitely different though. It’s my first competition back in over a year due to my year suspension. It seems very odd to type that sentence; it most certainly isn’t something I ever thought I would have to say.
This time a year ago I was having a conversation with Pavla Nygaard, president of the Ocala Jockey Club, and she asked me a question I never thought I would have to ask myself. She said, “You might have to find out who Jennie Brannigan is without competing and three-day eventing.” I will never forget that. And it was so strange to even have to even think about that.
Thankfully the Fédération Equestre Internationale cleared all three of us of any intentional doping, and now I have the proper paperwork and am cleared to compete on my medication. But for six months I was completely unsure of what my future would hold. Being on the back of a horse is the only place I’ve ever felt like I belonged, and to be researching dental hygienistry and whatever other career I could have done was shocking—almost laughable now—maybe still a little too soon.
There’s a good, old saying, “You find out who your true friends are in hard times.” I found out in real form. It most certainly is true. I would like to thank the people who were there for me, and I can honestly say I remember everyone who sent a text, gave me a hug, called me, brought me food, got me out of bed, smiled at a show, everyone who was kind. I am grateful, and I noted who did not.
People kept saying, “Well I guess now you can take some time off and go do things.” I guess that would make sense, but in truth I threw myself into work harder. I found joy in training my horses. I took more time to know them even better. I enjoyed Steph Cauffman and Alexa Lapp’s success on them. I watched Alexa ride Cambalda, and never once felt anything other than pride for her and gratitude to the Gardners for choosing to let her ride him over sell him. Lynn Symansky’s time spent riding FE Lifestyle during her WEG year, and when he’s quirky and tough, was above and beyond. Her skill, loyalty and friendship is priceless.
Coaching became something I really enjoyed. l found joy in others’ success. Our barn wasn’t about my results or goals anymore. Working harder made it that much more possible to get through this year, and thankfully due to my incredible team of girls, my owners, who are loyal and compassionate, and my wonderful sponsors, who stood behind me, I can say now that our team grew this past year, which is amazing to me.
There are so many people to whom I would express gratitude, but I would just like to thank Michael Matz for giving me the chance to have purpose outside of eventing, for every piece of advice walking to and from the track, for telling me I’ll be all right when I was in tears, and for giving me a place where I forgot what was happening in my career and felt valued and useful. Thank you.
All my owners of course, calling you in tears will always be in my memory, but your compassion is in it more. Tim and Nina, thank you for constantly telling me you are proud of me when you could have done the opposite. John Nunn, thank you for the hug and telling me you would support me the same. I would love to show my gratitude to Great Meadow [Virginia] as well. I’ve had some of my favorite winning memories there. Reaching out to invite me to jump in your unrecognized mini prix and then backing me even more when questioned about it, I am so appreciative.
Phillip Dutton told me the best piece of advice when Cooper was put down: “Don’t choose to let this moment define you.” He said the same thing to the whole farm after Boyd Martin’s barn fire, when we were together to mourn. I’ve woken up every day saying that to myself, and it is has driven me harder. Every day you have the choice; you can work harder, smarter, let resentment go; you can be kinder, choose to thrive and choose to step up.
But, as of today I don’t have to say that to myself. I will not let this past year define my career, and while I didn’t believe it earlier and had to convince myself I now know. I am hungry. I am driven. I am happy. I know now more than ever who I am and what I am here for.