Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2024

Former Owner Crosses Globe To Reunite With Her Aging ‘Heart Horse’

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Several weeks ago, in the heart of Pennsylvania horse country, a sweet reunion took place between retired advanced-level event horse No Objection and the woman who transformed him from a rogue 3-year-old in Tasmania, Australia, to a successful advanced-level eventer who ultimately was sold across the globe to the U.S. Thanks to the internet, Erin Pitt Berryman, who now lives in the Middle East and is married with two children, was able to track down her “heart horse,” now 26, and make a special trip to the United States just to see him again.

Although the Australian Thoroughbred competed under several top riders in the U.S., including Elizabeth Swire (née Stewart) and Phillip Dutton, it was Jennie Saville (née Brannigan) who brought the gelding back to the advanced level here, competing him in the CCI4*-L at Fair Hill International (Maryland) in 2012 before her student and his current owner, Emma Hartley, purchased the horse with her family to bring her up the levels as a young rider. Along the way, Saville and the horse his U.S. owners called “Ben” jumped an impressive 6’2” in the annual bareback puissance competition at Plantation Field International (Pennsylvania)—a record that still stands today.

It was a remarkable career for a horse who had an inauspicious start in his island homeland. Berryman purchased him cheaply as a 3-year-old two decades ago from a woman who was happy to sell because she couldn’t catch him and didn’t enjoy riding him. In fact, the first time Berryman sat on “Bosley,” as she knew him, he reared and tossed her. Then an 18-year-old optimist, she had a good feeling about him anyway, so she took him home to see if he’d become an event horse. 

Erin Berryman flew across the globe, from the Arabian Peninsula to Unionville, Pa., to reunite with No Objection, a now-retired advanced-level event horse who she started on his career two decades ago in Tasmania, Australia. Amy K. Dragoo Photo

“It took me three years to be able to get him to a point where he was OK to take out and compete,” she recalled. “He was known for running backwards a lot; my mum can remember that actually it seemed like he would canter backwards, and we tried a lot of things to try and get him to think forward—for example, moving cattle to put his brain into forward gear.”

A phone conversation with Andrew McLean, an equine behavorist known in Australia for dealing with difficult horses, provided a turning point. 

“At a point when I thought I had no hope with this horse, Andrew was confident that he wouldn’t be a problem,” Berryman said. “He described that basically Bosley was an over-thinker, and he was processing everything I was telling him at once.”

With the help of a friend who was a dressage trainer who broke young horses, Berryman found the solution was to ride Bosley in a halter, without a bit; over time they eventually introduced a bit and contact. 

“It was a huge learning curve for me, as it taught me that his reaction to things was not because he was naughty, but because he was trying too hard and then getting upset because he wasn’t getting it right,” she said. “All he wanted to do was the right thing all the time. Once I understood him, we never looked back.”

Erin Berryman rides a young No Objection early in his eventing career in Tasmania. Photo Courtesy Of Erin Berryman

Eventing Years

While her parents had a nice property where she could keep horses, eventing in Tasmania took persistence and hard work. With no events on the island higher than preliminary level, Berryman had to find ways to get Bosley to mainland Australia as they moved up the levels. 

“I would always have to travel to mainland Australia, and either camp out at friends’ properties or be a working groom for a professional for a few months so I could get a few of the higher-level comps in,” she said. “Travelling from Tas meant that we would have catch a ferry, so horses would be on the truck or horse trailer while on the boat, but the trip takes about 12 hours and sometimes can be quite rough, plus costly, so I would only do the crossing once maybe twice a year. That meant our chances to compete were a little limited.”

Far from the three-days of their younger years, Berryman enjoyed a quiet hack on her old friend during their reunion in Pennsylvania. Amy K. Dragoo Photo

They managed to compete at some of the biggest events in Australia, including Sydney and Adelaide. After a couple of CCI3* starts, Berryman contacted broker/agent Sharon Ridgeway to put Bosley on the market. As a self-funded rider with no other source of income, she knew that as a 10-year-old, sound three-star horse, he was probably at his most valuable. It didn’t take long to find a buyer.

“I was competing him at Sydney three-day at the time; I finished the event on the Sunday, drove to Melbourne (an eight-hour drive) and vetted him on the Monday or Tuesday,” she said. “He was pretty much in quarantine straight away. I had no time to think about what I was doing, it all happened so quickly.”

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Bosley’s buyer was British Olympian William Fox-Pitt, though he didn’t keep the horse for long. Bosley’s next stop on his world tour was Pennsylvania, when Swire purchased him.

While the sale was necessary for Berryman to pursue her goals with horses, she was heartbroken to have let him go. 

“Whilst he was my best competition horse I had by far, I loved him mostly for his big personality,” she said. “He was quirky, he was mischievous, and he took some managing at events, but he taught me so much, and then through his sale, he set me up financially. That horse gave me so much.”

Berryman operated a training and breeding operation out of her parents’ farm in Tasmania for several years, but scaled back her involvement with horses after she married her husband and moved to Queensland, where they started a family. They had purchased a small farm and had horses again when a job opportunity arose in the Middle East, and these days she typically rides once a week or so. A few years ago, she starting looking around on Facebook to track down her old friend Bosley. 

Life In The USA

These days Bosley, now called Ben, is living out his retirement in Unionville, Pennsylvania, with Laura Reilly, DVM, who owns him with her daughter, Emma Hartley. He has Cushings disease, and his days are mainly sedentary. They purchased Ben for Hartley through Saville, who Hartley has ridden with since she was a child doing beginner novice.

Reilly recalled the bareback puissance in 2011 as one of the most publicized moments of Ben’s career. At the time, Saville was marketing the horse to sell for his then-owner, Swire. Saville ran the preliminary horse trials with him at that Plantation Field, then entered him in the bareback puissance, where they jumped 6’2”—the highest anyone jumped in the showcase competition that ran during Plantation Field International for more than a decade. 

Jennie Saville (then Brannigan) and No Objection set what proved to be an unbeatable bareback puissance record during the 2011 Plantation Field International (Pa.) by jumping 6’2″. Amy K. Dragoo Photo

“It was a catch ride, basically,” said Reilly, noting that a photo of that jump is emblazoned on the back of Saville’s horse trailer now.

At the time, Saville had been campaigning Cambalda, owned by the Tim and Nina Gardner, but he was laid up with a minor injury. The Gardners, who have owned and bred numerous top event horses for Saville and other riders, saw Ben jump and bought him so that Saville would have something to ride. 

“All that year, as they were competing, she kept telling Emma this would be Emma’s next horse,” Reilly said. “He had sort of a checkered past, and wasn’t easy, but I also trust Jennie’s matchmaking ability. That fall, Cambalda was back in action, and it was evident that Ben was a four-star horse but not a five-star horse, so we bought him for Emma.”

Hartley rode him for four or five years, doing her first preliminary level event, as well as an intermediate and a two-star. She took a gap year after high school to work for Saville, and qualified for the FEI North American Young Riders Championship, though they couldn’t compete because he had an injury.

“He has a great personality and a few fans, as well as a few people who are happy to see the end of him!” Reilly said with a laugh.

Hartley’s last year competing Ben was in 2016—she went to college in Chicago, and he was 19, so he came home to Pennsylvania but was not very happy with retirement. 

“He’s a personable and interactive horse, and we’d just kicked him out in a field, and you could tell he wasn’t very happy,” Reilly said. “That winter I was shipping a horse to Ocala, and Jennie asked me to put Ben on the trailer too because she had a student she thought could benefit from riding him. Cherie Chauvin, who had competed at a high level but totally lost her confidence in jumping, ended up leasing him for several years and they competed from beginner novice up to training level, and she got her confidence back.” 

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Aside from one more high-profile catch ride—Dom Schramm borrowed him for the arena eventing competition at the 2017 Central Park Horse Show in New York City, where he fittingly helped claim a win for Australia—Ben retired. 

“Now he’s happy to not be doing any work,” Reilly said. “He’s 26 and has done a lot of good for a lot of people.”

Berryman (center) armed herself with multiple bags of treats for her reunion with her old horse, now owned by Dr. Laura Reilly, DVM (right) and her daughter, Emma Hartley, Amy K. Dragoo Photo

A Pennsylvania Reunion

Reilly recalled when they first connected with Berryman: “We were at Bromont four or five years ago, and my daughter or I got this random Facebook message asking if we had No Objection. Then we started this correspondence. She’s a really cool person. She’s so interesting and had done really cool things and loves that horse. It was a wonderful three days that we had, when she came to Pennsylvania.”

Berryman made the most of her brief trip to Unionville, Pennsylvania, a bucolic town that also is a hotbed of upper-level eventing in the U.S. and home to multiple Olympians.

“She’s certainly still an eventing fan and enjoyed driving by Bruce Davidson’s farm, visiting True Prospect and Windurra, and she met Boyd [Martin] and Phillip [Dutton], who were thrilled to meet a fellow Aussie,” Reilly said. “She got to ride with Jennie at True Prospect [Farm, Dutton’s home base] and got that whole view of the local Aussie adventures. It was a fantasy, really. It was a cool couple of days.

“[Chauvin], the woman who leased him, lives a couple hours away and drove up for a little barn cocktail party,” she continued. “My daughter wasn’t able to be here, but Tim Gardner stopped by. It was just one of the best things ever.”

One of the most touching things, Reilly said, was seeing Ben react to the distinctly Australian horse treats Berryman brought for him.

“It was funny, everyone asked if he recognized her,” she said. “He’s always in your pocket and loves people, but in Australia, the treats that you give horses are black licorice. She arrived with a bag of black licorice, and he was all over it. There’s no doubt that he remembered that! We even tested whether the other horses would like it—and believe me, they don’t.”

Bosley/Ben snarfing down the black licorice, a favorite treat among Australian horses, that you possibly never even realized Twizzlers makes until you saw this picture. Amy K. Dragoo Photo

While Ben is not in any regular work now, they tacked him up and Berryman rode him around the field. Reilly asked local equine photographer Amy Dragoo to document the reunion, and had another friend groom him since she was still out of town.

“When Laura brought him out of the stable the emotions just hit me so hard; I still cry just thinking about it,” Berryman said. “It had been 15 years since I had seen him, but for that moment it had felt like we had never been apart. I was lucky enough to have one last ride on him; he is 26, so it was an easy stroll around Laura’s beautiful farm, but to be behind those ears, on the perfect day in such a lovely setting was a real dream and a memory that will last a lifetime.”

At the barn, Berryman surprised her mother in Tasmania with a phone call from her old friend Bosley, while Dragoo took photos of the occasion. 

 “Whilst seeing Bosley again was so special, the greatest part was to meet all these people that are equally attached to him as I am,” Berryman said. “For a horse from remote part of Tasmania, he has provided so many things to so many people, whether it was confidence on cross-country, learning opportunities, the chance to ride at higher level, he taught us all something, and we all feel very grateful towards him. And as someone that loved him so much, it really made me so happy to know that he was and will be loved and cared for in the best possible way.”

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