Frigm Keeps Her Teenaged Promise To Her Forever Horse

Jun 3, 2022 - 3:08 PM

When Gabbriel “Brie” Frigm was 14, she made a lifetime commitment to a camp horse. Now 40, she’s gone from a pony-mad teenager who bought herself a horse to a professional and mom, but she’s kept her word for 26 years and counting.

Frigm’s parents sent her to Camp Hebron in Halifax, Pennsylvania, as a young teen. There, she fell in love with a Quarter Horse in the camp string named Juan’s Deductions, or “Gabe.” After her camp session ended, she started returning on weekends to take care of him.

“He was actually kind of a problem horse,” said Frigm, Wellsville, Pennsylvania. “He never quite fully got into the program, but I instantly fell in love with him. I thought he was beautiful. I volunteered and really got to know him. My dad would drive me up and drop me off [for the weekend] and then come and pick me up on a Sunday evening.”

Frigm decided to volunteer at the camp year-round so she could see Gabe, and she earned free lessons for her efforts.

“He was naughty,” she said. “The horses in the camp program did summer camp, but they also did trail rides for lots of visitors and groups. Gabe’s nickname was ‘Buckaroo’; he could really buck. Years later my trainer Cindy Mattern said she’d never had a horse buck as hard as Gabe.”

web gabe close up by Hillary Frigm
Brie Frigm made a lifetime commitment to Gabe when she was a teenager that she’s still honoring 26 years later. Photos Courtesy Of Brie Frigm

By the next year, Frigm was 14, and the camp riding director Kristi Harris had concluded that Gabe definitely was not a good fit for the program. Knowing how fond Frigm was of him, Harris offered her the opportunity to buy him.

“I said yes, I could do it, and that’s where it all began,” recalled Frigm.

While Frigm’s parents supported their daughter’s interest in horses and agreed to let her get the horse, they made clear that further financial responsibility and management of the horse would be her responsibility.

Frigm enlisted the help of family and friends to put up fencing behind the family’s house and build a stall in back.

“My dad had a buddy at work who had horses and let him borrow his truck and trailer,” Frigm remembered. “We got a cashier’s check for $1,500 and went up to get him. When we got there, the director of the horsemanship program said, ‘I need to talk to your dad alone.’ ”

Frigm didn’t know what was said in that conversation until she asked her father years later.

“She was saying horses are a lot of responsibility, and she was actually trying to talk him out of letting me buy him,” she said. “My dad looked at her and said, ‘There’s no way my daughter is letting us leave without that horse in the back of this truck.’ My dad brought him home, and it was my dream come true. I was thrilled.”

As Gabe settled in at his new home, Frigm got to work. She was solely in charge of his care, and she mucked out and fed him daily. When she wasn’t in the barn she was working jobs waitressing at Olive Garden and at Ski Roundtop to pay for his needs.

Gabe 2008
Brie made many sacrifices as a young person to take care of Gabe, shown here in 2008.

While her peers were calling each other for parties, Frigm got a memorable call of another kind: Gabe was a clever horse who figured out how to stick his foot through the gate and lift it off its hinges.

“One day he removed the gate and literally went down Main Street in town,” she recalled. “He was found outside of town, standing in a creek with his head over the fence of another farm’s paddock, visiting with their horses. They called and said, ‘Hey, I think your horse is down here. Come get him.’ It wasn’t a broken fence or anything, he literally lifted the gate off the hinges.”

Beyond the day-to-day responsibilities of paying and caring for her new horse, there were challenges that came with Frigm and Gabe being green together.

“I came off a lot,” she said.

A high school friend introduced Frigm to Mattern, and Frigm started riding down back roads to take lessons at Mattern’s farm.

“Cindy really helped me work with him,” Frigm said. “[She helped me] learn to safely ride through things, what to do if he started bucking or decided that he just wasn’t going to walk forward or what to do with all those naughty things.”

A friend with a trailer took Frigm and Gabe to a few competitions where the Quarter Horse kept her on her toes.

“At one show, we were jumping the course, and he refused two of the jumps,” she recalled. “It was humiliating. We came out and were standing there on the side, and somebody walked by with a hot dog in their hand, and Gabe reached out and grabbed at it. I’m sitting on him, and I just laughed.”

When it came time for Frigm to head to college—she went to Delaware Valley College [now Delaware Valley University (Pennsylvania)]—friends suggested she could sell Gabe or donate him to a rescue so she could focus on her own needs, including paying for her own college. He had injured his hock, and Frigm was working extra shifts to pay for his veterinary bills.

But she wouldn’t consider getting rid of Gabe. She made it work, and she had help along the way. One couple, Beth and Randy Tauser, offered to keep him at their farm on a free lease for Frigm’s first year of college. Later he went back to that farm when she went to study abroad in Moscow. When she transferred to Pennsylvania State University, the Tausers helped her connect to a farm there so she could keep Gabe with her.

web manny brie by Hillary Frigm
Even after she became a mom to Manny Frigm, Brie did the 25-minute commute to the barn to see Gabe almost every day.

Frigm spent summers working at a breeding farm and the Penn State dairy barns to pay for Gabe’s care while she was in college. After graduating with a degree in agricultural science, she moved to Washington, D.C., to start a new job working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an international program specialist. Gabe moved to a private farm in Highland, Maryland.

Frigm commuted every day between her work downtown and the barn, roughly 25 minutes away. When she became a mom to Emmanuel Frigm, the juggling got even tougher.

“I’m a busy mom, but what mom isn’t?” she said.

Today, Frigm is 40 and an established professional, while Gabe is 37 and long since retired from work.

web Brie and Gabe at gate
Gabe, now 37, has taught Frigm about senior horse care management.

“It’s really hard to keep weight on him,” she said. “[His] teeth are starting to get what they call cups and chewing is difficult. I’ve learned a lot about senior horse care and the challenges, especially the last maybe three, four years have been harder. He was always an easy keeper [when he was younger.]”

Frigm still drives out to the barn most days to visit him in his field and change his blankets in the winter.

“At this point I’ve had him for more than half my life. He’s such a special part of it now,” Frigm said.

“I’ve forgotten how he used to be a naughty stinker,” she added. “Now he’s a sweet old man waiting at the gate. I don’t even put the halter on him—he comes out and follows me around like a puppy. I know him, and he knows me.”

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