Devon, Pa.—Sept. 28
You never have to guess what Jacquie Brooks is thinking. At the end of the test she halts, salutes, a huge grin plastered on her face and then there’s plenty of emoting. She’s loving on her horse; she’s waving to the crowd, and when good scores come in, she’s fist-pumping.
She had plenty to celebrate today as her new Grand Prix mount, Westwood 5 (Wolkenstein II—Lindenbluete, Lauries Crusador XX) claimed another blue ribbon at Dressage at Devon, winning the CDI3* Grand Prix Special with a score of 68.42 percent.
We caught up with her following her winning test to chat about everything from developing a young talent like “Westley,” longevity in the sport and maintaining a positive attitude.
Chronicle: How was your ride tonight?
Brooks: It was amazing. I was so pleased; this level is new to him, but this test is particularly new to him. He did his very first [Special] six days ago in Saugerties [(New York) on a 65.76 percent].
[The Special’s] got a tricky canter depart, and he was perfect in that, I was like ‘Holy, this is going great!’ He did the half-passes and everything, then in the last centerline he was still very fresh. The last piaffe, honestly, I’ve never felt anything like that in my life. His hind legs were pumping like pistons, and there was so much power, I was a little afraid it was going to erupt sideways or something. I was pleased he came back to me, and he was unbelievable.
How do you focus on making a test like this a learning experience for your horse?
I always tell my clients, “It’s like if you’re going on a car ride with someone who’s been to your destination before, you can kind of remind them where to go.” When you’ve been doing the Grand Prix with a horse for a while, it becomes like that. You can say, “Come on, we’re going to go do the twos.” And they’re like, “Yeah, I know we’re doing the twos.”
But, with this horse, it’s like giving someone directions to a place they’ve never been—you can’t just say, “Turn right,” at the last second. There’s a constant conversation about directions really. I’m saying to him, “Now you’re going to do this, and now you’re going to do that.” He’s kind of like, “But normally we do something different here,” and I just tell him, “Not today, now we’re going to do this.”
How do you balance practicing the tests without overwhelming Westley?
This horse was [Intermediaire II] when I got him, so even little things like piaffing on the centerline on the spot [in the Grand Prix] instead of on a diagonal traveling three meters, a tremendous amount of schooling goes into teaching them how to do that in both directions. You spend a lot of time trying to get their confidence in the actual ability to do the movements, then you have to spend the same amount of time teaching them the pattern. Then you don’t want to confuse them too early with another pattern, so you stay with one pattern for quite a while until you feel a sense of calm with the first one, then you can introduce the new pattern—there are no short cuts with horses.
How does this Grand Prix Special at Devon compare to showing in Florida earlier this year?
You can’t even compare it to Florida. It’s kind of like when you wake up and you’ve been going to the gym for six months, and all of the sudden you look back in your journal and you’re like, “Wow, I’m lifting 145 pounds now, and I was only lifting 90 six months ago,” but you don’t really realize that that’s been happening until you have that direct comparison. I’m sure if I took a tape from Florida and a tape from Devon and I really look at those two side-by-side, the difference will be enormous—but, I was equally as pleased in Florida as I am now. When you feel like you’re advancing each day and every show, when you have no huge failures, and you just kind of inch along, that’s when you can see where you’re going to go to in the end.
How do you maintain such a positive attitude while showing?
Well, I love it. I love Devon; I love competing. There’s this feeling you get, and you get it with your dog, you get it when an animal understands our language—and it’s our language; dressage is a human thing. We’ve taught horses ones, twos; they’re not born with these words. They’re not born thinking someone’s going to get on their back. They’re not born thinking that if I swing my leg it means canter, or if I don’t swing it, but I kick, that means passage, and if I don’t kick, but I squeeze, I want a higher passage; there’s a million things going on. And I think I get a little bit overwhelmed that, one, they understand me, and two, they try to do it—they really try to do it.
I think if you can be very fair and take the responsibility off of the horse, the way you take responsibility off of a bicycle, that you are the one responsible for putting the horse in a place where he can do the work and then the horse says, “OK, not only will I put myself in the place you’re telling me, but I’ll do all these things in the order you want them, at the moment you want them,” how can you not smile? How can you not be like, “This is unbelievable that this is happening right now?” Especially when the horse goes out there and really tries. And this horse really tried, these last two days, he did more than he is actually capable of doing, so I’m like, “He owes nothing to us.” He just wants to eat grass, that’s what he really wants to do.
How does your relationship with your horses affect your outlook on competing?
I’ve been very fortunate that once I get to this level, I have this relationship with the horses that’s like two figure skaters. You know, where they’re smiling at each other because they know they’re nailing stuff? When they have the yin and the yang, working in balance, and the guy is throwing the girl in the air, and she’s flipping around, and they’re both where they’re supposed to be when she comes down, and everybody’s happy? If you’re not emoting that relationship through the test, the horses think ‘Am I doing it wrong?’ You always just have to be like, “No that was amazing.” That’s all you ever have to say is, “That was amazing.”
If I don’t feel like he wants to do this, then I don’t want to either. It was the same with “Goose” [D Niro]. People would say, “When are you retiring him?” and I said, “He will let me know.” With Goose, we would take his bandages off, and he would know he was next in the ring, and he would try to charge the gate. I said, “The minute he doesn’t charge into the ring and tell me he wants to go, he doesn’t ever have to go again, but if he’s enjoying it and wants to do it, I do too.”
How do you feel about having Westley as your next Grand Prix horse?
I didn’t think I would get another chance at the Olympics after I had Gran Gesto, then Goose came along, and now to have him, to have this lack of a gap in between horses, I’m just grateful. And, I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I’m in the big ring having a great time, so that’s enough.
I’m grateful to the Youngdales [who own Westley], grateful to my mom and Brookhaven Dressage. This is not an easy sport to finance, and we don’t have a lot of money, but we seem to be able to rally everything we have to do this. I do a lot of clinics to help—this is where the money goes directly, I don’t have a Porsche, I just do this. I’m just thankful to everyone who has helped my career go forward.
Want more from Dressage At Devon? The Chronicle will bring you stories, photos and more from the competition. Catch up on all of our coverage here.
See results from Dressage At Devon here.