Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jennie Brannigan Part I: In Memory of Cooper

Jennie Brannigan, at 22, has rocketed to the top of the eventing world, as demonstrated by her current 8th place ranking in the U.S. Top 10 Riders. Not to mention winning the Young Rider's Championships or piloting one of her horses, Cambalda, to a 5th place ranking for Intermediate horses-in a matter of months. No, it's not hard to imagine, then, that she's got determination and talent, as well as a huge base of support, fans, and mentors. And she doesn't hesitate to look around to be grateful for who has been there for her--person or horse. All of that despite the recent loss of her top horse and partner, Cooper. That kind of loss can't be put into words so there's no need to try. Instead this interview will stand as a testament to Jennie's strength, grace, and gift, and to Cooper's excellence.

Below: Jennie and Cooper
photo courtesy of Emily Daily
Q. What was the town like that you grew up in?

A. I was born in Chicago and moved to a small town called Galena [Illinois] and that’s really where I learned to ride. It was a town of 3,000 people: a historical, small, rural town. But I’ve lived all over the place.

Q. How old are you now?

A. 22.

Q. How has the Young Riders Program influenced you?

A. The Young Riders Championships is the mecca of the young up-and-coming riders. Going to the championship and winning it was great. But the whole program is great and I was representative for the West Coast Program. I enjoyed getting people together; I’m really social. We all cheer each other along and learn a lot. You get to ride with really good people. It’s hard for it to be a big program; it’s really centered around the championships. There’s a movement to get it involved at all levels. It’s a positive step for the sport.

Q. Cooper was injured at Fair Hill and you did everything you could to save him. Sadly, the entire event world lost a champion. How have your fans been supportive?

A. I really appreciate, first of all, Southern California Equestrian Sports who put on a fundraiser to help me pay for the expenses.

Obviously it’s been a huge expense, I appreciate the people who have donated, the emails, cards; hundreds have reached out. I appreciate people being positive and not negative. It’s been amazing and Cooper is a great horse and deserves a whole lot. I’ve been quite blessed to have horses like Cooper and Cambalda.

Q. What did you see in Cooper when you bought him from Kelli McMullen-Temple?

A. Some people can see talent in young horses and some don’t. Kelli has a fantastic eye and I can safely say I would buy something from her without seeing it first. He’s got a great eye; he’s such a sweet horse. It’s not easy to explain it.

Below: Jennie on Cooper

photo credit to Kat Netzler

There was just something about him. I didn’t even know what breed he was. I just sat on him for fifteen minutes and was like, alright, this is the perfect horse.

Q. You say that Ping has a lovely mind. What does that mean?

Cambalda, Ping is his barn name, he’s top notch. He’s really blossomed in the last six months. For a little while I wasn’t sure if he was going to be the right horse for me. He’s got all of the right movement for a top-notch athlete. He’ll go advanced next year. We won the American Eventing Championships at Intermediate. He’s ranked 5th out of all Intermediate horses in the county; and he only moved up in the Fall. I’m thinking he’ll be a really positive horse for the future.

Below: "Cambalda"

photo credit to Mid-Atlantic Equestrian Services

He also got named to the developing rider list. He has a lovely mind in that he’s really reliable in the dressage ring, he’s not as high maintenance for a Thoroughbred, and he’s always the same every day you get on him. He’s a pickle around the barn.

Q. You’re currently riding with Phillip Dutton at his True Prospect Farm? What’s life like there? Who all is around day-to-day?

A. Our barn on the whole is a pretty great place. Phillip has a lot of horses; we all have horses in training. I get to do a lot of riding and I’m around Phillip and Boyd. His wife is great. Phillip is an amazing person to get to work around every day. It’s a great job; I’ve been here a year and a half and I’m not planning on leaving anytime soon.

Q. How would Phillip describe you?

A. I don’t know. He’s not a man of many words. The words he does say are always pretty important.

Q. Who are some of the people you’ve been amazed to meet during your rise to Advanced competition?

A. There’s always a lot of press around riders. An emphasis should be on the people that help the riders get where they are. I would say I have learned a lot about horsemanship and the way things should be done and how to handle tough situations from Emma Ford. She’s been great and wonderful and supportive. Captain Mark Phillip is wonderful and his wife Sandy; they’ve been supportive and with all the bad things that have happened to Cooper. I look forward to riding with him. Mike Huber, who’s our head selector. He’s been very helpful and supportive; I’ve appreciated getting to know him. Susie Hutchinson, who’s a show jumping rider, has been really supportive and is a good person. I worked for her but I never was a show jumping rider. That was a job I was lucky to receive. She’s been very supportive of event riders. She’s helped a lot of event riders. She’s was probably one of my biggest role modes. She’s a really good person. Not many people could say a bad thing about her; she’s amazing.

Check back soon for Part II of Jennie Brannigan's interview. To read more about Jennie you can also read her blog on The Chronicle of the Horse.

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