Jennie Brannigan Photo: Amber Heintzberger
At the end of 2008, Jennie Brannigan was on top of the world. On an almost unreal winning streak, it seemed that she and her talented eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Cooper could do no wrong, winning nearly every event they started at that year to claim the US Eventing Association’s intermediate Horse of the Year award.
In 2009 the pair moved up to advanced level and continued their winning form, earning a grant to compete at the Bramham three-day event in England. Though a run-out on cross-country (which Jennie blames on rider error) prevented their victory that time around, she stuck with it and continued to get better and better, finally competing at the three-star level at the Fair Hill International CCI*** in October. It was there that Jennie was knocked off her pedestal and brought crashingly back to reality.
In the show jumping phase of Fair Hill, the final event of the season, Cooper got a bad distance to a show jumping fence and crashed into the jump. What looked like a minor injury as he limped away proved to be a serious tendon injury that led to surgery at New Bolton Center, famous for treating the racehorse Barbaro. Unfortunately Cooper’s outcome would prove similar to the horse that stole America’s heart: following tendon surgery he colicked and underwent another surgery, and during the lengthy recovery process he developed laminitis and ultimately had to be euthanized.
After sharing the experience with the world on her blog at www.chronofhorse.com, Jennie is gradually coming to terms with Cooper’s death and moving on with her eventing career. It is not the first time she has dealt with disappointment, but it is certainly the most devastating event of Jennie’s 24 years.
Her previous advanced level horse, Kozmo, taught Jennie much about the highs and lows of eventing. With several colic surgeries during his career and several failed veterinary inspections at three-day events that Jennie was likely to have won, Kozmo was retired from FEI competition.
For the past few years, Jennie enjoyed brighter days with Cooper, who was purchased from Canadian team rider Kelli McMullen Temple in 2006 as a green prospect. He and Jennie went on to win the North American Young Rider Championships at the two-star level and the American Eventing Championships at intermediate level, on their way to Horse of the Year accolades. Jennie later purchased another young gelding, Cambalda, from McMullen-Temple and is successfully bringing him up the levels.
With Cooper sadly out of the picture, Cambalda is Jennie’s horse of the future. “I looked at him a couple of years ago after the American Eventing Championships in 2007; he was doing novice and I was looking for a horse because Kozmo was not staying sound,” she recalls. “I kept my eye on him for about a year and saw Kelli riding him, and I sat on him again and loved him. He’s really coming into his own now – he did a two-star in 2009 and I thought it was a tall order but he placed fourth and has kept doing well. Susie Pragnell found him in England – she also found Cooper. I had thought of selling him but he’s turning out to be something special.”
Originally from Illinois, Jennie spent her formative years living in Southern California, where she worked for Grand Prix show jumper Susie Hutchison. She moved east to work for Mike and Emma Winter and develop her skills at the upper levels of eventing on the east coast, where more upper-level eventers are located. Last year she took a position working for eleven-time USEA Rider of the Year and Olympic Gold Medallist Phillip Dutton in West Grove, PA and Aiken, SC.
“I want to be viewed as a young professional,” says Jennie. “I’m getting horses in training, doing clinics, and I have a lot of room to grow. I’ve learned a lot from clawing and climbing my way up.”
As a member of the US Eventing Developing Riders’ Training List, Jennie has the opportunity to train with team coach Capt. Mark Phillips in addition to her regular training with Phillip Dutton and dressage trainer Silva Martin. “I trust them and I’m going to follow their advice,” she says.
“Working for Phillip, it’s important for me to be out riding as much as possible,” says Jennie. “It’s awesome to be sitting on horses like Woodburn and Kheops du Quesnay when Phillip’s out of town. You get better by doing it. I love my job! There have been times when I’ve had days I didn’t feel like going to the barn, but I love this job – I get paid to ride every day and it’s awesome. We also do turnouts, muck out, it depends on what’s going on. Nobody is above cleaning stalls; whatever needs to get done, you do.”
In a typical day Jennie says she gets to the barn around seven in the morning and is on her first horse by eight or nine. She works and rides all day and usually finishes in time to help close up the barn. After that she often does more riding and teaching, and sometimes works out at the gym to maintain her fitness for long days in the saddle. And while Jennie enjoys a night out as much as the next girl, she said that she eats healthy and avoids junk food and alcohol so that she feels and performs at her best.
Jennie also added to her depth of experience when she earned the opportunity to travel to the Burghley CCI**** in England last year on another educational grant. She and several other up-and-coming professionals flew over to watch the event and help out the Americans competing there.
“I was really pumped to have been a part of it all,” she says of the experience.
Currently in Aiken for the winter, Jennie is buckling down to start 2010 off right. She says on her latest blog installment, “The final realization of what has happened is now settling in, and it's weird not to see [Cooper] in the field that he was in last year. But I keep on keeping on!”
Jennie’s website: www.branniganeventing.com
Jennie’s blog: http://chronofhorse.com/category/tags/blogger-jennie-brannigan