Ocala Rider Profile: Jennie Brannigan
Rider Jennie Brannigan splits her time between Unionville, PA and Ocala, FL. She specializes in Three Day Eventing and owns Brannigan Eventing.
The United States Eventing Association (USEA) recently held its Year-End Awards Ceremony at its annual meeting and convention at the Diplomat Resort and Spa in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Among the top award recipients was a woman who in the past decade has become a household name in the eventing world.
“I cannot even begin to describe what this amount of support means and feel pretty grateful that I live in a country where this is even possible,” said Jennie Brannigan.
She received both the $30,000 Rebecca Broussard International Developing Rider Grant and the $25,000 Connaught Grant for her horse Stella Artois, an 8-year-old Holsteiner/Thoroughbred mare that Jennie co-owns with Elsbeth Battel. The Connaught Grant is awarded to a one or two-star horse showing US team potential and honors the late, legendary equestrian Bruce Duchossois. “Thank you all so much,” said Jennie. “I will strive to make the horses and people that these two grants are in memory of proud in the future.”
Following her family and riding goals from her hometown of Galena, Illinois to California, Jennie then traveled back east to Georgia to work for Mike Winter. She eventually landed at Phillip Dutton’s True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Pennsylvania where she worked as Dutton’s assistant trainer. Jennie’s competitive career flourished as she began to concentrate on developing her business skills, while the Duttons encouraged to build her own client base.
“Phillip makes you independent and holds you to a high standard. He teaches you how to run a proper business,” Jennie said in a recent interview. “At one point I thought I would never leave True Prospect due to my partnership with them. Aside from Phillip’s guidance, Evie’s really a special person and been really wonderful in a lot of ways.”
Extraordinary Horses & Career Highlights
Jennie’s career has been distinguished by partnerships with a number of extraordinary horses. The first of these was Cooper, whom Jennie acquired in 2006 as a 4-year-old competing at the beginner novice level. By 2008 he had won nine out of ten events at the Intermediate level, and he and Jennie represented California at the NAJYRC, where they won both team and individual gold. 2009 brought another season of wins that put them on the brink of qualifying for Rolex as well as possibly the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
At the height of their partnership, Jennie lost Cooper to complications following a competition injury in fall 2009 at Fair Hill International. “I owe a lot of my life right now to that horse and the opportunities he gave me are endless,” Jennie wrote in December of that year. But even in the midst of her devastation at Cooper’s loss her strength, determination, and clarity of perspective bolstered her.
“I love this sport whether times are good or bad. I will mourn Cooper. I will miss him…but this will make me stronger, it will make me better, and it will remind me of every opportunity I have been blessed to have because of him.”
With the entry of Tim and Nina Gardner’s Cambalda (aka “Ping”), whose successes with Jennie won him the title of 2010 Horse of the Year, Brannigan Eventing solidified their top position in the eventing world. Jennie’s and Ping’s record reads as a narrative of continuous success, and in 2013 the pair was named to the USEF High Performance List and were entered at Rolex in 2013. Unfortunately, a freak accident in the stabling area prevented them from competing.
Ping bounced back and continues as one of Jennie’s key partners. Top finishes in 2015 include 3rd at the Red Hills International CIC3*, a win at The Fork CIC3*, 31st at their first Rolex Kentucky CCI4* and being named as alternates to the US Team for the Pan American Games and the USEF High Performance Summer/Fall Training List. Jennie and Ping also won the CIC3* at Great Meadow, came in 2nd in the Richland Park CIC3*, and placed 5th in the CIC3* at Plantation Field. Ping was sidelined with an injury in 2016, but plans are to bring him back to competition for the 2017 season.
Stella Artois (owned by Elsbeth Battel) is another world-class horse in Jennie’s current upper-level string. The two began 2016 with a 4th-place finish at Preliminary in the Ocala Horse Properties Winter I HT and a quick move up to Intermediate at the Rocking Horse Winter I HT, where they finished 6th. From there, they went on to win the Inter-mediate at Red Hills and Fair Hill before winning the CCI2* at the Dutta Corporation’s Fair Hill International competition. With the award of 2017 Connaught Grant, this pair is certainly one to watch for this season.
Brannigan Eventing’s top string of horses also includes Catalina (owned by Nina Gardner& Candice Kircher) Ibella (owned by Tim & Nina Gardner) who are Jennie’s leading candidates in qualifying for the 2017 Rolex Kentucky 3 Day Event.
2013 – The Transformational Year
The winter of 2013 was a transformational year for Jennie. That was the year that she decided to focus on her show jumping. The journey began when Jennie traveled to Ocala to buy a horse formerly owned by Olympic show jumper Scott Keach of Southern Cross Equestrian. Keach originally came onto Jennie’s radar when she observed a friend’s show jumping skills improve dramatically under his tutelage and that of fellow Grand Prix show jumper, Sharn Wordley.
“For two years I knew I had to plan to set aside 3 months of my life to train with Scott Keach. ‘The Theory’ is Scott’s & Sharn’s training program, which has made me so much better and given me renewed confidence. I loved the vibe of Scott’s property in Ocala and I really enjoy being around all the different horse sports offered in the region.”
That winter, with the support of the Duttons, Jennie took the leap of faith and branched out on her own, hauling several horses down to Ocala to immerse herself in Scott Keach’s program. Not only did she thrive on her new skills learned in the show jumping ring with Scott, but she also benefited from taking part in and spectating other disciplines. On any given day she could take in a polo match, go watch Chester Webber train his 4-in-hand, or take in a dressage competition. Jennie, a known supporter of thoroughbred racing, also thrived on having easy access to gallop race horses for top trainers in Ocala and Wellington.
“I would go watch Scott compete in the jumper classes and Grand Prixs at HITS. HITS is a huge asset to the area as you can go compete in jumper classes just 15 minutes away. It’s so easy and convenient to compete at HITS and it’snot an all-day thing. [In Ocala] you’re around the caliber of riders who make you realize that you have to ride better.”
Attitude and Multi-Discipline Training Guide Brannigan Eventing
Jennie’s positive attitude and determination continue to drive her toward her goals of representing the US and winning an Olympic medal in the not-too-distant future. I always find it interesting that when you make the most of whatever your situation might be and stay hungry things tend to work out, and when they don’t you just keep going until they do,” she wrote in her most recent blog for Chronicle of the Horse. Jennie also has many friends in the eventing community, and in the past couple years has catch-ridden horses for other top-level riders who have been sidelined by injuries. In many ways, Jennie embodies the best spirit of a sport that could not survive without the mutual support of all its players.
It is fair to say that Jennie is an inspiration to those not only in the eventing community but in the world of horse sports in general. Her balanced perspective and thoughtful approach to everything she does are evident in her carefully-considered blogs for the Chronicle. One of the aspects of her routine that no doubt helps her maintain her balance and perspective is galloping at the racetrack for Michael Matz both at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, MD and at the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida. As she describes in her blogs, the practice has been indispensable not only for her physical fitness but also for the mental game of competing at eventing’s top levels.
Team Work Takes Root In Ocala
Jennie attributes her operation’s overall success to building a loyal and capable team. A key player in Jennie’s barn is Steph Cauffman, who started working at Brannigan Eventing early in 2014 after 4 years working at Blue Hill Farm in Unionville and Ocala. Steph co-manages the barn with Erin Rose and working students Alexa Lapp and Sydney Rabbe. They have a relatively small operation that concentrates on producing great riders and horses in both Pennsylvania and Florida.
On the experience of working for Jennie, Steph commented, “The most exciting part of the team is the caliber of the horses and the people! One of the coolest things about working for Jennie is that she asks everyone to be a good person and to ride at the top of their ability. She makes opportunities for those who do the right thing. She’s always on your team.” Steph Cauffman also has a long history of riding in Ocala. She has been coming down to Ocala almost every winter since she was 14, working for various trainers and keeping up with her education through home schooling and the support of her mother, Cindy Cauffman.
In fact, the Cauffmans are such big fans of the Ocala equestrian community that shortly after joining forces with Brannigan Eventing they invested in property adjacent to Scott Keach’s Southern Cross Equestrian. The 26 acre property is now home to Brannigan Eventing and the long term plan is for Cindy to retire to the region while her daughter and the entire team at Brannigan Eventing continue to manage a thriving business.
Steph noted that the natural turf in Ocala is so good that they have cleared a large grand prix field but actually don’t feel rushed to build a ring.
“There’s incredible footing, the weather is perfect, there’s the most diverse & knowledgeable mix of people from Grand Prix Dressage riders to show jumpers, and access to all disciplines including western and polo. There’s plenty of opportunities to improve yourself as a rider here in Ocala.”
Ocala Horse Properties welcomes Brannigan Eventing back to Marion County for the 2017 competition season and wishes the entire team the best of luck!