BY LAUREN MAULDIN
It’s one of our favorite plots, featured in many horse movies. The horse-crazy, hard working kid that spends every hour they can at the barn. The difficult horse, talented but misunderstood, the kind that doesn’t give anything easily. They meet obstacles, overcome barriers that seem impossible only to come out together on top. Happy and victorious – a champion of hard work.
For Brooke Farr of ABF Equine, this kind of story isn’t fiction but rather a mirror to her real-life climb in the horse world. Even today chatting at her 23-acre farm in northeastern Connecticut, she laughs as she describes her favorite horse, a rather infamous Hanoverian gelding named Redi or Not. “He’s my favorite horse in the entire world, but he’s terrible,” she chuckles.
A nightmare on the ground and tricky to ride, the horse has a forever home with Brooke despite his demeanor. Most would get rid one so problematic, but not Brooke. Taking the time to listen and learn about the gelding, she’s found a way to make it work despite flaws that would be nonstarters for many equestrians. “I think he knows we accept him for who he is, and he does his best to play along with the people that love him. He’s really, really bad… but I love him. For some unknown reason, he makes me happy.”
Perhaps it’s a lifetime of working with difficult horses that allows Brooke to see past the trouble and love the difficult ones. Starting riding lessons at six, she grew up under the tutelage of Hal Vita at Shallowbrook Equestrian Center in Somers, Connecticut. There, Brooke learned at an early age that there was no room for laziness in the barn. “They had us take our riding lessons in school show clothes twice a week, and were really strict. We had to say yes sir, yes ma’am to all of our trainers and worked our butts off every day,” she explains. It was also her first experience riding green horses, as the farm would pick up animals from auctions and the track. Lesson kids like Brooke were responsible for grooming, riding and working with these horses while they became solid citizens in the barn.
Later she rode with Martha and Armand Chenelle at Windcrest Farm where she continued working with an array of project horses. “They were always very positive and encouraged of all of us,” Brooke recalls. “We would go to the barn, stay there all day and work constantly to be able to ride and horse show.” Having the opportunity to show a lot of young and problematic horses taught her the sort of grit and determination it takes to make things happen in the ring.
On a budget when it came to showing and horses, Brooke and her family got creative in their pursuit of her dream. When she was sixteen, she spotted an ad in a local magazine for a three-year-old unbroke Warmblood. “I called the owner and she mailed me a picture—just a picture. It came when my dad and I were off doing college visits. My mom called and said we had to go to New York to go see the horse, because she was just the most beautiful animal she had ever seen,” she says. So Brooke and her father cancelled all the college visits to go look at the mare. “Not many parents would allow their kid to skip college visits to go buy an unbroke horse, but mine were so supportive of my story. None of us ever looked back.” She’d need that kind of creativity and the tenacity she learned on the back of a horse to make it through the next phase of her riding career – turning pro.
Even as Brooke went to college and later started a career in the corporate world, she knew she wanted to be in the barn more than anywhere else. Refusing to give up on her dream, she straddled both worlds. Getting up at 4:00am every day, she’d leave her apartment to drive to the barn to feed, turnout and muck thirteen stalls for the horses in her care. By 7:30am she’d be in the office at her job with Mass Mutual Insurance where she worked part-time until 1:30pm when it was time to go back to the barn to ride, teach lessons and do the nighttime chores. For two and a half years she kept that schedule driven by determination and the magic powers of horsehair, despite undoubtedly missing out on a lot of sleep.
Bridging the gap between the corporate world and horse industry taught Brooke more than how to survive an insane schedule. “It allowed me to really look at the business aspect, and see the horse industry as an actual business,” she explains. “I think that’s hard for people to do, because horses are a labor of love. The financial rewards aren’t always great.” By seeing things from this perspective, Brooke was able to budget, formulate plans and stick to deadlines – all things essential in the corporate world and ones that allow ABF Equine longevity in the industry.
Equally important was the team behind her during all those long hours. Her husband Tim, then her boyfriend, as well as two dedicated working students kept the ship afloat. “We’d all be at the barn all summer long working,” she recalls. “It was almost an obsession that became the driving force. We pulled together, and made it happen.”
In 2007, ABF Equine became Brooke’s full time employment. Just like riding the greenies in her youth, she built a reputation around being able to troubleshoot difficult horses. “We call it the land of misfits to be honest,” she laughs. Describing many of the horses as defensive, she starts them over from scratch to begin the task of identifying what’s causing the issue. “We let them get to know us on the ground, and we get to know them. It’s just patience as we figure out their triggers and try to find some kind of program that allows them to understand that what they’re worried about doesn’t have to be a problem.” By taking all the pressure away, she lets the horses take a breath and move forward.
It’s a training philosophy that works well for the clients too. With fifty horses on the property at any given time, ABF serves a wide variety of equestrians with its primary ingredient: patience. “We’re a slow and steady kind of place,” Brooke says. “I don’t like to rush any horses or riders. Taking your time to master one step before you move on to the next is the key for everyone’s longevity. It makes horses, and people, happy and confident.”
Blessed with a clientele of good-hearted, kind, hardworking people, ABF caters to a variety of goals and needs. They show at every level, from IEA and nearby schooling shows to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington. “As long as people want to go and have a good time, we’re happy to take them,” Brooke says. Knowing that riding is a privilege that doesn’t come easy for many, she wants to keep it as accessible as possible to each client in her barn. “We don’t want to force people to do something they can’t or don’t want to do,” she adds. “At the end of the day it’s a hobby people work hard to be able to do, so we want to provide opportunities for everyone.”
She pulls this variety off with a team of talented assistant trainers that all work together for the sake of the clients. Because everyone at ABF knows that it’s about much more than just winning. “Our clients’ driving force is that they want to learn and be able to develop horses,” Brooke says. “More than anything, they want to learn the training aspects, and that’s what I love.”
A prime example of that mentality is Hannah Brown, a student that Brooke has been teaching for over twenty years. Hannah was one of the two original working students that kept the farm running while Brooke still worked her corporate job, and her commitment to riding has paid off with some big wins. Last year, Hannah won the Taylor Harris NHS Adult Equitation Championship at the National Horse Show. “She’s been with me every step of the way. For twenty years she’s taken the good with a bad with a smile on her face no matter how things were going,” Brooke says of Hannah.
But it’s not just winning that makes this trainer proud. Following in her footsteps, some of Brooke’s clients have chosen to take on difficult or young horses, thus accepting a slow and often challenging road. “To be able to watch them learn how to help their horse develop is probably one of my favorite things,” she says. “It’s right up there with the kids winning.”
Going from a smaller operation between business hours to a full-scale show barn, you might think that Brooke has the secret formula to success. But to her, it’s really quite simple. She names the three main ingredients for good riding as hard work, patience and a positive attitude. “No matter what’s happening around you, you have to stay positive,” she says. “Once you let negativity in, you really limit yourself to what you can accomplish in this industry.”
When you watch a horse movie about the hard working kid who gets through to the difficult horse, they usually cut to the credits just after they’ve won that blue ribbon. You don’t get to see what life is on the other side, but if you want to imagine what it might be – look to Brooke.
These days she enjoys taking ABF clients to horse shows, guiding them through the difficult times, and hanging out with her favorite difficult horse. Brooke’s two daughters, Autumn (7) and Brinley (6), both ride and have young ponies they’ve just started to work with. “In their young kid way, they’re helping to develop these ponies,” she states. “I would really love to watch them continue down that path if they want.”
As for her, she just wants to keep doing what she loves. “Ultimately, my biggest goal is to continue developing young horses and teaching kids how to do that as well,” she says. “I want to keep having fun with all of it.”
Heading out to give Redi or Not a training ride, being careful to make sure he can’t bite her before she gets on, it’s good that Brooke’s definition of fun includes horses like him. Facing problems with positive thinking and a smile, she hasn’t met a puzzle too difficult or barrier too high. The work ethic she learned as a six-year-old has primed her to get through anything. And, it certainly seems, she can.
To learn more about ABF Equine, look for them on Facebook, on Instagram at @brooke.abfequine, or call 860-944-2527.
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.
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