BY CATIE STASZAK
It may have been McKayla Brombach’s first time ever contesting the WIHS Pony Equitation Finals, but the 14-year-old rode with no nerves.
Brombach, Wimberley, TX, had all the confidence in her pony, California Dreamin’, and the duo was on a hot streak. They’d captured back-to-back divisional championships in the Large Ponies the previous two weeks at the Tryon International Equestrian Center after earning the Reserve Championship at the prestigious Capital Challenge Horse Show.
Still, despite the success, the young Brombach had no expectations. Her goal was simply to be respectable—something of note for a rider of middle school age.
But it’s the mentality with which Brombach has grown up. The daughter of longtime trainer Colleen Brombach, McKayla was on a horse while still in the womb—and she hasn’t stopped since.
Humility, work ethic and horsemanship have become the Brombach family’s trademark. Colleen refers to her Silver Fox Farms as a boutique operation so she can be hands-on with every horse and rider. That includes McKayla and Colleen’s oldest daughter Brooke, who rode Classico to the Large Junior Hunter 15 & Under Championship at the 2019 USEF Junior Hunter National Championship—East. Both girls are following in their mother’s footsteps.
“I think the biggest factor in why [Brooke and McKayla] are being successful is because they have to ride everything,” Colleen said. “They don’t get to ride the cream of the crop. They ride the difficult ones, the green ones. They learn how to ride and deal with a ton of different things. And McKayla has come up under watching her sister’s success.”
Colleen came up in the horse industry with little formal training. Her parents bought her lessons as a child, but they were unable to place her in a consistent training program. She received instruction from J. Russell Stewart, Sr. when the Show Jumping Hall of Fame inductee was in semi-retirement. And when she started out on her own, she immediately took on her own clients without working under another individual or operation.
“I was really shy. I would sit and watch people at the ring and learn by listening and watching,” Colleen recalled. “It was the ‘School of Hard Knocks’ building to where I’m at.”
Colleen started Silver Fox Farms in Orange County, CA, but over time, family would play a greater role in her operation. After working more than two decades on the west coast, her husband Doug was relocated to Texas, and her business reached a turning point.
“At the time, I thought, ‘Do I quit, or do I start all over?’” Colleen said. “I couldn’t imagine not doing this. So, I rebuilt Silver Fox Farms from scratch. It was the best thing I could have done for the business. It put us, in my mind, in the middle of the U.S. to travel to anywhere we wanted to show.
Colleen now runs her farm out of an 11-acre facility in Wimberley, where she is in the process of building a second barn. Her operation thrives on her “personal touch” and a strong barn camaraderie, where, at the end of a long show day, amateur and junior riders alike can be found bonding over group activities, from group dinners to go-karting.
“When we all get together, there is no age,” Colleen said. “It makes the atmosphere at the barn really fun. I want everyone to want to be there.”
Colleen’s daughters play a big role in the operation. Brooke is committed to the NCEA hunt seat team at Texas A&M University and already conducts herself like a young professional. The 17-year-old remembers her earliest horse show days, riding a green 4-year-old in the Walk-Trot division at The Oaks in San Juan Capistrano, CA, when she herself was just three. Her mounts didn’t get easier. She’s worked with many young, green and quirky sale horse horses in her young career, and as she readies for college, her plan in strategic: She is studying just two hours from home, so she can make trips back to ride, and she plans to major in the business field to prepare her for running her own training operation.
“I’ve known it’s been something I’ve wanted to do since the seventh or eighth grade, when I was able to convince my mom to let me attend school online. I was 13,” Brooke said. “I ended up doing everything [as a young rider], from grooming at the barn and the back gate, to riding, to doing stalls, to showing at bigger shows. The more I was around it, the more I knew this was what I wanted to do.
“[All the work] has made me the rider I am,” she added. “If I didn’t do all of that, I don’t think I’d be where I’m at!”
Brooke had her most gratifying win with Classico, a Dutch Warmblood gelding that Colleen imported at just three years old for customer Erica Moe. Brooke would take the reins for an occasional show, and when Moe saw the pair’s chemistry, she allowed Brooke to keep the ride. In 2017, the pair took home the reserve championship at the USEF Junior Hunter National Championship — West. Brooke rode to another reserve championship title in the east coast finals in 2018 aboard Don Stewart’s Monday Balous before pairing with Classico again in 2019. This time, the pair earned their long-awaited championship title in the Large Junior Hunter, 15 & Under division.
“Watching Brooke and Classico win last year—it was my daughter and my product. That’s a very special horse for me,” Colleen said.
McKayla also earned her best ride by impressing an owner. California Dreamin’ was originally sent to Colleen to market for lease, but after Millennium Farm’s Jill Hamilton and Nancy Thomas saw how well the youngest Brombach rode their pony, they temporarily took the flashy palomino off the market to take aim at some top honors. The decision has proved more than fruitful.
“Cal has been such a great thing. I have to give a huge thank you to Jill and Nancy; they’ve been absolutely wonderful,” Colleen said. “The more they watched how well [Cal and McKayla] got along, the more they let me hang onto him. When COVID-19 [changed the show calendar], they allowed us to keep him for indoors. I owe them a ton.”
From their central base in Texas to shows up and down both coasts of the country, the Brombachs epitomize the essence of a family business—“Sometimes it runs like a smooth business, and sometimes it runs like a family!” Colleen asserts. Mother and daughters have the presence of mind and the respect to separate “what happens in the ring” and what happens outside of it.
When conversing with multiple Brombachs, you can expect one to complete the thoughts of another. In the barn, there is always a Brombach nearby, and in the show ring, Brooke and McKayla Brombach are shining beacons of their mother’s training talent, hands-on care, and years of sweat equity.
“It’s a sweet thing to watch. It’s very thrilling to me,” Colleen said. “I didn’t get the opportunities [in the saddle] as a kid. To see my daughters get them and succeed at them—I feel like I’m doing something good for my kids.”
Photos Karinda Kinsler, Jump Media, Shawn McMillen Photography
Originally from the December 2020 issue.