The MARS Equestrian Maryland 5* presented by Brown Advisory kicks off Wednesday October 12, 2022 with the first horse inspection. The event, one of seven CCI5* held internationally, is the pinnacle of the sport of eventing. The event consists of the most advanced form of competition as it pertains to the skill level executed in the field of dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping. This year’s event will welcome internationally recognized riders like Oliver Townend (GBR), Phillip Dutton (USA), Leslie Law (GBR), and William Coleman (USA) to compete at Fair Hill in Elkton, Maryland.
Among those that are familiar at the top levels of the sport will be twenty-nine year old Zachary Brandt (USA). Not only will this will be Brandt’s first time competing at the CCI5* level, but will also be the first time his horse, Direct Advance will be competing at this level of the sport as well.
Photo Courtesy Zachary Brandt
Brandt has had the 11-year-old Direct Advance—affectionately known as Rosco—since he was imported as a 4-year-old from the UK. Zach, along with additional owners Erika Guymon, Dan Nelson, and Elizabeth Cannon, have enjoyed getting to know the Irish Sport Horse over the past seven years as he and Brandt developed their career together. From the start of their partnership, the chestnut gelding has helped keep Brandt humble.
“He’s got the funniest personality of any horse I’ve ever had or known. Within the first month I had him, I probably fell off of him 20 times. He used to get me off when I would try to get on him and also when I would try to get off,” Zach said “Because he is such a quirky horse, I’ve had no choice but to really forge a strong partnership with him over the years. Now, he’s everyone’s favorite horse in the barn and is just a blast to be around.”
Photo by Audrie Brandt
Brandt got involved with eventing while still living on the west coast. Although he was compelled to participate in more traditional athletics like basketball, baseball, soccer, and surfing, he was eventually convinced by his equestrian mother to give horses a try. It was not always easy, as many equestrians would agree.
“I’ve had lots of things go right and I’ve had lots of things go wrong. I’ve won events and I’ve broken bones. I’ve had the best rides of my life, and I’ve also had to walk all the way back to the barn from the furthest point on course after falling off,” Brandt said. “Ups and downs are the nature of this sport, but the best advice anyone ever gave me is to not let the highs get too high or the lows get too low. We are so lucky to do this sport, and it’s so important to be able to maintain perspective and enjoy it regardless of what your goals may be!”
Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography
Like many others within the sport, Brandt is a total cross-country junkie. ““I’m sure I’m in good company with my fellow event riders when I say that cross country is far and away my favorite phase,” he said. “The feeling of having such a strong partnership with another living animal to be able to put your trust in them and feel them equally put their trust in you is just surreal.”
Brandt also spends a lot of time prepping his horses for show jumping, and with his base located in Ocala, FL, he has gotten a lot more opportunities to develop his horses in this phase. “Being that we are so close to the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, I try to take my horses over there regularly to practice and really fine tune the details so that the show jumping tracks feel easier at the events,” he said.
Brandt admits that dressage has always been his weakest phate, finding that the jumping phases come more naturally to him. However, he has found enjoyment in the challenge over the years and truly understands the importance of being competitive in the first phase, “The sport has become increasingly competitive, and to be able to win, you need to put in a good test on the first day,” he said.
Although Brandt is excited to be competing in his first five-star, he is keeping to a normal routine in preparation, with involves cross training in the gym, along with routine care from doctors and physios, while simultaneously focusing on his mental game. “At the end of the day, it’s just another weekend and another horse show,” he said. “The biggest factor in terms of moving up a level is the unknown.”
But the unknown is not something Brandt is scared of. “Confidence is everything,” he said. “To be confident, it’s crucial that you’ve put the time and work into your preparation.”
Rosco, on the other hand, is preparing with “lots of carrots and treats,” according to Brandt. Outside of keeping Rosco happy, Brandt has been working on assuring that he is in top physical shape.
“I’ve spent a lot of time, between trotting weekly and galloping every four-to-five days getting him very fit,” Brandt said. “On top of that, it’s about really focusing on and honing in on the basics and not losing sight of that as things get closer. In the final lead up, it’s really just about keeping him happy and making sure that he is feeling his best, while fine tuning all the little details that will hopefully lead to the most competitive result possible.”
Photo by Skipperdoodlefritz
When Brandt isn’t competing, he works alongside his wife Audrie Brandt, on their comprehensive training, competition, sales and lesson program, Zachary Brandt Eventing. Over the past year, the majority of their business has been based out of Jonathan and Jennifer Holling’s Willow Run Farm in Ocala, FL. However, the couple recently purchased their own farm in Ocala, where they will begin moving their entire operation at the conclusion of the season.
Whether you are able to attend the MARS Equestrian Maryland 5* presented by Brown Advisory in person or participating remotely through the livestream, be sure to wish Zachary Brandt luck in his CCI5* debut!
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