By Bec Braitling
Rebecca (Bec) Braitling is a 38-year-old Australian eventer based in California. Since moving to the U.S. in 2008, she has worked with Phillip Dutton and was Gina Miles’ assistant trainer. She has multiple top placings at the three-star level, competed in the Adelaide CCI4*, is a USEA ICP Level 4 trainer, and coached the Area VI NAJYRC Eventing Team in 2017.
I love teaching, but I REALLY LOVE competing. This story is all about how I got to this point with NO financial backing. Let’s face it, according to my long-suffering, non-horsey mother, I chose a sport financially rivalled only by Formula One racing and yachting.
If you don’t come from a good financial background, you need to be really good at what you do. Working hard only takes you so far.
Where It All Began
I grew up in Sydney, Australia, with both my parents working in the TV industry. Neither had ever touched a horse. My dad wasn’t supportive of my riding. Luckily for me, I was raised by my AMAZINGLY supportive single mother.
We did not have any money. Growing up, I had never been on vacation, never flown anywhere. My mum worked part time at my school to pay the fees. She did, however, let me take a few riding lessons when I was six. From the beginning, I thought there wasn’t a single thing I couldn’t achieve, despite my lack of financial backing.
My lease on a school horse, my lessons, my shows…I lived the working life at age eight! Then mum panicked after hearing other parents’ stories of financial hardship and what it really took to do this sport. So I was off to tennis camp (I sucked), and off to ice skating lessons (I hate the cold). But I couldn’t do anything well other than ride horses. So she caved.
I got my first horse when I was nine. She was almost three and very cheap, and non-horsey parents do silly things like buy nine-year-olds barely broke horses. I loved that horse but fell off a lot. Eventually, I took her all the way to the Adelaide CCI4*.
She was a 15.2 Australian Stock Horse/Thoroughbred cross. She actually had the same sire as Will Faudree’s Antigua, Matchwinner, a U.S.-bred stallion. Her name was Just A Lady (I named her when I was nine, and competing years later at 3* and 4*, I must admit I felt a little silly). We represented Australia three times as a Young Rider, competed at over 15 long format CCIs, numerous CICs, and CIC3* World Cup Qualifiers. She flew to New Zealand twice to compete at Puhinui and Taupo and competed at the Sydney Olympics test event. She retired sound at 18 and sadly passed away at home in 2014, at age 26.
So, how did I get to do all of that? My mum. And a lot of hard work.
My mum rented a room in a house at a training facility. We couldn’t afford to rent a whole house, we always had to share with people or live in granny flats (multi-generational homes). The trainer was Stuart Tinney.
Hard Work Only Gets You So Far
I couldn’t afford lessons so I would work off one a month throughout my teens. Stuart is TOUGH but a very hard worker, and didn’t come from much either. I competed Lady as much as we could afford. I started waitressing at 14 with my mum. We even worked lunch at the restaurant on Christmas so we could earn money and spend the day together!
I was raised to work REALLY HARD. At 16, I decided I wanted to travel to spend some time with another high profile Aussie (at the time) rider, Phillip Dutton. I had met Phillip once when I was 12, but I got his number, picked up the phone and asked if I could come train with him for the summer. He had just won a gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics and was in his second year based in the U.S. I borrowed money to fly there (my first time on a plane) and set off by myself.
First Trip To America
I spent six weeks that summer based at True Prospect Farm. The first show we ever went to was Groton House Horse Trials. Each morning there was complimentary coffee and donuts, but I was actually most mesmerized by the fact they had BARNS at the show! In Australia, you camp at shows with your horse and build electric fence yards for them.
I saw so much opportunity in the U.S, and so 10 years later I returned with my 3* horse at the time, Just Jealous. I had worked my way into a position that mum and I could rent a few acres, build a small string of off the track Thoroughbreds, sell a few, and fund my move. Just like that, my poor mother watched me leave to pursue opportunity across an ocean (don’t worry, we email and Skype…although not as much as she would probably like!).
A Rocky Road
There were times when I couldn’t show as much or had to skip lessons and clinics due to financial restrictions. Once, our car broke down and my mum walked hours with me so I could ride. We kept the horse in someone’s backyard since we couldn’t afford boarding. I missed my high school graduation to compete in New Zealand.
I went to college and wanted to be a journalist. Riding was really where my ambition was, so I haven’t done much with my college education…I guess I’m at least writing this story!
I had some years in my early twenties where I questioned my desire to ride horses for a living, which was probably my lowest point. Moving to the U.S. is what gave me the confidence that I could make a go of it. I saw opportunity for kids that can ride but can’t buy horses.
Even now, I don’t get to compete as much as I would like. My string is small, as I can’t afford to own or compete many horses at once. That is still what I struggle the most with – knowing I have the skills, but am not in a position to have a string of horses. I rely on owners and catch rides a lot.
Take What Comes To You
When you don’t have financial backing and you’re getting started, you need to be able to ride anything and everything. Those are the horses that teach you to be good. Not the good horses, but the average ones, the difficult ones.
My string fluctuates A LOT. I just got the ride on a fabulous prelim horse called Deli Dynamic and owned by Victoria Klein. And I have Soaring Bird, an eight-year-old Thoroughbred competing at Preliminary, aiming for a 1*. He is owned by Connie and Andrea Baxter. This horse was sent to me by my best buddy, as he was a bit of a handful and they didn’t appreciate each other’s personalities much. Soaring Bird is exactly why anyone who aspires to ride at the top level but can’t afford it needs to be able to ride ANYTHING that comes their way, and make any horse go better than when they started training it.
More Than Dollar Bills
An excellent support network is what makes the difference. My mum got a truck license so she could drive me to shows and she worked multiple jobs. When I had bad rides, she told me to push on, to focus, and work on areas to improve.
Support doesn’t look the same to everyone. It comes in different forms. To me, it comes in the form of giving up everything to enable your kid to get to where they want to go.
Aspiring young riders need to show they want it bad enough, to be hungry for it. Do anything it takes to be good. Work any job, pick up a shovel, a broom, a brush, and do whatever needs to be done. Be the first one at the barn and the last to leave. You never know who you will meet and who you will impress with your hard work and, most of all your, attitude.
I’ve had help from so many people to get me to this point because they knew how much I wanted to do it.
Advice For the Next Generation
Stay in school. Go to college. There’s no rush. Lack of financial backing can slow your ascent up the ladder, but it doesn’t mean you won’t get there. Don’t limit yourself to riding. Be a well-rounded, educated person.
When you’re young, you find yourself focusing on the glamorous side of the sport. As you get older, the grim reality sets in. Paying bills, making a living. A good education helps you make well-informed choices. There are only a few spots on teams, and a lot of people putting their hands up for them. Every one of them works hard and is good.
When people look at where I am now, it may not seem like I’ve ‘made it.’ I’m not on any teams yet, and I don’t even have an upper level horse. But I look at how much I have now and how much I have done, and from where I started, that’s a heck of a lot. So I focus on the fact that in my early thirties, I’m still riding horses and making a pretty good living doing it…and isn’t that what we all dream of as kids?