Monday, March 31, 2014

Nice Guys Do Finish First - Tom Brennan, Horseperson Extraordinaire

 (Chronicle of the Horse photo)
I am simply amazed by the efforts of Virginia-based hunter rider Tom Brennan who trains out of Winter Hill Farm in northern Virginia (near Harpers Ferry, WV).  He's the real thing that's for sure.  Not only is Tom a top rider and an incredibly nice guy, he also gives back to our sport in ways that most only dream about. I would want my junior rider showing with this guy, that's for sure.

His latest effort is to set up a new scholarship for competing junior riders who also go to traditional schools, that is do not get their education on-line or through tutors as many top junior riders do.  He's worked to establish the Claire Mawdsley Scholarship and Rider Recognition Program in conjunction with the Pennsylvania National Horse Show.

The first scholarships will be awarded at this year’s Pennsylvania National Horse Show which runs from Oct. 9-18 in Harrisburg, to the top placing eligible exhibitors in each of the four junior hunter sections. Winners will receive a scholarship award that will be held in trust by the horse show until they enroll in college. The top three eligible students in each section will also receive special ribbons and sponsored prizes.

The program is free to enter and only requires the junior indicates his or her intention to participate on the Pennsylvania National entry and sends a letter from school indicating good academic standing.
Brennan has been working on developing the program for two years. “What set this off is that about two or three years ago, I had a kid in the large juniors that jogged, and I said, ‘You just won. You have one horse that you can show once a month, and you got here, and you held your own.’ ”

Brennan thought it important to recognize juniors who don’t get to spend as much time in the saddle as those who participate in online programs and have access to private tutors.

“It was startling to me at indoors that you have 25 to 30 riders who qualify and only 15 to 18 showing,” he said. “I’ve certainly had students who have said, ‘I’d love to go, but I don’t really have a chance.’ It’s like, you qualified for Harrisburg; you have a chance!”

The scholarship was named for Virginia Intermont College student Claire Mawdsley who was killed in an automobile accident while driving back to school after grooming at the Middleburg Classic (Va.) for Winter Hill Farm on Sept. 26, 2011. You can also help donate to the scholarship, as it's being funded by private donations.

Brennan's other recent claim to fame is the way he handled an event that started when someone posted a photo of Tom riding a top hunter on the Chronicle of the Horse's Facebook page with a link to other photos from one of the Gulf Coast's Horse Shows.  People began critiquing the photo and the criticism was very unsportsmanlike to say the least. It got very nasty. 

According to an article in the COTH  Brennan headed to Walmart at 6 a.m. to buy posterboard and markers. Before his first rides he got to work, attaching a printout of the Facebook photo and another three pages of comments and writing a note to his students underneath. He hung up the poster in the Winter Hill Farm tackroom alongside the circuit champion coolers, so it was there when his junior customers arrived.

It reads:
“Attention Kids of Winter Hill. This is what some people thought of a round that scored an 88 this week…You will meet many ‘experts’ in life…most of them sit on the sidelines where it is safe to say, ‘They are not good enough.’ The only one who can tell you ‘You Can’t’ is you—and you don’t have to listen! No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. We do not let anyone else make this sport unfun for us. The only expert opinion that matters when you ride is right underneath you. Listen to your horses and treat them with tact and kindness today, and I will be proud of you. Good luck and have fun.”

Brennan and Tony Workman have a full slate of junior and amateur clients at their Winter Hill Farm in Hillsboro, Va. Talking to their customers, it's easy to see that their appeal extends beyond their success in the ring. One parent told me how Brennan turned a tough day for her daughter into a great one with his positive attitude, and his teenage clients explained how he regularly inspires confidence in riding lessons and beyond.

“It seemed like a good opportunity to show the kids how you persevere through other people’s bad behavior,” he told me. “I think in school right now a lot of kids have to deal with online bullying. I wanted to turn lemons into lemonade, to show the kids that we can smile about it and laugh about it and have a lot of fun and be good at what we do.”

In a day when there are too many arm-chair quarterbacks and kids often seem entitled to say the least isn't it refreshing to find someone as down-to-earth and full of good old fashioned values as Tom Brennan?  My mother would say that someone raised this man very well. Indeed they did!

(Thank you Chronicle of the Horse for highlighting this wonderful story)

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