Feb 17, 2024

Now On Course: Kristen Brennan Conquers Life Challenges to Compete at the AEC

Kristen Brennan and her family pose for a celebratory photo after cross-country at the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds. Photo courtesy of Kristen Brennan

My victory lap around the Rolex Arena on my horse Snap Decision (“Geoffrey”) at the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds was the highlight of my equestrian career. Was I leading it? Nope. I brought up the rear with a 15th-place finish, but I was celebrating like I had just won a five-star. My joy was amplified by being surrounded by family and friends who were just as excited as I was.

I got a bit of a late start in riding and horses. I took my first lesson at age 10, bought my first horse at 27, and switched to eventing in my 30s. My equestrian friends reminisce about their quintessential barn rat experiences, but I can’t relate as my days were spent wishing and hoping as a horseless little girl born into a non-horsey family.

I rode once a week as a child, then found a barn owner in college who let me exchange barn chores for rides on whatever random sales horse was standing in the barn. In the blink of an eye, four years flew by, and I was on a plane headed west to pursue a graduate degree. I found myself in an area essentially void of English riders, so I did my best to adapt to a mostly Western world and stay in the saddle. Ultimately when I couldn’t balance horses and academics, I took a break to focus on finishing school.

Upon graduation, I landed a job in the middle of horse country and bought my first horse as a post-PhD gift to myself at the ripe old age of 27. I had hoped for him to become my adult hunter but in the end, it didn’t work out, and I found myself horseless again. While I was devastated at first, it turned out OK, and I found my horse Marcus.

Marcus and I started in the only place either of us knew: the hunters. After a few years, I started to feel like maybe it wasn’t the best fit for us anymore, and at the same time, my friends started hinting that Marcus may like to event. The idea terrified me, but peer pressure won, and I gave it a shot. Marcus took to eventing like a fish to water while I...well let’s just say I replaced many helmets and cried a lot in those first few years.

My road to the AEC, like for many, was long and winding. It was a mix of sometimes feeling like I was a student driver and yet at other times, feeling like I had been driving forever but was stuck in the slow lane being passed at high speeds. At first, it was life in the fast lane—Marcus and I qualified during our second eventing season. But the road curved again, and I found out I was pregnant as entries opened.

I opted to sit it out in hopes I would qualify again. What I didn’t expect was the toll being a new mom would take on me physically and mentally which, combined with Marcus’s quirks, led me to hit the ground four times in five months. My confidence was at an all-time low, and I made the decision to retire Marcus, ending any chance of requalifying.

Have you ever been driving down the highway, only to find yourself detoured, lost with no idea where to go? That’s how I felt. Unlike a logical person who would have stopped and asked for directions, I slammed on the gas by way of bringing home a 3-year-old OTTB mostly because I was sad, and he was pretty. Looking back, it was not only foolish but unfair of me to put such a heavy burden of fixing my confidence and broken heart on a young horse.

Lucky for both of us, my impulsive decision was in fact what my trainer called, “the most gelding-est gelding of all times,” who could care less about me saddling him with my issues. Geoffrey’s good nature helped me rebuild my confidence little by little. The process was slow, and combined with a global pandemic, a career change, and another baby for me, it took us four years to run our first Beginner Novice and yet another year to do it again.

At the start of the 2023 season, I set down the long road of trying to qualify for the AEC again. I told myself it would take time, but I got lucky and qualified via an amateur placing in early 2023. My path with Marcus (who is happily retired to the role of giving pony rides to my kids) showed me that the future is not a given. Knowing that, I sent my entry without hesitation on opening day.

USEA/Meagan DeLisle photo

I went into the AEC being realistic that we would not be competitive. I worked hard but so did everyone else I was competing against. Taking the idea of having a chance at a ribbon off the table allowed me to focus on one thing—being happy to just be there.

I smiled like a fool trotting up centerline in dressage, our weakest phase. I let out a big “WOO HOO! GOOD BOY!” over every fence on cross-country. Our rail at the last fence didn’t stop my fist pump and ear-to-ear grin as I crossed the timers in stadium. The joy I felt of just having the chance to compete at a national championship after a long, winding road is something I can still feel today. We may never find ourselves back there again or we may compete a dozen more times at the AEC, but I know no matter what I will never forget the experience. I hope that everyone someday gets a chance to feel what I felt that weekend, no matter how long and windy the road to get there may seem.

Do you know a horse or rider with a cool story? Email Lindsay at [email protected] for a chance to be featured.

Apr 12, 2024 USEA Foundation

Applications for The Event at Rebecca Farm Travel Grant Due June 1

The Event at Rebecca Farm (Kalispell, Montana) is renowned amongst members of the eventing community for its exceptional competition venue, genuine hospitality, and stunning backdrops. The Broussard Family Charitable Foundation and USEA Foundation are excited to share that travel grants to this iconic venue are returning once again for 2024 to assist riders traveling to Montana to compete in the CCI3* and CCI4* divisions at this year’s competition which takes place July 17-21.

Apr 12, 2024 Resources

Heads Up Competitors! Important Information Surrounding Entry Form and Liability Waiver Requirements for USEA/USEF Eventing Competitions

When aiming to compete in a United States Eventing Association (USEA) recognized competition (national competition or international competition), licensed or endorsed by the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), understanding and fulfilling the specific requirements for entry forms and liability waivers is crucial.

Apr 12, 2024 Emerging Athletes U21

USEA Names Athletes for 2024 EA21 Regional Programs

The United States Eventing Association (USEA) is pleased to announce the athletes selected for the 2024 USEA Emerging Athlete U21 Program (EA21). USEA Young Rider program members aged 21 and under are eligible for the program. The purpose of the USEA EA21 Program is to identify and provide consistent quality instruction to the next generation of elite event riders.

Apr 11, 2024 News

Weekend Quick Links: April 13-14

Are you following along with the action from home this weekend? Or maybe you're competing at an event and need information fast. Either way, we’ve got you covered! Check out the USEA’s Weekend Quick Links for links to information including the prize list, ride times, live scores, and more for all the events running this weekend.

Official Corporate Sponsors of the USEA

Official Joint Therapy Treatment of the USEA

Official Feed of the USEA

Official Saddle of the USEA

Official Real Estate Partner of the USEA

Official Equine Insurance of the USEA

Official Forage of the USEA

Official Supplement Feeding System of the USEA

Official Competition & Training Apparel of the USEA

Official Horse Boot of the USEA