Jackie Braybrooke is one of those people that you want to sit down and have a cup of coffee with while she shares her life stories. The born and raised New Zealander has lived all over the world, but in her travels, one thing has remained constant: her passion for eventing (especially for New Zealand riders!). While she wasn’t an equestrian herself as a child, Braybrooke first found herself enamored with the sport of eventing after New Zealand rider Sir Mark Todd won the individual gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics with Charisma.
“He became an overnight sensation, of course,” reflected Braybrooke who had grown up around horses while attending outings at their local harness racing club with her parents. “I had heard of him and knew of him, but he really came to our attention and then he won back-to-back Olympic gold medals after winning again in 1988. The horse, Charisma, was doing parades and shows and became a bit of a New Zealand icon. They established a Charisma Club, which my mum and I joined when I was around 20. That is what sort of got me started in eventing.”
Her move to the United Kingdom would connect Braybrooke with some fellow eventing lovers who began taking Braybrooke to iconic events such as Badminton and Blenheim, which Braybrooke made a weekend tradition with her young daughter. Her next life adventure took her to Bahrain, a country in the Middle East that is part of the Persian Gulf. While Bahrain isn’t a hotspot for eventing, the Bahrainians love horses and Braybrooke found herself immersed in the endurance racing culture and keeping tabs on eventing from afar for the time being. Eventually, Braybrooke would bounce back over to the UK where her then 12-year-old daughter Stephanie made a friend with a pony which sparked a whole new level of involvement for the Braybrooke family.
“I sort of dangled a carrot that she could do horse riding lessons when we came to America after immigrating from the United Kingdom. She got involved initially with the hunters and then she got an eventing horse. She started competing at Woodside and Twin Rivers and all the rest of it. My favorite saying is, ‘I don’t ride, I just write the checks and clean the tack.’ I was always there and they were asking for volunteers and you needed no experience to jump judge, so off I want. And that was sort of the spark for my passion for volunteering,” Braybrooke shared.
A world traveler like her mother, Stefani is now in Zagreb, Croatia finishing her final years of her mastersdegree, but Braybrooke is still in the States volunteering strong.
“We moved from California to Virginia and I now live very near to Morven Park,” said Braybrooke. “I would get their newsletters and saw they had an event. So I joined the eventing volunteers website and I just first started here at Morven. It went from two or three a year and grew from there.”
While she has worked as a ring steward and starter timer before, the bulk of Braybrooke’s time has been as a jump judge which is her favorite place to be for one reason: she loves the sound of the horse’s hooves thundering across the country.
“I watch them and I admire them and think that you have to be such a brave horse and rider. I love the thrill of seeing how beautiful they are. Plus, volunteering makes me feel like I am making a difference. It’s sort of a natural sense of accomplishment really. Without jump judges and volunteers, you wouldn’t be able to have the event.”
Another aspect that Braybrooke enjoys is the variety of riders that she sees each weekend. From Starter level to the pinnacle of her volunteering endeavors, working the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and the Maryland 5 Star this year, hundreds of riders have galloped past Braybrooke’s jump judging chair. “I was so proud to be part of history, part of the first-ever Maryland 5 Star. Last weekend I was doing Beginner Novice and the next week I am judging the best horses and riders in the world. That just wows me. I feel it is such a privilege. You have the best seat in the house, right where the action is. It is never boring, never dull. It is my happy place.”
For Braybrooke, there is no better feeling than sharing that happy place with friends and family. “I have made some really lovely friends. We all have the same interests, hobbies, and passions. And then I have a 17-year-old son, Josh, and he has been wonderful with me. With volunteering, it has been something I have been able to share. He has come out with me a lot. He is not a horsey guy, but he has been my number spotter on many occasions. And I have taken a couple of friends out on course to sit with me, so it has been something nice I have been able to share with friends and family too!”
Over the years, Braybrooke has converted some of those friends into jump judges as well. She always has her eyes out for people who love the sport and might want to help out. Her desire to continue volunteering and to recruit new volunteers all boils down to the appreciation she receives from not only the event organizers but also the riders too. “The horse community really looks after the volunteers,” she said. “They make you feel special and that makes you feel so proud and makes you feel appreciated.”
What started as a way to support her daughter and continue enjoying the sport that she fell in love with as a spectator back in New Zealand has turned into a passion project for Braybrooke. From her first time attending Badminton to helping her daughter’s intercollegiate team to now volunteering at some of the best events in the world, Braybrooke cherishes every moment as she looks back at her growth in the sport of eventing.
“For me, I feel like dreams do come true. When I started jump judging, I started off at the little local shows and over the course of four years, I have worked my way up to the highest levels. I have always been a spectator at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event at the horse park over the last ten years. We would stay there all four days and I always said to myself that I wanted to make it as a five-star jump judge at Kentucky. This year, I signed up and got on the waitlist and I got a call asking me to come and be an assistant jump judge. And I really feel that with your knowledge and your experience, dreams do come true. You can work your way up. My next goal is that I would really like to do the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028!”
About the USEA Volunteer Incentive Program
Volunteers are the lifeblood of our sport, the unsung heroes, and the people who make it possible to keep the sport alive. In efforts to recognize the dedication, commitment, and hard work that volunteers put into eventing, USEA formed the Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP) in 2015. In 2017, an online management portal was designed for volunteers, organizers, and volunteer coordinators at EventingVolunteers.com (available as an app for iOS and Android).
Volunteer incentives include national and area recognition, year-end awards with ribbons, cash prizes, and trophies, a top ten USEA Volunteer leaderboard, and a Volunteer of the Year award which is given to the volunteer who tops the leaderboard by accumulating the most volunteer hours over the USEA competition year. Click here to learn more about the USEA Volunteer Incentive Program.
The USEA would like to thank Sunsprite Warmbloods for sponsoring the Volunteer Incentive Program.
Get to know each United States Eventing Association (USEA) Areas a little better in this new series, Meet the Areas! This month’s feature is USEA Area I which is comprised of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Founded in the 1960s, Area I was the birthplace of the United States Combined Training Association (USCTA) which was founded in 1959 and would later evolve into the USEA in 2001. In 2021 just under 800 members made up the membership count in Area I.
Trainers, riders, parents, and more are in for a real treat when the all-new USEA Eventing Handbook by the Levels is officially released. Those participating in the 2022 USEA Instructors’ Certification Program (ICP) Symposium at Barnstaple South Farm in Ocala, Florida on February 8-9 will be the first to set eyes on this all-encompassing guide that has been two years in the making.
The USEA established the Young Event Horse (YEH) program in 2004 to identify young horses that possess the talent and disposition to, with proper training, excel at the uppermost levels of the sport. While the goal of the YEH program is to identify horses that will be successful at the four- and five-star levels, horses with the potential for lower-level success are also showcased by the program.
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.