Updated: Jan 2
Four years ago, I took a chance on an unruly, unwanted horse that would change my life in ways I could have never known.
I had a really rough time for a few years in college, and things got so bad I had to step away from riding for a year. I had grown up riding the hunters and never saw overwhelming success, but I knew that being with horses always made things feel right in a world that often felt so wrong. After getting myself back to a place where I felt I could commit to riding and taking care of a horse again, I spoke with my former trainer who said he had something within my budget.
When I met Brisbane, the groom described him as a “freight train.” He was not wrong. We did not have a good first ride. Brisbane was notoriously known for being difficult to ride and one to stand up straight at the in-gate at shows. He did what he wanted when he wanted, and would immediately assert his dominance over anyone who tried to fight him. Despite all of this, Brisbane seemed to take a liking to me and we miraculously clicked together almost instantly. I took a chance on this horse in September of 2016, but was convinced it would probably not work out.
We ventured into the jumper ring for the first time ever, and it couldn’t have been more fun from the start. Clear rounds turned into more clear rounds, which turned into more blue ribbons than I’d ever seen in my life. It was obvious after only a month that this horse had somehow “chosen” me. Brisbane still shows freight-train-like tendencies, so I have learned how to “rephrase the question” in order to
work with him instead of against him. People were coming to us left and right with inquiries, so I knew I needed to nail down my commitment to him. We decided to start a year-long lease.
Since that first month together, we’ve seen the highest highs and the lowest lows in the jumper ring. I’ve left loaded with ribbons and prize money, and I’ve left being carried out on a golf cart with a broken leg. I told my trainer when I first moved Brisbane to her farm that we either win or I fall off, which wasn’t too far from the truth. He’s freakishly fast and careful, and at the 1.10-1.20-meter height he rose to the top of every single class when I was able to step up and ride the way he demanded of me. We’ve qualified for everything there is to qualify for at the 1.10 meter level, and we’ve placed in the top ten at shows like Devon, Washington, and WEF. But every time we felt on top of the world, he’d bring me back down to earth in some way or another, and remind me that he wouldn’t do his job if I didn’t do mine. He’s made me the rider I never knew I could be, and the successes feel so much greater knowing I had to work hard for them, and that they were never guaranteed.
Brisbane has shown me what my purpose in life is, and since devoting myself to him and to becoming a better rider and horseman, I’ve delved into a career in the horse industry and I’ve truly never been happier. We purchased him after one year together, knowing that I’d raised his value and that buying him was a smart financial move. But the longer our partnership has lasted, the clearer it’s become that he will never be sold out of this family. He has a forever home with me. I gave him the one-on-one dedication he so badly wanted as a ten-year-old, and in return, he gave me the confidence, the happiness, and the sense of belonging I had been lacking for so long in my life. I have promised this horse that he will have a happy home for the rest of his life, because he gave me happiness I never could have known without him.
Tori Bilas & Brisbane
[This post is not sponsored by Tori Bilas Art]