Horse & Style Trainer Spotlight: Harley Brown

Reprinted with permission of Horse & Style Magazine.

“Interesting” is an optimistic way to define Harley Brown’s rollercoaster year in 2012. The native of Australia, who is a well-known face on the West Coast grand prix circuit, put other goals on hold in 2012 to focus on making the Australian Olympic Team. He came achingly close with his veteran partner Cassiato, only to be left off at the last minute. Not to be deterred, Harley returned home to California in midsummer, picked up two grand prix wins with Cassiato, and prepared for a big move. After much soul-searching, Harley Brown Equestrian relocated from its former base in San Luis Obispo to the more competitive grounds of Northern California’s Silicon Valley.

Now, with a new home at the Portola Valley Training Center in Menlo Park, a young grand prix prospect and the support of his clients and family, Harley is turning toward his 2013 goals with renewed focus and an open door.

And while he’s looking forward to what the coming year brings, he wouldn’t trade away the recent lessons learned.
“It makes you stronger,” he notes. “It makes you work harder for the things you want. I wouldn’t change that.”

Horse & Style: What were the driving factors behind your recent move?
Harley Brown: There were two reasons – population of riders and our
children. We wanted to be in an area that was a little more heavily populated with shows and riders. In San Luis Obispo it was a three- hour drive minimum to get to any show north or south, and that affected the kind of riders we could have in training.

And my wife Olivia and I think that Silicon Valley is a wonderful place for our two kids to grow up. It’s competitive. It’s real. People are down to earth. We want to give the kids every opportunity to grow up in a thriving environment, and we like the pace of Northern California.

H&S: Maintaining and being competitive at the grand prix level with a top horse has had a big impact on your career in the U.S. Why do you focus on making your own horses, instead of buying high-level ones?
HB: In Australia, if you can’t produce horses, you can’t make a living. Training a horse from the bottom up was one of the first things I learnt to do, and it’s why I can take a challenging horse that other people wouldn’t really look at, and make it into something special.

H&S: Was Cassiato one of those challenging types of horses when you got him?
HB: Yes, when we got him as a seven year old, the Verband had sold him off cheaply as a riding school pleasure type of horse. The lady who had him couldn’t get on with him, he was tossing her off all the time. So at seven he had never shown and was really green. But he thrived in our program, we were just a good match. Inside of 12 months after we got him, he was placing in his first grand prix.

H&S: Describe the last 10 months.
HB: In a word? Rollercoaster. The talk about Olympic selection began last Christmas, I was 2nd or 3rd in the Western World Cup Qualifier league, and my federation called and told me that come the new year, they wanted me to start jumping outdoors and that right at that stage I was a very certain pick for the Australian Olympic Team.

So we cut our Thermal season short and went to Florida for six weeks. He jumped well, and we went on to Europe for the final Australian Trials.

But on the way over he caught a virus and got sick, and missed the first Trial in Lintz, Austria. We managed to get him to the final Trial in France two weeks later, but it was after a week’s work back. To say he was underdone was an understatement.

That was disappointing, but it was even more disappointing that the selectors looked to just that result and not his extensive resume of wins. They left him off the final Olympic Team, and we felt that it was for all the wrong reasons.

H&S: When you returned to California, was he was jumping well?
HB: Yes, and that was very bittersweet. I knew exactly where he was in his fitness, and I knew he was himself again. We went home and a week off the plane, he won his next two grand prix starts at Oaks Blenheim.

H&S: What did you learn from those tough couple of months?
HB: In a way it has made me a better competitor. The horse has gotten the right scores on the board over and over again. At the last Trial, three fences down was the worst result he’d had. But although I was very disappointed, and especially disappointed to have given up a shot at the World Cup Finals for this, I know it wasn’t the first time things like this have happened, and it won’t be the last. That’s just horses, and you’ve got to learn from the disappointments and then put them behind you.

H&S: And now that it’s behind you, what’s your frame of mind like going into 2013?
HB: I have a pretty solid plan competitively; it’s a matter of filling the gap at the moment. Cassiato and my other grand prix horse Angelli will begin showing again in January after time off.

We’ve got an exciting new grand prix horse, Cozmoz owned by Eden Valley Stables, and a very nice six year old named Cash. He won the 5 year old West Coast finals last year, and Cozmoz has already been placing really well at the grand prix level.

The move kept us busy, but now we’re here and settled in. It’s a pretty relaxed environment, and I’m very straightforward. Olivia and I are hands on with all the horses, and we’re happy to be in Northern California. We’ll show more up here than ever before and have a presence. We’re looking forward to it!

Photo of Harley and daughter Zoe by