Fast ride into the horse business

Equestrian: Fred Brundick had never ridden before 1992. Now the Abingdon resident has a gold medal and a champion title to his name.

April 11, 2004|By Anne Lauren Henslee | Anne Lauren Henslee,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In 1992, Abingdon resident Fred Brundick was 36 years old, married and working 40-plus hours a week in a government office, writing computer code and rarely seeing the light of day. That year, at a friend's suggestion, Brundick bought his first horse. The 3-year-old Arabian filly would, along with the sport of dressage, alter the course of Brundick's life.

Still a computer scientist for the federal government, Brundick is also an accomplished equestrian. Last year he was named Introductory Senior Rider Reserve Champion by the Maryland Dressage Association and received another of the association's top honors, the introductory rider gold medal.

Dressage dates back to the training of horses for battle. Today, it is a blend of sport and art that includes the development of a horse's natural athletic ability through standardized progressive training methods. It is a program of balancing and obedience work that is one of the fastest-growing equestrian sports in the world.

Before 1992, Brundick had never been on a horse, knew little about them and next to nothing about dressage. But he and his wife, Susan, who had ridden as a child, embraced the idea of a side business. Without much forethought, they went shopping for a mare to breed.

In retrospect, they went about it all wrong, Brundick said half-joking. Instead of a seasoned breeder, they bought the young Arabian, which had little experience and would not be able to breed for many years.

"You want to have a schoolmaster," he said. "Basically, the horse should know more than the rider and should already be trained to do all these things."

But a schoolmaster was expensive and difficult to find. Plus, the Brundicks had fallen in love with FS New Sensation. They bought her and boarded her at a stable three hours away in Pennsylvania.

They had a lot to learn. "We look back and say we can't believe we did it. I had no hands-on experience or anything. I joke that they had to tell me which side of the horse to stand on when you're leading them - really basic stuff," he said.

Fortunately, the couple found an experienced trainer, which Brundick said was essential.

At first, Brundick had "zero intention" of riding himself. But a year after buying New Sensation and spending time with her, he grew more interested. "I showed her `in hand,' where you stand beside them and show them off. It's an amateur class, which was really fun. I thought, `This is kind of neat.'"

The trainer's daughter broke her to saddle.

"I learned how to ride that winter on a green-broke horse, which is a really horrible combination. I didn't know what I was doing, and she didn't know what she was doing," he said.

"But the trainer always said that the mare looked out for me. The Arabs are like that, they're one-person oriented," he said.

FS New Sensation died five years ago, at the age of 10, of liver failure. For the Brundicks, it was a terrible loss.

"We still don't know what caused it," Brundick said. "We took her to New Bolton [Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine] three times. ... Her results were sent to Cornell [University] and other places. But we still don't know why. ...

"After that, we were glad we never sold her daughter, Dixie, who will be 9 this year. I tell her, `When your mom was your age, you were 3 or 4 years old and she'd already done all these shows,'" Brundick said.

This year was Dixie's, and Brundick's, first full year of showing. For Brundick, the past 12 years have been a test of how much he can stretch out of each day. He works full time, teaches computer programming at Harford Community College part time, has a riding lesson once or twice a week and tries to practice twice a week - though he said he would like to practice more. "I joke about my spare, spare, spare time," he said.

In addition to the local riders they regularly see, the Brundicks enjoy the community they have found via an online dressage group of riders, trainers and rank amateurs.

"I'm a rank beginner. I can ask some question and someone with a thousand years of experience will answer it," he said. "It's a great resource."

Despite his recent laurels, Brundick is still amazed at how far he's come in a relatively short time. "We didn't really plan any of this. It's funny. It's kind of odd now to feel like we're the experienced ones."

Asked about his next goal, he said, "Actually, I think I already surpassed it. We want to do something with Dixie, but I don't have to be the one doing it.

"Our trainer says one horse is a hobby, two is a business," said Brundick, who owns three. "We lease two of them, and we have bred and sold before, so tax-wise they are a business," he said. Beyond that, he added, it's a way of life.

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