In looking at Jennie Brannigan and Catalina’s record over the past few months — a win at Richland CIC2*, top 10 at Plantation Field CIC3* and top 20 at Fair Hill CCI3* — it’s hard to believe they’ve only been partnered together since July.
But something just clicked when Jennie’s good friend Candace Kircher handed her the ride on the 12-year-old Oldenburg mare. Now Jennie’s longtime owners and supporters Tim and Nina Gardner have joined Candace as owners, and Team Catalina is looking ahead to 2016 and a little show in Kentucky at the end of April.
Catalina has been Candace’s “love of a lifetime” horse since she found her through Buck Davidson and Coren Morgan about five years ago. Bred in the U.S. by Kansas-based Milestone Equine Center, Catalina is by Cabaret, a Holsteiner son of Cor de la Bryere, and out of a mare by the Anglo Arabian stallion Matcho.
Candace and Catalina enjoyed a lot of success together right off the bat, winning the Red Hills CIC* in their first FEI event together in 2011. She then moved the mare up to Intermediate, winning a competitive Intermediate division at Morven Park in 2012 before going on to Fair Hill CCI2* that fall to finish in 16th place with clear jumping rounds.
A minor injury and the birth of Kylie, Candace and her husband Brandon’s first child, meant Catalina had a light competition schedule in 2013 and 2014, and Candace brought her back out at the Preliminary level in March of this year. After completing an Intermediate at Texas Rose in June, Candace approached Jennie about sending the mare to her.
“It was definitely intimidating to think about riding my best friend’s lifetime horse, but Candace really wanted to support me, and the timing seemed right,” Jennie said. “I was talking to Joanie (Morris) and mentioned I might be getting the mare. Joanie said that because of my FEI categorization I could run one CIC3* and then go to Fair Hill CCI3*. I told Candace that was an option, and she said, ‘Why don’t you take over the ride?’”
The wheels were set in motion. With Jennie busy preparing for the Pan American Games and going to Toronto as the traveling reserve with Cambalda, she didn’t have many rides on Catalina before their first event together going Intermediate at Fair Hill’s August horse trials.
“I ran her slow at Fair Hill, and then the plan was to go to Richland to do her first Advanced,” Jennie said. “Since I still hadn’t ridden her that much, I decided to bump back to the CIC2*.” They ultimately won on their dressage score of 47.0. “Her dressage is green, and we didn’t have a real partnership yet, but she did a beautiful show jumping round, galloped around cross country easily and jumped well.”
With the possibility of aiming for Fair Hill still on the table, Jennie had a lesson with Phillip Dutton, who encouraged her to take a crack at Plantation Field CIC3* to see if the horse was fit enough to go on to a CCI3* the following month. Catalina once again romped around with ease, finishing 10th at Plantation Field in a very competitive field of more than 60 horses.
“She didn’t really have her flying changes yet, but her show jumping was clean, and on cross country — this horse is proper,” Jennie said. “For her to finish 10th in that big field of top horses in her very first Advanced, I was thrilled.”
Jennie planned to get another Advanced prep run under Catalina’s belt at Morven Park before Fair Hill, but Mother Nature had other plans that weekend, and heavy rains forced the cancellation of cross country for the National divisions at the event.
“In talking to Phillip, I asked, ‘Am I crazy to take this horse to Fair Hill after doing one Advanced?’ But he encouraged me to go. It’s nice to have support like that from someone you really respect,” Jennie said. “So we went into Fair Hill with no expectations. The goal was for her to learn and prepare for next season.”
But once again, Catalina rose to the occasion and put in a solid, respectable performance across all three phases. They scored 53.3 on the flat to put them in the middle of the pack after dressage. “She’s a beautiful mover with a good mind, and her dressage should be in the 40s next year,” Jennie said. “I was very happy considering she learned her changes about a month before Fair Hill!”
Then, on the morning of cross country, Candace told Jennie some very special news: She was pregnant with her second child. It was already a special day, but Catalina made it all the more memorable by delivering a clear cross country round with just 3.2 time penalties in her first CCI3* and just the second Advanced start of her career.
“I wasn’t totally sure what to expect going out of the start box on cross country, but the more I went around, the better and better she got,” Jennie said. “‘Admiration’ is really the right word for what I feel for her for doing that.”
Jennie and Catalina had two rails down in show jumping the next day to finish in 17th place. Though a bit disappointed in the rails, Jennie is confident that phase will develop and blossom in time. “All the pieces are there for her to be a big-time horse. Big picture, Fair Hill is the start of what this horse and I can do together. She has a lot of heart, and she really enjoys the job,” Jennie said.
“Having the Gardners as joint owners of the mare is also very special, and it’s a good fit for all of us. I feel really lucky that I have people like the Gardners and Candace wanting to support me. I can’t thank Candace enough for trusting me with the ride and the Gardners for coming on board as owners.”
While their spring plans aren’t set in stone, Jennie and Catalina only need one more CIC3* completion to get their qualification for the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in April. Jennie said they will look to get that final qualifier early in the season with the idea of aiming for Rolex in mind.
“I’m going to let the horse tell me. None of us would push her to do anything that wouldn’t be right for her,” Jennie said. “Catalina has this fire about her, but then she’s the horse in the barn that anyone can groom. Candace’s daughter Kylie leads her around at events. She’s just a really special horse.”
Though Rolex will be about six weeks before Candace’s due date, she has every intention of being there if Jennie and Catalina do compete. “She’s my friend that I get to experience what being ‘normal’ is like because of her,” Jennie said. “I get to have a small glimpse at the other side of life being her friend, and now she gets to live the dream of the other side of it through me.”