By Britney Grover
Portraits by Kristie Nichols
Colleen Brombach knew she wanted to be a horse trainer by the time she was 8 years old — before she ever learned to ride. “As a kid I used to go play out in the open fields, running around pretending I was a horse. I told myself, ‘I’m going to be a horse trainer someday.’”
Although she didn’t have horses at the time, her horse trainer dream came to pass. “When I got a horse, I loved everything about it,” Colleen said. “By the time I was 16, I was giving lessons to pay for my showing. I loved riding, I loved teaching, I loved bringing along green horses. I went professional as soon as I turned 18 and just kept going.”
From Horses to Elephants
Growing up in Orange County, California, Colleen begged and begged for a horse until her parents relented. “I got a horse before I knew how to ride,” Colleen said. “My parents did it the not-so-smart way; they got me a horse and put it in our barn and I had to figure it out.”
Though she was the first horse lover in her family, she wasn’t the first animal lover — and her horses had to learn to get along with — believe it or not — an elephant. “My older sister is into exotic animals,” Colleen said. “She’s the founder of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, and the founder and CEO of Elephant Aid International and Elephant Refuge North America. My first two horses were an Arabian and an old-fashioned Morgan; the Arab thought he was going to have a heart attack when he saw the elephant, and my Morgan was pretty intrigued and wanted to check her out.”
It was a short trail ride to Show Jumping Hall of Fame’s Russell Stewart, Sr. facility, and Collen took lessons from him for about a year while he was semi-retired. “Around the time I was getting into showing, my parents divorced so money was really tight,” she said. “I ended up teaching lessons from a young age to be able to pay for my horses and whatever showing I was able to do.”
Like she told herself as a child galloping through fields on her own two legs, Colleen never even considered becoming anything but a professional horse trainer. She started her business as soon as she turned 18, and has never looked back. While she was traveling to a horse show with her first set of students, she realized she needed a business name. “Silver Fox Farms kind of came out of thin air, and it has stuck,” she said.
Silver Fox Farms continued to grow but in 1999, Colleen was temporarily sidelined with a knee injury that turned out to be life-changing — in a good way. As she coached students from her golf cart at a horse show, a “nice, kind of cute” rider began talking with her. Doug was riding adult amateurs, dabbling in the jumpers and hauling horses for his trainer and Colleen’s friend, Leslie Pinkerton Nelson, who set them up on their first date. Doug and Colleen were married in 2002 and continued to live in Orange County for the next six years, until Doug’s company wanted to promote him — but didn’t have any openings in-state.
Colleen was a hard sell on the move. In addition to advocating against cold weather, Colleen’s business was well-established with over 20 years behind her. In Orange County, Colleen was based out of an 18-acre public facility shared by 450 horses and 35 trainers. “It was like there was a horse show every day,” she said. “When Doug made the offer to try to get a position outside California, I said, ‘If you can give me my own place that’s at least 10 acres so I can have a covered ring, an outdoor ring and a grass field of my own, I’ll consider moving.’”
The hunt began. “Colleen didn’t even want to go look at the house when we got to each property, she wanted to go out and look at the land and what the soil was like and where we would be able to build a barn, and where we would put up arenas,” Doug said. “After all that was discussed, then we’d go look at the house. The house was kind of an afterthought.”
When they found the 10-acre property, they packed up six horses and moved to Texas. “It was very scary to me because on top of everything, I knew no one in Texas, I had a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old, and I had to help build the facility, take care of my two young kids and rebuild the business with no help from extended family or friends.”
With a new facility of her own, Colleen set out to reestablish Silver Fox Farms. She joined the board of the Texas Hunter Jumper Association the following year and entrenched herself — and her family — in the Texas hunter-jumper world. Their location brought new opportunities: Clients were more willing to travel out of state to horse shows, and now over 10 years later, Silver Fox Farms horses and riders regularly compete and place in top competitions around the country, from Pony Finals to indoors.
All About Family
The Brombach sisters, 16-year-old Brooke and 13-year-old McKayla, have been riding their whole lives and are set on also becoming professionals someday. They both continue to earn ribbons at Pony Finals and indoors, and have earned Regional World Championship Hunter Rider titles; in the four years Brooke has competed at East Coast Junior Hunter Finals, she hasn’t been less than third overall. She’s made Maclay Finals the last three of four years and has finished top 20 in the Hunterdon Finals twice. But their success is more than just talent inherited from their parents — it’s the ideals instilled in the Silver Fox Farms program.
Though she sometimes claims she’s “not as good as Brooke,” McKayla is well on her way to being just as accomplished a rider. In addition to multiple top 10 placings at Pony Finals and indoors, her East Coast Junior Finals 11th place overall out of 24 was on a catch-ride jumper-turned-equitation horse, and it was her first time at the competition — after being prepped by her family that this was “big time” and not to expect a ribbon. “Basically everything I do is around horses,” McKayla said. “I like to read a lot, and I like to draw, but when I draw it’s always horses.”
The Brombachs believe working through challenges is what gets results. “There’s a mindset that when things aren’t going right between horse and rider, blame the horse and replace the horse versus teach the rider to adjust and work out the issues with the horse,” Doug said. “Colleen’s always been passionate about teaching the rider how to work with that horse, because in the long run it will make you a better rider if you invest the time to work out whatever challenge you’re having.”
That philosophy also extends to the young horses Colleen enjoys importing and bringing along. Classico, a 12-year-old horse that has been in Colleen’s program since he was 60 days under saddle, took Brooke to the 2019 East Coast Junior Hunter Finals Championship.
But whether it’s a horse or a rider that has been in her program, Colleen loves watching them thrive. “We’re a little bit of a smaller barn,” Colleen said. “I have a group of people now that are thrilled to be with us, they love our one-on-one, personal type of barn. I like bringing kids along and really teaching them to ride and be a team with their horse. I also love bringing the young horses along — to bring these babies along and have them do great things is amazing.”
For Colleen, it’s all about family: “If I’m going to go do something, I want my family with me,” she concluded. “To have my family involved in my business, to be there during my workday and still be a part of all of it, I don’t think it could get any better.”
For more information, visit silverfoxfarmsllc.com
Photos by Kristie Nichols, moonfyrephotography.com