By Britney Grover
Portraits by Kristie Nichols
Lauren Eisele and Brandon Howard describe themselves as yin and yang: total opposites that somehow complete each other. From their natural sleep schedules — Lauren would go to bed at 8 p.m. if she could and is ready for business by 6 a.m., while Brandon prefers a later start to his day — to their equestrian skillsets, Lauren and Brandon are very different. But they’re both passionate about horses.
Together, they’ve made a business more successful than either of them could on their own. In the thriving equestrian community just north of Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, Homeward Farms is growing in success despite the fact that many potential clients don’t give Lauren and Brandon a chance for one shortsighted fact: their age. Lauren just turned 30, and Brandon, 24. Both Lauren and Brandon respect and seek to learn from those who have more years of experience, but understanding their capabilities takes looking beyond the numbers.
From his youth riding in South Africa, Brandon has trained and competed around the United States with top Grand Prix placings on horses he brought through the levels himself. Lauren has not only spent years training horses and coaching riders, but has a doctorate. She’s a licensed chiropractor, allowing her to not only physically help horses and riders but to teach riders the mechanics involved with riding — how their position affects the horse, or how a small adjustment here makes a big difference there — knowledge that creates better riders.
In other words, those who pass Lauren and Brandon by simply because of their age don’t realize what they’re missing — and there’s a lot.
Brandon’s first experience with horses began by asking a girl for a phone number. Actually, horses were in his blood: Brandon’s mother had ridden until she got pregnant, exercising racehorses to earn a stall to keep her horse. But Brandon didn’t know anything about that when, at 5 years old, he asked a girl in his school class who rode for the phone number of her barn. “I came home from school with a phone number written on a piece of paper and asked my mom if I could go take a riding lesson for my 6th birthday,” Brandon said. “I started riding and never stopped.”
His first barn in South Africa, Alzu Weltmeyer Stables, was a large three-day event farm, so Brandon was able to do events right on the property, as well as show jumping and dressage. Though he was always drawn to jumping, which is what he competed in when he traveled to show, Brandon enjoyed growing up riding on an event farm. “I enjoyed eventing because it was fun,” he said. “Being at the property, we would often just go out in our lessons and jump around the event course and have fun. I think that’s where I learned to be brave on a horse.”
In 2008, 11-year-old Brandon and his family moved to the United States, where he began riding with Matt Cyphert near their new home in Texas. “I consider Matt almost a second father to me,” Brandon said. “If horse shows got too expensive, Matt would offer to let me come and stay with him at the camper. I was good friends with both of his sons, so it was just like going over with my friends.”
At 14, Brandon got 5-year-old MTM Balvino to bring through the levels, and two years later the pair was competing Grand Prix. “He took me all the way up to my first FEI class in Vegas, where we won the 1.40m open jumper class, and we did well in the Grand Prix at Summer in the Rockies,” Brandon said. “When we sold him, it afforded me the ability to have more than one horse, with the money we made.”
Brandon was able to buy his first three import horses in Germany, and when he went to sell them in Wellington, he met Darren Graziano. That connection led Brandon to travel with Darren on the East Coast for several years, gaining experience both in the saddle and in sales while earning a business degree online. When he returned to Texas in 2017, he was still an amateur, with a few sales horses he boarded at Flower Mound Equestrian Center — which is where he met Lauren.
Unlike Brandon, Lauren has lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area her entire life. She was introduced to horses through her mother’s side of the family: Lauren’s aunts, Mary and Carol Russack, owned Huntington Tack Shop in New York. Every year growing up, Lauren would go visit them and Carol, who rode hunter-jumpers, would pony Lauren around on her 18-hand Thoroughbred.
“We have pictures of me, a little nugget on this huge horse,” Lauren said. “It was just love at first sight. Even when I was 5 and it was 20 degrees outside in New York, I would be out there mucking stalls.”
Both the passion for horses and the persevering work ethic have stuck with Lauren, whose first horse of her own was an inexpensive Arabian-Saddlebred cross. “I showed him in the Low Children’s Jumpers, and I think for the entire first year of our show career we didn’t make it around the course,” Lauren laughed.
Nevertheless, Lauren was hooked. She became a working student at the Las Colinas Equestrian Center next to her school, where she could walk over in the afternoons and work until 7 or 8 p.m. before doing it all again the next day to earn her lessons. Her trainer, Celine Myers, would let Lauren groom at shows to help pay costs of attending local shows. “I had a lot of people looking out for me so I could show,” she said.
Instead of getting the national showing experience, however, Lauren got experience perhaps more valuable in the long run: riding difficult horses. “Since I didn’t have a horse of my own for a long time, I was always the kid at the barn that people would ask to ride the problem horses,” she said. “I rode the lesson horses and the difficult ones, and my trainer saw potential in me. She’d let me hack horses and put me on extra horses, and when I went to college and still wanted to ride, I found a trainer there who let me ride her problem horses. It was one of those things that just kind of happened. I wasn’t ever like, ‘OK, I’m going to try to make a career out of this.’”
Originally, she intended to become a vet. She got her undergraduate degree in animal science, but shifted course slightly her senior year. “I shadowed a whole bunch of vets and realized there was blood and it wasn’t for me,” Lauren said in good humor. “I started asking around about equestrian careers that still involved a doctorate, and that’s how chiropractic school came about.”
A Balanced Business
After graduating from chiropractic school in 2015, Lauren ran her own chiropractic business that focused on working with animals. Two years later, she began riding more — including helping import, train and sell horses, building upon her experience including running lesson programs and as an assistant trainer to make extra money through her school years. Lauren found her doctorate was being used less and less as she had more and more success with sales horses and students.
Brandon and Lauren met at the barn and began dating. The more they got to know one another, the more they recognized they were better together in more ways than one. Brandon gave up his amateur status to start riding professionally, and they combined his sales horses and Lauren’s students to make Homeward Farms a full training, sales and lesson program.
“We each fill in where the other person lacks,” Brandon shared. “Lauren is really, really good at running and organizing the business side of things, I do most of the riding, and we split the training evenly. It’s been really good for us, actually putting less stress on our relationship because we get to spend a lot more time with each other.”
Both Brandon and Lauren are excited to be getting more import opportunities this year, and to continue to grow their business. They also make a point of continuing to learn from top riders in the area, including Brandon’s mentor Matt Cyphert, Ken Smith and Don Stewart — industry greats whom Brandon aspires to emulate, with top student placings at national competitions and thriving sales.
Homeward Farms really is home to Brandon and Lauren. They’re grateful to Brandon’s parents, who purchased the 20-stall facility and property where they live. It’s also home to Brandon and Lauren’s three large, iconic dogs: Daisy, the Border Collie/Australian Kelpie mix Lauren got in college; Pepper, Brandon’s Double Doodle; and Sheldon, Lauren’s Golden Retriever.
All three dogs enjoy riding the golf cart at shows and roam the farm at home. “Daisy is a herding dog so she’ll run up and down the edge of the arena and if you chip into a jump, she’ll bark at you — she’s quite the assistant trainer,” Lauren said.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, business has increased for Homeward Farms — as has the need to find ways to de-stress for Brandon and Lauren. Brandon has taken up golf, and Lauren enjoys working with a personal trainer, each filling in for the other to take half a day off during the week. They continue to find ways to work together even better. They have their moments, just like any couple. But Homeward Farms is producing results that embody the best of both of them.
“It’s worked out really great because all of my weaknesses are Brandon’s strengths and vice versa,” Lauren said. “We’re yin and yang; total opposites. But it works.”
For more information, visit www.homewardfarms.com
Photos by Kristie Nichols, moonfyrephotography.com