By Britney Grover
Portraits by Allen MacMillan
From his fun-loving side to his determination, Brian Feigus’ personality has set him up for success as a rider and trainer. His attention to detail has earned top awards in the hunter and equitation rings; his love of life and sense of humor make him a favorite of students and colleagues; and his ability to learn by watching has him poised to make a big splash in the equestrian world.
Brian’s sights weren’t always set on horses, though, despite growing up with them and equestrian parents in Colts Neck, New Jersey. “He rode as a little boy a few times and he’d fool around at the barn and ride during the week, but other sports were what he seemed to like at that time,” his mother, Barbara, remembered.
Nanci Urban, who went on to train Brian and to whom he still turns for help, had similar memories. “When Brian was young, he really wasn’t that into it. He rode, but I didn’t teach him then. I can remember him as a little boy at a horse show on a small pony being run away with through the parking lot, screaming as the pony ran all the way back to the trailer,” she recalled, laughing.
“All of a sudden he decided one day that he wanted to ride more competitively,” Barbara said.
The seemingly snap decision made perfect sense to 13-year-old Brian. “Honestly, I realized I was too short to play basketball,” he said with a laugh.
Brian wasn’t one to let a late start get him down. “Once he made that decision, he just took off,” Barbara said. “He watched every Medal Final tape — we must have bought them for 10 years in a row. He went back over tapes, and when he saw somebody he knew had won, he watched them constantly. He really dove into it and always wanted more. He wasn’t satisfied with just doing some of the local shows; he wanted to do more finals. He wanted to do the zones. And then he wanted to do the Big Eq. And he accomplished it.”
What Brian accomplished as a junior — as with his entire career — he did through hard work, not through made horses or unrealistic opportunities. “He’s got a good feel,” Nanci said. “Even though I didn’t work with him weekly or a lot, he could take what I taught him and put it to use. The best part of working with him is that he can adjust and do whatever you’re asking him to do.”
Under Nanci’s guidance, Brian competed in many of the East’s top shows and indoors on his very first horse — a Thoroughbred named Moonlight Bay, aka Jake. Things didn’t start out looking so optimistic, though.
“Right before I started teaching him, I remember seeing him at a horse show on a horse he had gotten, and he was very determined,” Nanci shared. “He said, ‘Oh, you’ve got to watch this horse!’ And every time I turned around to watch him, he fell off. So I just stopped watching! He fell off three times in one day and just kept getting back on. That horse was Jake, and I actually started teaching him on Jake, and he wound up doing quite well.”
“My junior career was pretty quick, but to me the most important show was my second time at Zone 2 Hunter Finals when I was reserve champion,” Brian said. “We had a special bond; Jake was like my son. It was the moment I realized how much I wanted to do this, and he was the reason. I kept him throughout the rest of his life. Unfortunately he passed last year, but I had him for about 14 years. That show wasn’t the highlight of my junior career, but it’s the most important one to me. We worked really hard that year, and it all came together in that moment.”
An Unexpected Career
Brian went on to work with Stacia Madden at Beacon Hill and family friend Emil Spadone later in his junior career, never losing his ability to learn from watching others or to work hard with what horses he had available. But going pro wasn’t on his radar even after high school.
“I grew up wanting to be an architect,” Brian said. “In school I would always get caught drawing and designing houses during class. It was and still is something I have a passion for.”
His plans to attend college to become an architect were waylaid when Brian decided to use his time off before starting classes go to Europe. “I bought my first import through Emil, and from there on out it was being a pro.”
“We had a small farm in Colts Neck, with 20 horses but really no acreage,” Barbara said. “Brian’s the one that convinced us to try to buy something bigger. He really enjoys the selling, and he likes the teaching too. He’s really done quite well.”
The family created Nevergreen Farm in Farmingdale, New Jersey, in 2009, and recently expanded with an additional 43 acres behind the 23 existing acres. Brian runs his riding and teaching business out of Nevergreen, where Barbara fills in with the young kids and others who stay behind when Brian takes students to away shows.
Since turning pro, Brian’s top achievements include placing 10th at the International Hunter Derby Finals on Ralph Lauren in 2012 and winning World Championship Hunter Rider Developing Pro in 2014. But he counts his students and the horses he’s sold as his greatest successes — former sale horses have gone on to compete at the top level, including earning top ribbons at equitation finals, pregreen finals and indoors. He’s had multiple riders make the Top 25 at Medal Finals, earned ribbons in equitation at Capital Challenge, Maclay Regionals and Junior Hunter Finals as well as multiple Zone 2 Hunter Finals and Marshall Sterling Finals ribbons over the past 8 years.
Kid at Heart
When it comes to coaching, especially youth, it’s easy to see why Brian is a favorite. “He’s kind of a goofball,” said Emil, who helps Brian with business and is also a close family friend. “We call him Peter Pan because he doesn’t want to grow up, and he’s like a kid a little bit — he works hard but he’s a little bit of a goof.”
Whether at the barn, at home, at shows or on the road, Brian can be counted on to help everyone around him enjoy things a little more. “He loves singing, and he’s not shy — he will sing to anyone,” Emil said. “He comes to Europe with us and he’s always the life of the party. We have a great time. We love when he comes because he can make an eight-hour car drive a lot more entertaining than if he’s not there.”
Brian’s personality makes it easy for him to neglect himself while working hard to help others. “He’s very enthusiastic and supportive of his students and his customers, and I have to say I’m proud of how he’s turned out as a person and as a trainer, because he really cares about his clients,” Emil said. “He wants to work hard and be the best he can for them, and he gives them good results. I think he’s a very good rider himself — he tends to put his own career on the back burner for his kids, which I think is very honorable. I try to tell him to make sure he has enough time for himself. He is an excellent hunter rider, he’s got a great eye and a great feel.”
Following Emil’s urging, Brian is starting to put some focus back on his own riding career. “I started the grand prix, but I had a little bit of bad luck with the horses I had at the time. But now the situation is different and I’ve decided that I’m going to put the extra time in to really get into the grand prix. I wasn’t putting in the time I needed to; I was putting it into my students, and that took a little bit of a toll on my riding. But now I’m trying to find a way to do both — to see myself in the grand prix ring along with teaching my students and giving them the time they need.”
Judging by his track record, Brian is sure to accomplish his new goals, especially as he follows his personal motto: “Work hard and always be yourself.” And you can be sure that means he’ll keep spreading smiles all along his way.
“I like to make people laugh,” Brian said. “Laughter has a way of bringing people together. Laughter reminds me that no matter how good or bad the day was, you need to enjoy the ride and enjoy what you do. As much as I want my students to be serious and focused, I want them to enjoy what they’re doing because to be truly great at what you do, you need to enjoy it.”
Photos by Allen MacMillan, MacMillan Photography