By Ruby Tevis
Portraits by Melissa Fuller
Brett Ingram has made a lifelong commitment to his equestrian education. From catch riding as a teenager to training carriage tour horses in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, then across the world to the Westphalian Riding School to earn his German trainer certification, Brett’s desire to learn has never faded.
In 2021, Brett was awarded a grant from The Dressage Foundation’s Team Tate Mentorship & Leadership Fund to pursue business, leadership or personal coaching education, and to work with a mentor to improve equestrian skills. With the grant, Brett has chosen to study the art of long lining, a skill he was first introduced to when he was in high school while working at Classic Carriage, a carriage tour company in Charleston.
“I grew up not having horses. My parents are not horse people at all!” Brett said. “My uncle had horses, so every time we went to visit, we were able to go ride the horses. That’s when my love for horses first started.”
After some time convincing his parents, Brett started taking riding lessons, focusing on hunter-jumpers. Eventually, Brett started catch riding for different farms in the Charleston area. “I rode whatever people would let me ride,” he said.
While he’d always enjoyed riding, Brett became fascinated by ground work while working under a Mennonite trainer at Classic Carriage. “They had black Percherons, and the trainer taught me how to drive them, pull sleds and hook up teams of four and six horses to a wagon,” Brett said. “It was a great learning experience, and it was a fantastic environment to be part of. The trainer was so charismatic, and he really wanted the horses to learn. This inspired me toward the training path that I’m on today.”
Adventures in Germany
After his time at Classic Carriage, Brett branched out to pursue training professionally in dressage and eventing. “I was working in Savannah, Georgia, and we had Tanya Münch come from Germany for a clinic,” Brett said. “I told her if she ever needed a working student to give me a call. Well, later that year, she called me and said her working student was going off to college, and asked if I was interested.”
In January of 2005, Brett boarded a plane to Hamburg to work for Tanya. “I worked for Tanya for about six months, mostly teaching lessons in her riding school,” Brett said. “I wanted to focus more on my personal training and how to bring horses along, so I transitioned to working for Grand Prix dressage and show jumping rider Arndt Hönke.”
Under Arndt, Brett started from the bottom as a groom, getting horses ready and cooling them out. “I worked my way up and started teaching lessons and having my own horses to ride and train,” Brett said. “Back home, I’d competed to Second Level, but I had trouble getting horses past that point. When the opportunity to go to Germany came up, I knew I had to take it. I needed more lessons and more opportunities to learn. Learning the German training system really redefined the way I approached riding and teaching. It was the first time I truly felt the horses’ movements and understood the entire training scale.”
While at Arndt’s barn, Brett had access to lessons on upper-level horses, and was able to compete several young horses and attend Keurings with them. “I had the opportunity to attend the Westphalian Riding School, where I earned my riding medals. I also took the trainer certification program, similar to the Bereiter,” Brett said.
“We were at the school for three weeks. We’d ride dressage in the morning, do our classwork, then ride our jumping horses. The days were mentally and physically draining, but it was an invaluable experience.” Brett said. “At the end of the three weeks we had a written exam, an oral exam, and were judged on our riding and teaching by three judges.”
Business Back Home
Having received his certification, Brett returned to the United States in late 2009 to build his own training business in Waxhaw, North Carolina. “When I came back from Germany, the hardest part was getting reestablished. Because I was in Germany for so long, I didn’t have a W-2, I didn’t have anything, so trying to get an apartment or find a place to live without anything on paper for the last five years was challenging,” Brett said. “I didn’t have many options, so I moved back in with my parents at 29 years old.”
Brett spent time freelancing, traveling from barn to barn to ride and teach, building his business. “In this area, most people have private farms of five to 20 acres, and they keep their horses at home,” he said. “I went property to property to ride and teach lessons. I still do a lot of that today.” While he still freelances, Brett keeps his personal horses at a client’s farm, so he has a bit more of an established “home base” than he did in his earlier years. “I train her horses and my wife and I help out at the barn,” he said.
“I met my wife, Melissa, before I left for Germany, at one of the farms we were both working at,” Brett said. “She had just graduated from Clemson University with an equine business degree when I got back from Germany. She called and asked if I needed help, and the rest is history! We now have two beautiful daughters.”
Fatherhood has been quite an adventure for Brett, but it’s one he wouldn’t trade for the world. “It can be a rollercoaster, but we’re making it work, and my clients understand—most of them have children of their own,” Brett said. “My oldest daughter, Ellie, loves gymnastics and swimming, but my youngest, Emma, is all about horses. She wants to be at the barn all the time.”
With his daughter Emma showing the same fierce passion for horses as her parents, Brett can’t help but wonder if she will follow in his footsteps to become a trainer. “This life can be really challenging and that’s a little scary for me as her dad,” he said. “At the same time, it’s so nice to see that she really wants to be part of what I’m doing. We just got her a little pony, Matilda, who tolerates all of her shenanigans and trick riding attempts,” Brett laughed.
Special Horses and Goals
One aspect of training in Germany that Brett longed for again upon moving back home was working with stallions. “I have a huge variation in the horses I work with day to day. Most of them are warmbloods or warmblood crosses, but two of my current favorites are my Friesian stallions. One is training at Prix St. Georges, while the other is young and still learning the basics of dressage. Their personalities are so unique, and they have such a great work ethic. They’ve both been so much fun to work with.”
In addition to the Friesian stallions, Brett also has an Oldenburg mare and a Trakehner gelding he is campaigning at Fourth Level, with plans of moving up to Prix St. Georges in 2023, as well as many Adult Amateur students schooling at lower levels. Brett takes pride in working with horses and riders at all levels, and loves seeing the “lightbulb” moments that come with training.
Maybe above all, he is excited about a coming-4-year-old he has in training, Sugarfoot—an Anglo Arabian. “She has so much raw talent. She’s a bit of a boss mare, and she got a late start with daily handling and ground work, so we’re really going slow and focusing on building her confidence and trust. She’s come such a long way and I’m so excited to see how she develops. Based on her athleticism and outgoing personality, I really hope she’ll enjoy jumping and maybe take to the eventing world,” Brett said.
When Brett looks to the future, he’s excited about getting back into the show ring at the FEI levels, and learning more about long lining. “I’m so pleased to have the horses I have in training, and having Richard Malmgren as my mentor, I feel like I’m bettering myself as a trainer and rider. Long lining is such a fine art, and it really helps the horses become accountable for themselves and allows them to find their own balance without anyone interfering. It’s really cool to see the long lining skills transfer to under saddle,” Brett said. “I’m also excited to pursue the leadership and business programs that The Dressage Foundation’s grant has made possible for me.”
Over the next few years, Brett hopes to spend more time training in Florida to immerse himself in top-quality training and riding. “Last year I went down to Wellington to work with Richard and watch the shows, but I didn’t take a horse,” Brett said. This winter, he plans to take the Friesian stallions to train with Jeremy Beale. This will be his third season in Ocala with Jeremy. “It’s a bit overwhelming, logistically, thinking about balancing the extra time traveling and still being there for my family,” he said. “It’s exciting and a little scary, but I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.”
Thanks to Laura Cassioppo for the use of her Equus Grove Farm and horse Hilfiger for the photo shoot.
For more information, visit ingramequinetraining.com
Photos by Melissa Fuller, msfullerphotography.com