By Kim MacMillan
The home page of Jacqueline Brooks’ website greets you with a quote by Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Meeting her for the first time, you can see why Walt’s words of wisdom appeal to her. Her infectious smile makes her approachable and her strong work ethic and optimism easily comes through as she speaks with you.
The two-time Canadian Olympic dressage team member (Hong Kong 2008 with Gran Gesto and London 2012 with D-Niro) started riding seriously much later than most top-level competitors. After finishing a degree in Humanities from the University of Western Ontario in 1990, Jacquie lucked into a job grooming the Trakehner stallion Kronjuwel for Canadian dressage rider Ashley Holzer at the 1991 Pan American Games in Cuba. During that time, at age 22, she began riding dressage. Ashley has been her coach and friend, ever since. Jacquie says that the experience was “a determining factor” for her in choosing an equestrian career.
“It is an interesting story about how we met. My best friend since we were ten was grooming for Ashley and was supposed to go to the Pan Am Games with her. But, my friend ended up getting a full-time job in downtown Toronto and I got a call from her asking if I would fill in as Ashley’s groom. So, I met Ashley as the ‘sub’ groom. She asked me if I knew what I was doing and I said, ‘Absolutely, I’m perfect for this job.’ But, I really had no idea – I learned on the job like crazy. I was asking people, ‘How do you braid? What’s this brush for? How do you muck out?’ I was staring at other grooms watching what they were doing and then doing it! Honestly, that was ‘seat of my pants’ grooming. Then she ended up moving to New York City and I still travel down to train with her there. I also train with her the entire three months we are in Florida,” Jacquie explains.
In 2003, Jacquie and Gran Gesto, a1996 Oldenburg gelding by Grannox, owned by Brinc Ltd. and Anne Welch, represented Canada on the silver medal team at the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. They were also the second reserve pair for Canada for the 2004 Athens Olympics, were members of the Canadian team at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, and competed in the World Cup Dressage Finals in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2007. Also in 2006, at the prestigious Dressage at Devon show in Pennsylvania, it was no surprise that Jacquie was awarded the inaugural John Perry Memorial Award for outstanding sportsmanship.
After the London Games last year, Jacquie and her D-Niro, a1999 Swedish Warmblood gelding by D-Day, out of Alitalia by Napoleon 625, won the Grand Prix Freestyle at the Dressage at Devon CDI-W show in September with a 74.31 percent. This winter on the Florida circuit they have continued to take top ribbons in tough competition, often competing against many of their fellow Olympians.
Jacquie, 46, owns and operates Brookhaven Dressage, a training and lesson facility in Mount Albert, Ontario, which is in Cedar Valley. Jacquie’s parents, Eric and Mary Brooks, live in the farmhouse on the property and are a large part of her support team helping her to purchase horses and cheering her on. Jacquie’s brother James is a software developer, and although he is not a horse person, he and his wife Lara and their three boys are also some of Jacquie’s biggest fans. Jacquie’s constant companion, a Labradoodle named Tucker, and a number of “spoiled” barn cats round out the Brookhaven crew. She still has her first horse, Finnegan, an Oldenburg gelding who is now 25 years old. Finnegan is still occasionally ridden in lessons as a schoolmaster for riders needing to “feel” what is like to do piaffe or passage.
How did you get started in your riding career?
I always wanted to do horses, but I lived in the city in Toronto and there were no horses available in the city. So, I begged to go to summer camp and was allowed to go. Then, when I was 17 and could drive, I was allowed to take a weekly lesson. But, I was not allowed to have a horse until I graduated from university.
What traits do you look for in a horse?
I don’t love a really spooky horse. D-Niro is energetic and he’s forward, but he is solid. He has a solid brain. I love to buy the brain.
What is your philosophy on riding?
I will not cross that line with my horses, even if it means losing. I don’t kick them… if they are piaffing a little quiet, they can go ahead and piaffe a little bit quiet; they are still piaffing. Maybe I’m not competitive enough, but it’s who I am. It’s how I like to live my days with my horses. I like them to like me at the end of the day.
If you could interview anyone, who would it be?
My interview would either be Ellen [DeGeneres] or Oprah [Winfrey], because they are both very successful women. They’ve taken something that they are good at and they’ve allowed a tremendous number of people to enjoy it with them.
What’s the best advice you have been given?
I don’t know how this thought got in my head and I can’t tell you who would be responsible for it, but the last thing I say to myself when I hear the whistle and they open the gate is, ‘Don’t ask him to be more than he is.’
What is your idea of happiness?
When I go in and I know it’s a real partnership and that nothing is forced. I had it at Devon and at the Olympics. Those are the ones that you take back home and you say, ‘OK, everything is headed in the right direction’. They don’t come very often, but often enough maybe.
About the Writer: A graduate of Purdue University with degrees in Agriculture Journalism and Animal Science, Kim MacMillan has been writing about horses and equestrian competition, science, agriculture, history and travel for over 30 years. Also an accomplished photographer, she and her husband Allen own MacMillan Photography & Media Services. They live on an 84-acre farm in Northeastern Indiana where they raise Warmblood horses and sport ponies.