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Horse Handlers:

LIFE IN THE

By Patti Schofler

A SPORT HORSE HANDLER, whether at a show, inspection or exhibition, constantly strives for that ‘magical moment’ as he guides a horse in hand around the arena, often negotiating a large triangle formed from flower pots and jump polls. Together the two lift off and eat up the ground, matching stride for stride— the horse seeming to float, to collect and extend on his own, all in perfect rhythm. The handler is as discreet as possible so that all attention focuses on the horse looking his best. Even the whip handler keeps a low profile while urging the horse forward so that there’s no disturbance of the horse’s rhythm and balance.

Bruce Griffin presents the yearling filly Dazzle

at Dressage at Devon’s breed show.

Photo © SusanJStickle.com

FAST LANE

S

port horse handlers have become a notable and important part of the sport horse community and describe their job as a profession that has been around long enough now to command recognition. Southern Californian Nick Phillips refers to Virginian Bruce Griffin as his mentor; Bruce warmly refers to Willie Arts of DG Bar

Ranch in California and Bob Orton of Buck Branch Farm in Virginia as the “godfathers of us all.” Respected handler Michael Bragdell of Hilltop Farm in Maryland was trained by his father in Sweden and by veteran sport horse breeder and trainer Scott Hassler in the U.S. As respected all around horsemen, each handler has many accomplishments both next to a horse and in the saddle. Some handlers are in great demand with hectic schedules. For

instance there are days when the handler runs with 60 horses over a three-day show in Pennsylvania, catches a flight to Chicago, takes the night off, flies to Canada to show horses, catches another plane to the West Coast to show horses. All in all, in two weeks he shows 364 horses and takes 20 air flights. To add to this, take into account that the two weeks in question are shortly after 9/11. Imagine airport security’s bewilderment at opening a suitcase filled with whips and chains and white pants!

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