Brett Parbery, from Cowboy to Elite Dressage Rider

11 years ago ilse Comments Off on Brett Parbery, from Cowboy to Elite Dressage Rider
Brett Parbery and Victory Salute at Aachen CHIO, 2010 © Ilse Schwarz/
Brett Parbery and Victory Salute at Aachen CHIO, 2010 © Ilse Schwarz/


One of the sensations of the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky was Australian Brett Parbery and Victory Salute, bred Down Under and still owned by Carolyn Lieutenant. They performed a personal best in the Grand Prix Special which had friends and strangers congratulating me on the ride of my countryman.

Ultimately they finished in 9th place in the Freestyle, beating all but one of the German team. Some may not know that Brett was a professional rider on the rodeo circuit and even rode “broncs” at Calgary before switching to dressage. This alone makes him unique. I had the chance to interview Brett on the morning of the freestyle competition in Lexington.

It turns out that Brett and I grew up in the same area of country New South Wales, Australia and likely even competed against each other in our Pony Club years. Despite this, we actually met for the first time at CHIO Aachen, 2010 where Parbery again exceeded international expectations and proved that his 10th place finish at the 2010 World Cup in Den Bosch was no accident. He grew up a typical Australian boy, chasing cattle in a sport we call camp drafting, attending pony club competitions and playing polocrosse.

Brett’s father still trains cutting horses in the tiny town of Dorrigo, NSW and has always been a “real fanatic about training horses.” He calls his father a real horseman who is a thinker and listener and trains on dressage principles.

So in the “back of my mind, there has always been a love for dressage.” However, Brett got to the age where it was usual for guys to choose to go either more in the camp drafting/showjumping arena or the rodeo. “Given my nature, I don’t do anything half-hearted so I went  full-on into rodeo.” he said.

Brett is the only international level dressage rider who has made the switch to dressage from the competitive rodeo circuit. I had to ask, “why dressage and not something with at least some adrenaline rush like eventing or showjumping?” He gave a couple of reasons.

He had been living and riding in the rodeo circuit in North America, around Montana and into Canada and was about 26 years old when he started to feel the “fire going out of his belly.”

Brett was looking for his next step with horses, logically it was going to be either reining or cutting, but either way to ride for fun while he worked. He is trained as a property valuer/appraiser. Living around a big city, Sydney, he had a hard time getting cattle to train the cutting horses.

“I had had such a good upbringing with my riding and Pony Club and going to Royal shows doing hacking (a version of equitation) and found it quite easy to have a good position,” he said

Brett finishes his Grand Prix Kur one handed at CHIO Aachen 2010 © Ilse Schwarz/
Brett finishes his Grand Prix Kur one handed at CHIO Aachen 2010 © Ilse Schwarz/

“I got asked to give a few riding lessons and take the buck out of some dressage horses and found myself training a little dressage. In 1998, I got the ride on a Prix St Georges/Intermediare I mare, whose owner (Vicki Brydon) had hurt her back and couldn’t ride. She said, ‘Look, there’s the horse. I’ll train you six days a week, have as many lessons on her as you want.’ This really got me started.

“In 1999 I did my first dressage test, which was a  Prix St Georges and during that year I met Chris and Jeanette Haazen (who in 2010 sold their Nartan to Jane Forbes Clark for Katherine Bateson to campaign successfully for a place on the American dressage team at WEG). They had come out for the Sydney CDI and Chris gave me some lessons on a couple of horses. I talked to them about going to Europe and in 2000  went to Europe and stayed until the end of 2002.”

Brett bounced around in different jobs, never stopped learning and “tried to put a few things together.” He returned to Australia and started Parbery Performance Horses, setting aside his property assessing career.

How did Brett get the ride on Victory Salute?

This happened during the time that Ulla Salzgeber of Germany was the Australian team coach.

In her clinics in Australia, part of her idea was to get the right riders on the right horses. Brett had made the  squad to train with her on a horse called Challenger Archilles that he had taken from elementary (2nd level) to small tour. Ulla originally thought to match Salute with Mathew Dowsley (he represented Australia at the WEG in Aachen on the mare Cinderella), but Mathew already had a very good horse in Cinderella and when he decided to travel to Europe with the mare, Victory Salute’s owner, Carolyn Lieutenant, found herself without a rider. She contacted Brett who was working with Ulla in Europe. He returned to Australia and took over the ride in 2006. Victory Salute had done a couple of St. Georges tests and was playing with parts of the Grand Prix at home.

Brett Parbery and Victory Salute finish in 9th place in the freestyle at the WEG, Lexington ©Ken Braddick/
Brett Parbery and Victory Salute finish in 9th place in the freestyle at the WEG in Kentucky. © Ken Braddick/

The 2011/2012 plans for Brett involve a lot of travel between Australia and Europe. He has a stallion, Lord of Loxley, in training with Edward Gal. “He is a stallion and  a little spooky. The goal is to have him CDI ready for the end of next year.”

“Salute will have a relatively easy year, he is only 14 years old but he is a big horse on relatively small legs and then we will build him toward London, 2012.”

I then had to ask a couple of questions that all dressage riders, on the edge of making the commitment to start traveling to Europe, want to know the answers to:

How do you juggle back and forth to Europe and Australia? and how on earth can you make it financially possible? Sadly, and not surprisingly, there is no easy answer.

“Well that’s the question,” he said, “thankfully the competition routine won’t be too hectic. I work ridiculous hours when I at home. I am rarely am home before 11 p.m. I’ll drive all night to go and teach at clinics and just work and work to get some money behind us. Adding the extra trips to Europe is going to be hard but that’s the sacrifice you have to make. In my preparations for WEG, I have had incredible support from the Australian Equestrian Federation, their support for me has been “unreal”

How did you choose to work with Edward Gal as prior to the Beijing Olympics you were based with Hubertus Schmidt?

Edward Gal, surrounded by Australians, watches Brett Parbery warm-up ©Ken Braddick/
Edward Gal, surrounded by Australians, watches Brett Parbery competing at WEG. ©Ken Braddick/

“There were a few factors in the decision this time,” he said. “One was the language barrier. It is hard to be away from home and be with an unfamiliar language. I love Germany, absolutely love the place. But it’s the little things, you turn the television on, you go to a restaurant, whatever.” (Author’s note: in Germany there are many areas where English is not well spoken, and there really is NO TV in English).

“So it had to be somewhere where my comfort of life was good as I knew I was going to be away for a while and I have many friends in Holland. I approached Sjef Janssen and talked to him about my schedule. I had to go home for two months to be there when my wife, Mel, had our baby.

“Sjef was very up front and told me that he couldn’t guarantee that Anky could ride the horse, and he had injured his knee, so that wasn’t going to work. Nicole Werner, who manages Edward’s barn, had emailed to congratulate me on being selected for the World Cup, and offered their help if I came to Den Bosch. I outlined my plans and schedule for 2010, includung the trip home and she said, ‘Leave it with me, we will make it work.’ And they did. It has just been perfect”

And finally, following perhaps the best ever result for an Australian dressage team, what are your feelings about the state of dressage in Australia at the top level?

Brett: “Yeah, it’s great. But it’s been great for a little while. This hasn’t just happened. We have some talented riders and really good coaches at home and I’m so glad that we could come internationally and put it on the board. Of course, for sure me being with Edward, Hans Peter (Minderhoud) and Nicole has helped.”

Brett Parbery recognises the crowd following a personal best in the Grand Prix Special© Ken Braddick/
Brett Parbery waving to the crowd following a personal best in the Grand Prix Special at WEG. © Ken Braddick/

Brett and the whole Australian team left Lexington the day after the freestyle, in time to settle in at home for a couple of days and then head to Hamilton Island off Australia’s northeast coast with most of the Swedish dressage team for a WEG reunion and a little R &R at the wedding of team mate Lyndal Oatley and Swedish team member Patrick Kittel.