Camden Road Trip: Meeting Brunello

Published 5:06 pm Monday, October 5, 2015

Jack, Janet and Liza with the banner presented to them by Libbie Johnson. (Judy Heinrich photo.)

Jack, Janet and Liza with the banner presented to them by Libbie Johnson. (Judy Heinrich photo.)

By Judy Heinrich
Life in Our Foothills October 2015

It’s easy to keep yourself occupied with horse activities right in our area but sometimes it’s good to see what’s happening in other “horse country,” too. Such was the case with a recent trip to Camden, S.C., organized by Tryonite Libbie Johnson, author and founder of and Tryon Horse Country Farm Tours, as well as the weekly e-newsletter “This Week in Tryon Horse Country,” the Foothills (now Tryon) Equine Directory, and such business promotions as “Our Horses Mean Business” and “Boots & Breeches Always Welcome.” Libbie knows all things horse about our area and has her fingers in equine pies across the state, region and country, so she’s the perfect person to put together an out-of-town horse agenda.

The Camden trip was for a small delegation of locals involved in the horse industry here: a breeder/owner, a trainer, representatives of Tryon Riding & Hunt Club and Tryon International Equestrian Center; and myself. It was a great trip and I hope you’ll enjoy this recap. You’ll meet a one-of-a-kind champion, find a possible source for a new horse, and – I hope – take part in selecting the next Breyer Horse model. (intro = 192 words)

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Camden Stop 1: Meeting Brunello

Over my long career in marketing/public relations and now journalism, I have met and talked with many very well known people from the show business, political and corporate worlds. I’ve even interviewed George Morris twice (very nice, not as scary as you might think – but then again he wasn’t watching me ride.)

I found all of my brushes with fame enjoyable but I don’t remember ever being as excited to meet any of those people as I was to meet Brunello, a Chestnut Hanoverian gelding who, at the age of 17, has just won his third consecutive “United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) International Hunter Derby Championship” with rider and co-owner Liza Boyd. No one else – horse or rider – has ever “re-peated,” let alone three-peated. (If you want to see Hunter Derby perfection, you can find their 2015 classic and handy rounds on YouTube, as well as a tribute set to music combining both.)

Brunello is co-owned by Landrum resident and longtime breeder of Thoroughbred racehorses, Janet Peterson. That local connection gave me the chance to write about him when he won his first Championship in 2013. I was taken by the tales not only of his talent but of his somewhat quirky personality: bigger and bolder than most hunters; would rather school in a field than a ring; loves people, hates other horses; and his stall is padded, mostly for their protection. (He’s fine in the barn aisle and in schooling rings but likes a little alone time in his own domain.) Despite those quirks he’s uniformly described by admirers and competitors as a “professional show horse” that truly wants to win and always brings his A-game when it counts.

Brunello has been teamed with Liza Boyd since being imported from Belgium by her father and brother, Jack and Hardin Towell, in 2007. He was purchased by a student of the Towells, Caroline Clark Morrison, who rode him in Amateur/Owner 35+, once winning Reserve Champion at Harrisburg, one of the East Coast’s biggest shows.

Liza herself competed Brunello in regular Working Hunters at the time, after basically snatching him out from under Grand Prix Jumper rider Hardin, who thought he had first dibs. Then in 2010 Morrison decided to sell Brunello so she could concentrate on her family. Not wanting to lose the horse they know as “Ike,” the Towells set out to find another investor. They were lucky enough to know Janet Peterson because both Hardin and Liza rode horses for her.

As Janet has described the opportunity, she wasn’t looking for another horse. “But I knew he was being very seriously considered by wealthy show horse owners in Virginia and I just felt it would be a shame to let him get away from the Carolinas.”

Ike has since repaid everyone involved for ensuring him a lifelong home rather than the sometimes revolving-door life of an aging show horse.

Our group arrived at Finally Farm, an immaculate and efficient but very comfortable place that Jack and Lisa Towell and their family have called home for nearly 30 years. Our first stop was the main barn’s office, which was awash with plaques, trophies, ribbons and photos from past and present. After we’d had a chance to oooh and ahhh, the Towells presented Janet (or “Miz P” as they call her), with a signed and framed commemorative poster from the Championship with a hand-written message of thanks from Liza and Ike.

Then Libbie presented the three owners with a custom “America Loves Brunello” banner. (It which went on display in the Finally Farm stabling area at the Aiken Fall Festival the next week, to the reported delight of show-goers).

Then the moment we’d been waiting for – meeting Ike. We enjoyed seeing him in his padded stall and he, being far from stand-offish, enjoyed many carrots and peppermints. Then he accompanied us outside for more admiration, Q&A, and photos. I was also happy to meet and talk a little with Ike’s longtime groom Alberto Ramirez. Liza often introduces Alberto as Ike’s best friend and kids the pair as being so good together because they’re “just a couple of grumpy guys.”

When Ike returned to his own inner sanctum, our group toured the rest of the barns, hearing about the other horses in training and ending with the show ponies. Forget Disneyland, Finally Farm would be the “Happiest Place on Earth” for any horse-crazy little girl.

TR&HC treated us to lunch under the farm’s shaded gazebo, with more horse stories and questions for Liza, Jack and Lisa. All of the Towells know Tryon well, as Liza and Hardin rode at Harmon Field as kids, then at FENCE and most recently at Tryon International Equestrian Center. Ike has even competed at TIEC but in a jumper class, which Liza has him do those occasionally to keep him jumping fit.

Then basking in the glow of good food and greatness, we were off to our next stop on the Camden trip – the Wateree Correctional Facility.

Help Make Brunello the Next Breyer Horse!

Tryon Riding & Hunt Club has started a campaign to convince Breyer Animal Creations© to make Brunello their next Breyer Model Horse (after American Pharoah). Breyer considers the horse’s public appeal as well as its achievements, so your support counts. Go to and then “Brunello Campaign To Become a Breyer Horse.” It’s getting a great response so please add your voice and tell your friends.