A propitious find played a huge role in Trout Walk Farm’s Wendy O’Brien’s success in 2012. The Windsor-based combined driver was recognized on Jan. 18 at the United States Equestrian Federation’s Horse of the Year Awards banquet in Louisville, Ky. O’Brien and her horses Braakmoor Conan and Braakmoor Clowny Clark were honored as the USEF’s National Combined Driving champions, Braakmoor Conan as National Champion Pair Pony and Braakmoor Clowny Clark as national Reserve Champion Pony Pair.

The opportunity to win such a prestigious award left an indelible impression on the horseman.

“For me, to win these awards as a relatively new driver and a pretty old one, it means the world,” said O’Brien. “A lot of hard work has gone into getting me here with these amazing ponies and an amazing support team has played a huge part, so receiving a Horse of the Year Award is huge.”

Braakmoor Clark’s story is one of courage and character, having faced the adversity and challenges associated with being born blind in his right eye, but that has done nothing to detract from the gelding’s intrepid spirit. Braakmoor Clark competes in all three combined driving phases, dressage, marathon and cones, and is on the left when O’Brien is competing in CDEs. Braakmoor Conan and Braakmoor Clowny Clark are full brothers. The U.S. combined driving coach Michael Freund found the pair in Germany. Braakmoor Conan does the marathon with O’Brien’s spare pony.

“I’m very lucky to be driving this pair of ponies,” said O’Brien. “Michael found them exactly one year ago, and they are a true pair in every sense, their work ethic and movement. We follow a program set up by Freund, mostly single work to keep them soft and flexible. They are extremely strong so this is very important, so when they are in a pair they are more manageable.”

The pair possess a number of strong attributes and have been able to excel in all three CDE phases, said O’Brien.

“They score well in dressage, amazing extensions and because they move so well as a pair each movement is pretty impressive,” said O’Brien. “As for marathon, it is up to me, as the driver, to keep them fast and in short turns. They can do it, I just need to keep them there. And in cones, because they are so forward they just need to be piloted. Again, it’s up to me; point and shoot.”

O’Brien has worked hard to improve her driving, and has been working with a number of horsemen, and attributes much of her success to those around her.

“Michael Freund trains me from afar, and here in Aiken I work with Taz Lester from Katydid,” said O’Brien. “But, without my incredible team of Amy and Andy Cross I would be lost, so as you see it is a big team effort to get me where I am and to keep me there. I also work with a personal trainer here in Aiken, Lori Comshaw, who keeps my whole being strong so I can drive better. It is a physical sport and mental as well as any sport at this level.”

Aiken has been ideal for O’Brien for a number of reasons, having relocated from New York, finding the climate far more conducive for training horses, the locale advantageous because of its proximity to other states where there are major competitions and clinics, and the copious number of top drivers extremely beneficial to her program.

“The icing on the cake is the very active driving community in Aiken,” said O’Brien.

The sport takes a great amount of commitment on the part of both the human and equine athletes, and O’Brien’s emphasis on training, staying focused and directing her energies toward competing at the upper levels has enabled her to realize a number of her objectives.

In the future, when O’Brien isn’t focused on training, she’ll start holding small training events and sessions at Trout Walk Farm, especially for the junior drivers, she said.