Brain Gjetley, Trainer
By Pam Gleason, Photography By Gary Knoll
Freshly back from Germany, 25-year-old Brian Gjetley is starting his own horse training business at his family's stable in Hatchaway Farms in Aiken. Brian spent the past two years working with Helena Stormanns, an internationally known horsewoman, at her training and sales barn in Eschwetler. Now that he is home, Brian hopes to bring his knowledge, experience, and a bit of international flair to his own business, which centers around training and selling horses.
Brian came to Aiken with his family when he was a teenager. He is originally from Orange County, California, where he grew with horses in his back yard. His mother, Holly, is a horsewoman, and Brian says that he inherited his passion from her.
"From a young age I always loved horses," he says. "I love their different characters. Every horse you get on is different, and they all have different personalities. I like learning what they like, and having them learn what I like and creating a bond with them."
Brian was showing horses by the time he was 9. When he was 11, his parents bought him a smallish grey Oldenburg gelding. This horse, Pik's Pistelero, was just 4 years old, but he had a good mind and he and Brian seemed to click. Brian started out showing Pistel in short stirrup classes. As Brian matured and improved, so did his horse, and the two moved up the ranks together. With coaching help from Jim Hagman and Dan Silverstone of Elvenstar in Moorpark, Brian and Pistel progressed to the Level 4 jumpers and the equitation medal classes. After they moved to Aiken, Brian and Pistel competed in Junior/Amateur Owners jumpers, a few smaller Grand Prixes and the 6-bar class. It was a perfect case of a young rider and horse growing into one another.
After graduating from high school, Brian took some classes at the University of South Carolina Aiken. He knew he wanted to pursue an equestrian career, however, and so began working for Daniel Geitnet, one of Aiken's top jumper riders and trainers.
"Working for Daniel was a great experience," he says. "He taught me a lot about how to train young horses. He put me on everything, and that's really where I developed the knowledge and experience to get on any young horse and be able to train him how to do his job. Daniel has a way of teaching the horse how to do something rather than making him do it. The way he trains, the horse almost teaches itself."
After working for Daniel for about a year and a half, Brain decided that he wanted to go ride in Europe to get exposure to the highest levels of the jumper world. He had initially considered going to work at Paul Schockemohle's immense training and sales barn in Muhlen, Germany. But then he talked to a friend who was working at Helena Stormann's barn. She mentioned that she was planning to leave, and she knew they would be looking for someone to replace her. Brian interviewed at both places, and felt most comfortable with Helena. It was a smaller facility, with about 30 horses at a time, as compared to the Schockemohle facility where there are over 300. It seemed to offer a more personalized experience.
"It was a place where I thought I would be able to get a lot of riding and be able to get on all kinds of horses," says Brian. "I think I made the right decision. Helena is there and she's watching you when you ride and helping you. There were only three or four of us working there and everyone does everything. So we'd get up, feed the horses, clean the stalls and then we'd start to ride. I rode about six or seven horses each day."
Brian says one of the things he gained from his time in Germany is that he really cleaned up his riding. "The Germans are very big on having a clean ride and riders are very smooth. You don't see them making a lot of extra moves. They trained me and worked very hard with me to make my riding smooth and seamless."
It was an active sales barn, and turnover was fairly rapid. "In three months, you would have a completely different set of horses," Brian continues. "We had horses of all levels, from 4 year olds all the way up to Grand Prix horses to be sold for the five star level."
Brian also had a chance to show, taking some 4- and 5-year olds to their different rules. For instance, in order to enter a horse show, competitors need to have a showing license. You would normally get this by riding in a school and passing horsemanship tests. Brian got his by presenting his American horse show records. Back in Aiken, Brian has a few young horses he is bringing along, including a 3-year-old that he is taking to DiAnn Langer's youn horse training school in Johnston, and a 6-year-old he is hoping to show in the young horse classes later this year. His main business focus right now in sales.
"I really enjoy sales," he says. "I learned from some of the best in the business, so now I would like to get some new sales horses that I can work with for a bit and then sell. I'd also like to do some training, bring along horses that need work, or help people with horses they are having trouble with. I have had a lot of experience with young and difficult horses and I like horses that might need a little extra help."
In addition to a wealth fo knowledge and invaluable experience, Brian also brought back Zuzana Romanova, his girlfirend, who is an experienced international horse show groom. Zuzama, who is from Slovakia, was the groom for Denis Lynch, who has ridden for the Irish international team. Denis, who started his career working for Helena Stormanns, was back training at her facility, which is where Brian met Zuzana.
Zuzana has traveled all over Europe on the international jumper circuit, and she has years of experience caring for and turning out showjumpers.
"She knows all the tricks to make a horse look and feel his best," says Brian. "So I think one thing we can offer this area is a sales barn and a training barn with a 5-star level of care."
Brian, like many horse people in the hunter jumper world, is excited to see Aiken becoming known for young horses. With several stables now focusing on hunter/jumper prospects, and with DiAnn Langer conducting young horse clinics here, Aiken is showing that it has the potential to become the premier place where green horses can become made horses. It could also become known as a place where riders of all levels can find good horses to buy.
"Now, when people are looking for made horses, a lot of times they go to Europe because they can find a lot of horses to try there. They work harder at training the young horses over there. In a young horse class here, you might find ten horses. In Europe in almost any show, you will find at least 100 horses in those classes. We have just as good horses here. What we don’t have is a place where you can find lots of horses to try in one area. I think Aiken could become a place like that. It’s centrally located, and there are so many places you can give horses experience at shows."
Looking to the future, Brian hopes to develop his business in training and sales. He is also planning to compete, and has lofty goals. His hero and his inspiration is Richard Spooner, an international showjumping rider who, like Brian, comes from Orange County and worked his way up the ranks.
"I enjoy bringing the horses along, working with the young horses" he says. "
But I also like showing. I definitely look forward to bringing along horses to the Grand Prix level. My long-term goal is to be international, to try to qualify for the World Cup, to jump the bigger jumps. I love to compete."
This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.