Brittany Halstead combined the best of equestrian worlds, hunter jumpers and Polo when she was nearly killed in a car accident in 2014. She was able to recover with the help of two horses, Dos Equips and Fanta, who were polo ponies. She formed Replay Polo to help retired polo ponies transition into therapeutic riding, intercollegiate horsemanship programs and many other activities.
Halstead stated that retraining horses are a way to improve their mindfulness and help them recover from traumatic brain injuries. You need to take your time, gather your thoughts, and then wait. You will eventually see the light. You can’t make these horses do anything. It is important to take a step back and think differently. It takes patience to be patient with your horse and yourself.
Halstead has ridden hunter jumpers since she was 10 years old. She got her first introduction to Polo through Elaine Schott, a hunter-jumper trainer. Her husband, Trey, is a skilled polo player. Halstead said that her husband needed a groom for Polo, and she asked Halstead. “I did, and I fell in love with horses. Because I was a hunter jumper, I believed that the horse must look flawless before entering the ring. The tail had to be perfectly braided, and the polo wraps had been perfect. It was so much more fun to work with polo ponies. They stand still at the trailer, and they don’t move when you’re moving so fast around them, adding tack after tack. They are so patient and have a wonderful demeanour.
Halstead was captivated by a polo pony she met while grooming for another job.
She recalled, “It was my first job as a polo groomer, and this horse, Dos Equis was just four.” He was my favourite. He was my favourite. He was humble, respectful, and had so much love. He was not used to receiving a lot of treats and was very respectful about it.
Halstead learned from horses in both the hunter-jumper world and the polo worlds, and she found ways to transfer what she had learned to her training.
Halstead stated, “The quick and simple transitions these polo ponies make, and the very acute aids you give them, that is something I have applied for the hunter jumpers.” “Riding polo ponies made it possible for me not to use artificial aids such as the whip or the spur. While some polo players may wear spurs, draw reins, and whips, polo ponies don’t require them. They don’t need any aids, and they are responsive to them without them. Plus, I don’t want to force horses. It takes some time for them to respond to your natural aids. This is very appreciated.
She continued, “I have also applied for the flat work from the hunter jumpers to my polo work like using poles on the ground, doing counter-canter or flying changes, collecting and extending trot.” I’ve also applied for the flat work from hunter jumpers to Polo. But these ponies do it all on their own. They now need to learn with different aids. Every horse requires basic dressage. Polo ponies don’t have that; they just get involved in Polo. The flat work, education of hunters, and dressage are all things I have applied to the ponies.
As Halstead explained, it takes careful training to teach a polo pony how to jump over fences.
She said, “You need to put a pole in front of the jump so that the horse can rock back on his haunches.” The pole forces them to take a step back and then spend time with the fence. Because they are used to being in a rush to charge in Polo, these polo ponies don’t know how to pick the natural distance. They jump. You need to set up gymnastics for them, so you have to keep your horse in line and stay back. They can be very aggressive with them because they use their shoulders when blocking shots, making shots, or trying to ride another pony. When you try to get them to jump, they will charge at it with their shoulder and leave their back side behind. That’s why gymnastics and bounces are so important to teach them to wait, lift their front end, and then push off with their back.
Halstead made a move to Pilar in Argentina in 2014. She had a job offer from Luis Magnasco, Argentina’s international jumper, and she had arranged to stay on Guillermo “Memo” Gracida Jr.’s nearby farm. The future seemed bright. The crash followed.
Halstead was driving in Lobos, Argentina, when a car turned left and struck the tractor truck that Halstead was riding in. Halstead was almost killed in the head-on collision with the car’s driver. After being in a coma for two weeks in an Argentine hospital, she was flown home to Nashville, Tenn., on a life flight.
Horses Give You a Boost on Your Road to Recovery
Halstead stated, “I was talking about horses and my job the whole time I was in the hospital. I thought I’d be back to Argentina in a month.” “I didn’t know how badly I was hurt. My mom took me for a ride on a lesson horse that a friend had rented. It was a month later that I was released from the hospital. I used to say that I felt like I was in outer space while riding. I could walk about half the length of the ring without stopping. It would spin me out.
She continued, “It took me six months to canter again.” “When I was a teacher, I would always say to students, “Eyes up!” Now, I find myself looking down at the horse all the time. I would tell myself to look up and lift my head, but I couldn’t understand why. On a walk, I would also look down at my shoulder. If the left shoulder moved forward, I would squeeze my left leg with my left hand and the right shoulder with my right leg.
“But doing the little things we take for granted really helped get me back to where I’m today.”
Six months after Halstead was discharged from the hospital, a friend of Polo played contacted her. He owned a polo pony that he no longer needed and wanted Halstead to adopt Fanta, a Thoroughbred mare.
She said, “He couldn’t believe that I didn’t have a horse.” “He thought that a horse was just what she needed in her life right now.’ My mom would take me to the barn to ride, and it was almost as if that horse knew I was wrong. She would look at me with her ears as if she were saying, “Okay, now it is time to get into 2-point!” I eventually got to the point where I was jumping her over small cross rails. She was a terrible polo player because she didn’t have a mouth. However, I could tell her she would stop if she said, “Whoa!” and pulled back a little.
Halstead said, “At that time, I couldn’t keep all my ducks in one row.” “Getting my tack on, getting the
I could not take care of Fanta, get her groomed and get the equipment ready for her. It helped that my horse was a golden retriever, and I could do this because it was a service animal. It would have been impossible to do that with a horse who runs all over the field and doesn’t stop in cross-ties. She would even help me to think of what I would do next.
She explained that her balance was “really thrown off” because of the damage to my visual processing centre. Halstead attributes Fanta’s involvement in a vision therapy program and Fanta’s work with her to help her regain her skills in the saddle.