Balmoral is a place where things bloom. It could be the farm itself, with not one but two stunning California locations in Malibu and West Los Angeles, that nurtures both horses and their riders. But more likely it is due to the unsinkable glass-is-half-full attitude of Traci Brooks and the other-worldly connection that her husband, Carleton, has with the horses. Whatever it is, it works, and horses flourish in their attentive care as they have trained horse and rider combinations to countless championships at shows across the country, including the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, Capital Challenge, the National Horse Show, the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, the Washington International Horse Show, USEF Junior Hunter Championship and the Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals, as well as having coached many recipients to the USEF Horse of the Year Award. This dynamic husband and wife team run their successful hunter/jumper/equitation business like a well-oiled machine, relying heavily and equally on horse sense, teamwork and always plenty of fun.
“The process has been about understanding the horse, letting the horse tell you and listening to him.”
— Carleton Brooks, Co-Owner of Balmoral
Traci and Carleton Brooks have a lot going on. They start riders, children and adults alike, and train them up through polished division riders, teach clinics, ride, judge, produce young horses — and don’t forget about the year-round horse showing. They are in the business of educating and are always game to do interviews for articles, podcasts and social media outlets, as well as making time to run their own BalmoralTV that features video training clips and tips. They also make it a priority to give back to the sport that has built their careers, and both are active in the hunter/jumper governance, sitting on several boards and committees for USEF, USHJA and the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association. Carleton is quick to credit “the boss,” Traci, with making the business run smoothly. “Balmoral is special because there is amazing symmetry between Traci and me,” he says. “We trust each other impeccably, both personally and business-wise. And with that trust, you can build a strong foundation.” It takes a village to do the great big things that they accomplish seemingly seamlessly, and the Brooks rely heavily on their “village” — the greater Balmoral team of managers and assistant trainers. Carleton originally founded Uphill Farm, Inc. in 1981, and then established Balmoral Farm, Inc. in 2008 with Traci. Several employees have worked alongside of them since the early days, including Carleton’s right-hand man, David Vega, who has been with him for 27 years. Carleton describes him with sincere affection, “David has been with us through some of our biggest successes and failures. He always has our best interest at heart.” He adds emphatically, “We simply do not have a farm without the people that make it up.” This interwoven and close-knit team extends to their veterinarians, shoers, chiropractors, bookkeepers and accountants. And most importantly, their incredible customers, and the wonderful horses that have brought them to the top of the sport.
“The nutrition here is a whole comprehensive program that involves the horses getting out of their stalls and putting their heads down to graze. We need the result to be happy horses, and nutrition is a big part of that.”
— Traci Brooks, Co-Owner of Balmoral
Balmoral is known for its attention to detail and high standard of horse care, so it is not surprising that nutrition is taken very seriously there. The dietary component of their program is discussed at length amongst Traci, Carleton and the head staff, right down to the water the horses drink. “It starts with fresh water,” says CB. “Do they drink better out of metal or plastic containers? Some like to drink lower, off the ground. We watch them. They are offered a drink on their way out to work and when they’re cooling down.” The horses are all offered Himalayan salt licks to satiate salt needs and stimulate thirst. Traci adds, “The nutrition here is a whole comprehensive program that involves the horses getting out of their stalls and putting their heads down to graze. We need the result to be happy horses, and nutrition is a big part of that. It can be a puzzle for each individual horse as to what makes them thrive. We go off feel with it and watch how the horses develop rather than having it all analyzed.” Utilizing decades of combined experience, knowing their horses inside and out, and adjusting to the needs of the individual horses has resulted in some of the country’s most content — and best looking — equine athletes.
“Grass helps the digestive system as much as anything. We take any opportunity when possible to get the horses out on grass, and at shows, even if it’s for 15 minutes. We dampen a lot of the hay, so it gets a little bit more like grazing,” notes CB. Where they are located in California, pasture turnout is limited, so hay becomes critical — and the quality is key. Each horse receives high-quality Timothy grass hay daily along with alfalfa as needed, particularly while they are competing. The hay takes on new importance when these California horses ship out to compete on the East Coast. “When we ship east, we take our hay with us,” CB says. “That seems to make a large difference in their adjustment when traveling.” A bran and sweet grain blend is used to maintain condition and to mix in supplements.
The late legendary veterinarian Dr. John Steele introduced Platinum Performance® to Traci and Carleton. He was a New York vet but flew out to California four or five times a year to treat the Balmoral horses for over 30 years. “Dr. Steele was the guru of all things ‘horse,’ so if he believed in it, that was good for us. He endorsed the Platinum products, and that’s how we started using them,” recalls CB. The Balmoral horses have relied on Platinum for over 20 years as a part of their detail-oriented feed program. “The level of quality from Platinum is so consistent,” says Traci, “and we can actually see a difference in the horses.”
All of the Balmoral horses are on Platinum Performance® products. They have used Platinum Performance® CJ for years and started using Platinum Performance® GI when it was introduced. Traci says, “We use a lot of the Platinum GI based on the fact that so many performance horses have some stomach issues.” CB supports a consistent feeding program, “It’s an ongoing nutritional situation for a horse; it needs to be consistent. A horse is different than a human. That’s important.”
Carleton Brooks, known throughout the hunter/jumper industry as “CB,” is a horseman of the old school, and he takes immense pride and responsibility in that role. Everything in his life revolves around horses, their care and well-being, and their confidence. He understands them in a way that not just any horse lover does. People are aware of this deep connection and top professionals across the country consistently reach out to him for advice, particularly with difficult horses. CB has a thriving training and sales business, he is a well-respected judge and clinician and sits on several boards in any given year. Currently, he is on the USHJA Working Hunter Group and the USHJA Advisory Committee for the Young Hunters. He has been an ‘R’ judge since 1985 and presided over many of the most prestigious horse shows in the country. On top of that, he is a highly sought-after clinician and flies coast to coast to share his knowledge and experience with others, all while doing the same with his clients and their horses at home. There is also his true passion — bringing along young horses. CB has plenty to fill his days, and, at some point, something has to give.
His career in the irons has produced incredible horses such as Trinity, Vested, Sparring Partner, Penn Square, Center Stage, Corporate Profit and many more. He has earned titles such as Grand Champion Leading Hunter Rider at The National Horse Show, been the four-time winner of the Pacific Horse Shows Association Don Tipton Award, presented to the professional or amateur who wins the most championships in rated divisions for the competition year, and won countless champion ribbons at individual shows and circuits along the way. Suffice to say, he has competed, and won, at the highest, most competitive level. However, in 2015, his personal time in the show ring took a back seat when he retired from competition to focus on all the other parts of the business. This still included plenty of time in the saddle, but he focused more on building confidence in his horses, particularly the young ones, and going at a pace dictated by the individual. “To produce one, sometimes the competing part is the least important. That’s the final product,” he says. “I spend a lot of time building the product.” CB has a soft spot for “do-over” horses that lack confidence or self-esteem. “There are no problem horses,” he says. “Just ones that are unique. When they don’t understand the question, the horses know we’re going to pause and give them a chance to understand, and that resonates through the stables. Some days I’ll get on the horses and try to teach them something, and you can tell they’re a little perplexed and they need some time to figure it out. And that’s ok. If they need time and understanding, then that’s what they get.” Happy, confident horses that understand their job is a hallmark combination of Balmoral horses. Some of them take a little bit longer to figure it out, and the Brooks’ program allows them all the time each horse requires in order to reach their full potential.
Pritchard Hill is the special horse that is credited with beckoning Carleton Brooks off the retirement bench at the 2019 Capital Challenge Horse Show and was most recently awarded the 2020 Trainer’s Choice Award for the Green Conformation Hunter of the Year from the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame.
PHOTOS BY ESI PHOTOGRAPHY
Pritchard Hill is simply irresistible. Like many of the great ones, the incredibly talented gelding required some extra time to develop and truly shine. Fellow professional, Michael Savage, found the horse in Europe as a 4-year-old. Traci and Carleton partnered in ownership, and when Savage left to train on the East Coast, the young horse stayed at Balmoral to continue his training. He lost quite a bit of muscling when he was imported and castrated, which took time to gain back, but Traci and Carleton were in no rush. He was started over jumps and allowed to grow up, showing off and on and allowing his still-developing mind and body to take shape. He spent most of his 6-year-old year playing in the 1.0 meter jumper classes at the horse shows with an assistant trainer. For an entire summer, he did confidence building classes in the big grass fields finding a rhythm, staying relaxed and changing leads — learning how to be a show horse. It took three full years to produce him. It was a long, slow process, but nothing was rushed. “The process has been about understanding the horse, letting the horse tell you and listening to him,” says CB. “He’s really intelligent, so you have to let him learn his lessons and leave him alone until he digests it.”
Known familiarly as “Quinn” around the barn, he is a 2012 Warmblood of unrecorded breeding and named after the best hill in the Napa Valley to grow wine grapes. The Chappellet Vineyard, located on Pritchard Hill in California, has the name trademarked for the perfectly-delicate wine that is grown there. Alexa Chappellet loves sharing the namesake for their grand, natural vineyard with the equally stunning horse. As a rider and horse enthusiast, she has met him in person and follows him ardently on social media. This special horse is credited with beckoning Carleton Brooks off the retirement bench at the 2019 Capital Challenge Horse Show, and he was most recently awarded the 2020 Trainer’s Choice Award for the Green Conformation Hunter of the Year from the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame. He floats around the ring and calls to mind the classic type-y hunters of days gone by. His athleticism, coupled with a quiet, intelligent and willing attitude, is catching and has earned him a following at the rail. People stop to watch him. He looks the part with delicate, almost feminine features, coupled with a dark gleaming coat with auburn points, three matching white ankle socks, a touch of white on his muzzle and a wisp of a star in the middle of his smart face.
In January 2019, the start of Pritchard Hill’s orthodox show career, CB rode him in a class but preferred not to be showing. Fellow professional, John Bragg, offered to step in and ride him instead. “John had watched him go, walked up and said, ‘I’d love to ride that horse; that’s a great horse.’ And I literally handed him the reins and said, ‘Get on him, he’s got another division.’ ” Bragg campaigned Pritchard Hill successfully through May. He went to Devon in 2019 and competed in the Green Conformation Hunters for the experience, knowing that he was still a bit physically and mentally immature. After Devon, he went to the other horse shows but just to hack on the grounds with the goal of preparing for the Indoor Season, which boasts four of the most prestigious horse shows — the Capital Challenge Horse Show in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the Washington International Horse Show in downtown Washington, D.C., and concludes with the National Horse Show in Lexington, Kentucky.
CB recalls, “I took him to one horse show before Capital Challenge and John was way overwhelmed with his own stables, so I said, ‘He’s schooled. He’s ready, this is how he’s going, etc.’ And John said, ‘If you have any clothes here, just show him because I’m going to be rushed.’ ” CB showed him in a pinch because the horse needed the prep for the first big Indoor Show: Capital Challenge. “When we got to Capital Challenge, for whatever reason John asked me to show him in the first class. So, I showed him, and Jimmy Torano was standing on the rail with John, and turned to him and said, “Well, you just lost your ride.’ ” CB marched Pritchard Hill around the division that day after having spent considerable time off from competitive riding. Then, they went on to Harrisburg where it was unclear who was going to continue showing the peaking young horse. “The night before I wasn’t sure if I was just doing the model or should be dressed for the first class. When we got there, I came to find out that John had flown out the night before back to California, so — rider up!” CB rode Pritchard Hill to the 2019 Pennsylvania National Green Conformation Hunter Championship.
Young horses thrive on consistency, and CB had been with the horse every step of the way, hand-holding when necessary and lending him confidence when he needed it, in and out of the tack. He was aware of his quirks and how to prep him for the ring. He knew the horse so well, inside and out, that the showing seemed to be a natural evolution of their relationship. “He’s a really intelligent horse and always tries to do his very best. If you scored a horse on a 1 to 10 everyday scale, he’s an 8. You very seldom find a horse that’s an 8. When he walked into the ring at Harrisburg, he was a 9+; you don’t find a 10,” says CB. “He’s not difficult; he’s a tryer. And he is always game to give it his best crack. I understand him, and, from there, he and I never looked back.”
In 2019, Pritchard Hill was champion more often than not at the various shows he competed in. He was HITS Thermal Circuit Champion, Pennsylvania National Green Conformation Champion, and he received the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame Green Conformation Horse of the Year, Trainer’s Choice Award. CB has been clearly influential to this horse’s success from the get-go, but he says, “It takes the whole team. John is definitely part of Team Pritchard Hill. He wouldn’t have gotten to where he is without John’s six months of showing him. He still comes to the ring and helps, too. So many other trainers have reached out to help as well. It’s amazing how many professionals want a quality horse to do well.” Pritchard Hill is currently competing with CB in the High Performance Conformation division. They were the 2020 Thermal High Performance Conformation Hunter Circuit Champions before the suspension of horse shows due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he and his fellow barn mates are currently enjoying the time off with an ocean view at their home in Malibu. What is the future for such a bright, young star? CB foresees this special horse continuing to represent the professional divisions, as well as becoming an excellent junior/amateur ride. “Physically, he’s a good specimen, and he’s energetic,” says CB. “Right now, he misses the horse shows. He’s trying to hold it together like a mature adult!”
CB takes the common “horse trainer” title and throws it out the window. He thinks outside the box and more often than not tries different approaches that may be a little unorthodox at first glance. And horses adore him for it. “Each horse is an individual. Allowing them the time they need to develop physically and mentally is what we do,” he says. “The horse has to come first. Always.” For his students, he is an educator and a motivator. They leave lessons inspired, eager for more. It is no small feat to have this multi-layered equine Venn diagram and keep everyone happy, but CB has a knack for taking care of everyone. His dedication to the horse and people that love them was recognized in 2019 when he received the great honor of induction into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame.
But despite the accolades and the honors, when the ribbons and sashes are put away with the others, you will find CB in the barn watching the horses, putting in the time to recognize their nuances — what makes them tick. Do they like to eat off the ground? Do they stand in one place? Do they lead with a certain leg when they’re grazing? Each horse is different, which is what makes them so remarkable, and he works with their idiosyncrasies to bring out the potential in each soul. For Carleton Brooks, it is all about the horses. He would have been a gift to any profession that he picked. Thankfully for Pritchard Hill and thousands of others, his media naranja — his soulmate — is the horse. Whether he chose them or they chose him, we will all be forever grateful.
by Emily Smith, MS,