My biggest loss of the year

Willinga Park Theodore

You may have heard a couple of months ago that we lost Theodore, a wonderful horse Terry Snow and I purchased in Europe last year for me to train and campaign, and a horse with which I dared to dream of fantastic things. It’s taken me this time to get to a point at which I can reflect on this loss, and I wanted to share with you my thoughts about setbacks, sadness and what I’ve learned about finding the way forward in times of hardship.

Following the World Equestrian Games in Tryon last year, Terry (Willinga Park) and I found a big brown gelding named Theodore. He was a beautiful, soft horse with a very loving character. He really suited me both in temperament and body type. I felt that with his quality, in the context of the current dressage state of play, he was capable of achieving a top 30 result at the next Olympic Games. His strengths were my weaknesses, and vice versa, and we had a good amount of time to put together everything in time for Tokyo.

What happened to Theodore was out of anyone’s control. He had a disease, nobody knew about it, and his symptoms weren’t obvious at all. He passed away in Sydney after less than a year with us at Willinga Park.

When you experience something like this, and many of you have, you’re dealing with the sadness of losing the horse, and the grieving of a dream not realised.

The sadness of losing Theodore was first and foremost for myself and Terry. It was above my goals, above the Olympic Games, it was, and is, a profound and devastating loss. It was horrible to no longer have Theodore around, and to walk past his empty stable. I still have his halter in my truck from the vet, I can’t bring myself to take it out just yet.

Sometimes I wonder if people think ‘oh well, I’m sure he has other horses’, but it’s not like that at all. Our horses mean the world to us (like yours do to you, I’m sure).

I felt very sorry for Terry, who is on this crazy journey with us and felt this loss very deeply. I would have loved to give him his dream of owning a horse at the Olympic Games, and I truly felt we could have achieved that.

Then, after the weight of the sadness, is the realisation that my team and I have suffered a huge setback. The Olympic Games have alluded me over the years for one reason or another, and this isn’t the first time we’ve lost a horse very dear to us.

I was bitterly disappointed to lose another opportunity, and felt like I could easily slip into the mindset of ‘why me?’, ‘why again?’, and ‘maybe this dream is not for me’.

I couldn’t let that happen and had to find some way to switch my mindset and focus on the way forward. I was convinced that something positive had to come of this.

I’ve done a lot of soul searching in the past weeks, talking and listening and thinking. What I’ve learned is that I needed to realign what’s important in my life. The Olympic Games is a goal and I’m training for that every day, but the Games come and go, and much of the process is out of my control, so I won’t let that discourage me. I’ll keep training to be better, to improve myself as an athlete and a horseman, to also to grow as a husband and father. All these things are important to me.

In realigning with the things that are important to me, I’ve reconnected with my passion for helping others achieve their goals. I love supporting people, I love watching people on their journeys, and seeing lightbulbs go off in riders’ minds. I’m trying to make sure that every lesson I give, I ask more questions and really dig in to the issues, and that each rider goes away with something they hold dear to them, and I think I’ve become a better coach for it.

Having a positive impact on other people is one thing I can control, we all can. Our sport is full of setbacks and challenges, we all have them and we’ll continue to face them. For me, I’ve found solace in focusing on lifting and supporting others both in the Parbery Program and in my coaching. Mindset is a huge part of what we do but isn’t discussed anywhere near enough, and that’s something we’re focusing on in the Parbery Program.

It’s all about searching for a state of mind in which you’re able to help, support and lift other people – and you know what, you’ll see yourself prosper alongside them as a result. That’s been my lesson from the last couple of months and I have Theodore to thank for it.


  1. Cybelle Blakebrough says:

    What a lovely reflection Brett. I think as one gets more life experience behind, that is often the heartache, the loss, the set backs, or even trauma, with hindsight you can see the wonderful learning and growing experience hidden behind these difficult times. Thanks for sharing, heres hoping you find a similar partnership to aim towards your dreams x

    1. Anonymous says:

      Interesting , you just have to get back on “the horse “. I don’t know why it happens , that a massive twist in your life long dream means you go rock bottom again. I read lately successful horse men and women just enjoy the challenge. don’t forget where you have come from and the gift you have , the nxt horse will be the one. I am riding my 7th foal I think and I still haven’t got there, that’s actually 37 yrs . OMG , why do I bother? X

  2. Margaret Linn says:

    Yes Brett every hurdle in life makes you stronger it is how you cope with these obstacles which makes the difference. You are definitely on your way and are a great example to all. I know personally that you made a tremendous change in the life of my daughter. God bless you and help you to attain your goals and dream of olympic success.

  3. Wendy Satara says:

    Your a bloody top bloke Brett….
    I’m a little fish but you always remember my name and say hi!
    Horses are a wild roller coaster of emotion… At the end of the day they are just horses.. they don’t define you … Being a good person, dad and husband is how you win the game of life!
    You lift us all up as fellow horse lovers.. you have the talent with plenty more Olympics ahead to get that goal back in alignment.. so sorry to hear about Ted ….

  4. Caroline says:

    Beautifully expressed Brett and we all feel your heart ache, loss, frustration and every other emotion on the spectrum as we’ve been there ourselves at some level.
    Totally agree that helping others to grow, prosper and find happiness and purpose is the way forward and there’s plenty of science to support your journey to helping others. Go for it ♥️

  5. Nicki says:

    Thank you for your openness. Your self-awareness and willingness to be vulnerable in the face of others has already made you a ‘winner’.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The words you have written are certainly full of sense , wisdom, passion and words of an incredibly talented man. Thankyou for sharing what is but just a page of an incredible book of life you are writing. I know you are a wonderful father as your son talks of nothing else when I see him. Your journey is a total inspiration to others and your gift of teaching and helping others to achieve is inspiring. Thankyou for sharing and Thankyou Theodore.

  7. Mandy Parsons says:

    I too lost my home bred & trained horse this year after we scored our personal bests at The Tasmanian State Dressage Championships.. our last ever test was 79.5% for our Grade IV Para freestyle, & a week later my beautiful talented 7yr old mare was dead from colic.
    We were on the long list for Tokyo next year & how we were progressing, we would have been serious contenders. Not 1 day goes past that I don’t think of her & the sadness of not seeing her reach her potential, & trying to find something o replace her is proving a lot harder than I could ever imagine with Tokyo looming ever closer!

  8. Anni Sedgwick says:

    You are a beautiful soul Brett, this is the toughest time , thank you for sharing & bringing mindset & the importance of it to your clients.

  9. Mel Waller says:

    This is why we all continue on our horse journey, people like you are not afraid to put yourself out there and encourage us all to take a minute to reflect, appreciate and dream. I have always admired you for being a true Aussie and a bloody good horseman and human. Sharing your knowledge and experiences is what being a true horse person is all about, we can’t thank you enough.
    My deepest condolences to you all-we are all behind you.

  10. KYLIE DOUCH says:

    The awareness of, along with your ability to express what you are going through is a huge insight and most beneficial to any rider/sport person going through their own trials. Thank you and good luck on your journey forward – we are watching and waiting x

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thankyou so much for sharing and thoughts on adjusting your mindset very special post. Thankyou once again. Cate

  12. D Podger says:

    What an inspirational story to come out of grief, just think if animals like Theodore could teach us humans to stop for one moment & smell the roses what a wonderful world it could be

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