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The Days of Grey Ridge Farm



 

by Ann Bullard

 

The lovely, pristine barn sits on Scotts Ferry Road, right in the heart of show horse country. What started life as a five-stall tobacco barn on a farm Bret Day and his father bought years ago has been transformed into the home for numerous world’s champions. A planned addition will bring Grey Ridge Farm up to 35 stalls. They won’t remain empty long.

 

Bret and Susi Day came to the Saddle Horse world by vastly different routes. Suzanne Rambler began taking lessons with the late Bud Gray of Hollywood, Fla.

 

“As a kid, I always loved horses,” Susi said. “My sister rode with Bud, and would take me with her. I talked my parents into letting me take lessons. Soon Bud would take me to shows to watch.”

 

Gray had a nice show string for the very-competitive Sunshine Circuit. Some of his students went with him to Kentucky, where Susi had several memorable moments. The first was a trip to Lexington when she was about 10 years old.

 

“Bud would take me out at 6 a.m. to watch horses work. I remember going out on the track, seeing the morning dew cause the mist to rise. One of my first memories is seeing white legs waving through the mist as Tom Moore jogged Stutz Bearcat up the track. All I could see was the white shadow roll and legs.”

 

David Rudder and his sister, Erin (Phinney) had moved with their family to Florida from Ohio. While most of their horses remained there, each of the youngsters had a horse with Gray. They and Susi quickly became fast friends.

 

“Susi and Erin are about the same age; they grew up together,” David Rudder said, explaining he had met Susi and her mother, Rita Rambler, through the barn. “I knew her as Erin’s good friend. I looked out for my little sister and looked out for Susi, too.”

 

Phinney talked about those days. “I was 10 and Susi was 11½ when we moved to Florida. She was the first person I met there and we hit off immediately. There was a little Stop ‘N Go store across the street. Susi took me there to get snacks and soda. We spent that first night with each other and were inseparable from then on.

 

We were very big into any animal. Bud had six or seven dogs. Every weekend morning we would go out there bright and early, exercise the dogs and give them baths. We’d spend all day. We’d ride show horses in the morning and grab ponies to run around the farm. We fell off a lot,” she continued, reflecting on those simpler, happy days.

 


Susi and Erin Rudder (Phinney) often fell off

their ponies when playing at Bud Gray’s

Oakwood Stables in Hollywood, Fla.

 

Gray sponsored several classes at major shows, including one at the world’s championships. “I got to present the Three-Gaited Pleasure World Championship ribbon to Michele and Going Big Time,” Susi said. “Bud instilled proper values, teaching us what an honor it is to go to shows and to work up to showing there.

 

“Bud could take us to a certain level. Then he sent us on to Marilyn (Fields-Macfarlane.) That’s how I got riding in Kentucky.”

 

Macfarlane only reinforced the value system Gray instilled in his riders. “Horses always came first with her; the ribbons were secondary. I loved showing but loved being involved with the horses even more than the shows,” Susi said. “Marilyn was the perfect fit. She reinforced my love for animals that has stayed with me throughout my life.”

 

Susi’s first ‘Kentucky horse,’ April Hill’s Red Gold, had won the three-year-old five-gaited class at Lexington. “I had never seen papers like the ones we got with him,” Susi said. “There was a hand-written note saying ‘if this horse ever needs a home, please contact Glenda Pugh.’ When we sold him, we put that on the papers as well. He became Marcy Lafferty King’s first gaited horse.”

 

The Ramblers had a few horses between their first one and the one that initially put Susi’s name in headlines. “Coaltown Prince taught me a lot. He taught me to be a good actor in the show ring, to act like everything that was happening really was what I wanted,” she said with a smile in her voice. “Flat-walking sideways usually wasn’t by choice. He taught me to make it look like that was what I wanted it to be.”

 

Susi won two world’s championships with her

first great pleasure horse, CH Coaltown Prince.

He is buried at Grey Ridge Farm.

 

Susi and the gelding won the adult show pleasure qualifiers at Louisville in 1985 and ’86. They sold the champion; he went on to win for DeLovely Farm and in the Carolinas. He retired to Grey Ridge where he lived until he was 25. He is buried on the property.

 

Susi had fallen in love with CH Stutz Bearcat when he was a young horse with Tom Moore. When Pendleton Farm had its dispersal in the mid 1980s, the gelding was on the sales list. The Ramblers were looking for a top horse at the time; Susi begged Macfarlane to let her try him.

 

“Marilyn knew he was at the twilight of his career,” Susi recalled. “The sale staff didn’t know who I was. When they led him out, they seemed to be thinking, ‘Well, here’s another pony ride.’ It went spectacularly.”

 

Macfarlane and the Ramblers bid on the horse. After it reached a certain level, they had to let him go.

 

“Marilyn was a big part of my childhood,” Susi recalled. “She made it as good as she possibly could for me.”

 

Macfarlane has many fond memories of her student and the summers Susi spent at Walnut Way Farm. What remains fixed in her mind is Susi’s enjoyment in “taking care of the horses. She was [and is] an all-round horse woman, not just a rider.”

 

Meanwhile, Mrs. Rambler and Tom Galbreath had begun doing business together and become good friends. The Ramblers made the move to Castle Hills where Steve and Julia Joyce headed the training staff. Again, Susi had several horses, including Stoneview Sensation. The one with which her name will forever be linked is CH Moses, initially Craig Kurz’ amateur five-gaited contender.

 

Galbreath recalled those days. “When Susi first came in the barn, I felt she was a little bit intimidated by what was happening in lives of others at the farm. She soon took her place and made her own mark. She was the peppermint queen.”

 

Galbreath said he first knew Susi because of her riding in Florida and with Macfarlane. “I knew her first as a formidable competitor for our group. Our young riders in her age group included Abby Newman, Brad Seacrist and Keith and Craig Kurz. That was an era of fun times with playful young people who really loved their horses and wanted to be consummate athletes as well. Not only did they ride, but they always were concerned about the welfare of their horses. They came first, riding them came second.

 

“That group always carried the banner for ‘The Hill’ well. They looked to what their trainers wanted them to do – if they messed up, how they could do better. They were analytical, wanted to be right there at the cutting edge of the competitive sports spirit,” Galbreath continued.

 

Not surprisingly, Susi spent her college years at Stephens, although she majored in psychology rather than equestrian science. The ability to continue to show while in school drew her to the Missouri college.

 

“I believe Susi was in college when we went to Tom’s,” Steve Joyce said. “I’ve always said she was the best customer any horse trainer could ever have. She always said to do whatever you think we need to and never questioned anything. That makes it easy to train someone’s horse for them. Susi made it easy to develop CH Moses into what he became. She went with us to Royal Scot for a year and pretty much followed us wherever we went after the initial days at Castle Hills.”

 

“Susi already had Coaltown Prince and Stoneview Sensation. Steve [Joyce] thought Moses would be a star for her in pleasure. That wasn’t a choke for Susi; she wanted to do whatever was best for the horse. I was asked to call her mother and tell her we were going pleasure with Moses. Rita said, ‘I didn’t buy a pleasure horse. I bought a ladies’ horse,’” Galbreath said. “He became the epitome of a five-gaited pleasure horse.”

 

Susi and Moses began their assault on the world’s championship record books in 1988, winning the Adult Five-Gaited Pleasure Grand Championship. In 1989 and ‘90 they won both the qualifier and championship, then tied reserve in both classes in 1991. They topped their qualifier the next two years before Moses retired from active competition. Horse World readers voted him the Five-Gaited Pleasure Horse of the Century.

 

Joyce spoke of the special relationship Susi had with the gelding. “The five-gaited pleasure championship used to be on Thursday night. On Friday night, after he’d won a world’s or reserve world’s championship, Susi would jump on Moses bareback, ride around the barns and visit with people. She was a popular exhibitor; he was a popular horse. People really appreciated it.”

 

Moses’s retirement in 1994 was – as one might expect – a little different than many. “It was one of the most heart-warming retirements,” Galbreath said. “Susi put on her world’s champion ball cap and rode him bareback with the roses in front of her out of Freedom Hall. It was a very tearful moment for us all.”

 

Steve Joyce agreed with Galbreath’s assessment. “That was her idea. She caught everyone by surprise. I will never forget thinking that [riding him bareback] was the coolest thing ever.”

 

Steve Joyce pinned the world’s grand championship

ribbon on CH Moses. The 12-time world champion

five-gaited pleasure horse now is 27-years-old and

retired on the pastures at Grey Ridge Farm.

 

“Castle Hills was an amazing experience,” Susi said. “The sheer numbers – one whole hallway full of colts and the main arena with the show horses. Steve would send us to the colt barn to ride one and get our legs under us. I ended up being the guinea pig to show things that needed to get marketed.

 

Steve and Julia Joyce, Tom Galbreath,

Rita and Susi Rambler were a

formidable team during the Castle Hills days.

 

“Tom was amazing. Everyone was clamoring to be at Castle Hills. He knew the type of people who would fit into that operation and not drag it down or make it bad for others. We all were a team that worked together. It really taught me a lot about how to make everyone feel good and accepted. We all look back on those years with so much fondness and admiration.”

 

Surprisingly, the strongest memory Joyce has of his time with Susi came from a period he worked for Royal Scot. The painful memory still brings tears to Joyce’s voice.

 

“She came up for the weekend to ride Moses. We had lost one of our Schnauzers, my soul mate. I was so thankful Susi was there because she really helped us get through that night. It was over 15 years ago, and I’m still not over it. That’s the side of Susi people don’t know. She’s always been there just like family to us.”

 

While Susi came into the professional ranks in a more traditional way, Bret’s was somewhat unusual. When growing up in Ohio, he spent most of his time with ponies, working around Larry Bacon and Terry McKenzie.

 

Bret and Todd McKenzie played with

ponies at Terry McKenzie’s farm.

 

“I took some lessons when I was 10 or so and learned my fundamental skills,” Bret said. “I fell in love with Saddle Horses and the business. When my dad and I came down here, I went around asking for a job. Merrill [Murray] gave me one.”

 

That was the summer between Bret’s junior and senior years in high school. He worked for Tom Ferebee for a while before returning to Murray’s after graduating from high school. He worked with Merrill and Linda Murray for just over 10 years.

 

“When Bret came here, he couldn’t even post,” Merrill said. “He just really started from the bottom like everyone should. Linda had an awful lot to do with that young man. She was excellent at teaching someone to ride.

 

“I took Bret to a lot of shows with me,” Merrill continued. “He was like a son to me. I felt like I helped raise him. We had a great relationship then and do now.”

 

“Bret was pretty fearless and wanted to learn everything he could,” Linda Murray recalled. “He soaked things up like a sponge. Bret wasn’t afraid to try anything, to work with any horse. But he was smart. He would take the things that were important for him, hold on to and used them. I used to think, ‘OK, Bret, you go boy!’

 

“I don’t think I ever had a cross day with him,” Linda continued. “At first, we’d leave him at home when we went to a show. We knew when we came back that the farm and horses would be well taken care of. I don’t know how you could put a price on that. Bret is like the old-timey horse trainers. He’s very sensible and Susi is a perfect choice for him.”

 

Bret credits the training Murray gave him and Murray’s example for getting him started on the road to success. “I credit Merrill a ton. Ethics and making sure to take care of people the best you can are the first things he drilled into me. He gave me some colts that belonged to him to work and a lot of rope to figure things out for myself. If I screwed up, I had to figure out how to fix it. I learned that valuable lesson. When you screw it up and have to fix it, it sinks in.”

 

Walter Patrick’s New Trial was one of the first

horses Merrill Murray let Bret train by himself.

 

Bret was working for Merlin Farm and Susi was riding at Castle Hills when they were formally introduced. David Rudder claims credit for that.

 

“We were at the Kentucky Fall Classic one year. A group of us were at the hotel bar after the show. Susi was hinting that she thought Bret was cute. I promptly left the table where I was sitting with Susi and others. I told Bret a pretty young lady was very interested in him,” Rudder said, conceding he has gotten teased about that introduction through the years.

 

When Galbreath closed Castle Hills and moved to Hilton Head, S.C., Steve and Julia Joyce opened their barn in Naples, Fla. Susi moved with them. She and Bret began what would be a five or six-year long-distance dating relationship. He had just finished a year with the late Tom Moore when the late Sondra Moll decided to close her Missouri barn and relocate to Florida. Bret accepted the challenge of establishing the new Emerald View Farm.

 

“When we started dating, I don’t know if I thought I ultimately would do horses for a living,” Susi said candidly. “When Bret moved to Florida, we both were apprehensive about the move. After five years of a long-distance relationship, we decided things were going much too fast. We actually broke up for a while.

 

“The year we retired Moses at Louisville, we decided maybe we should be together. My horses were with Steve and Julia. He ended up leaving Sondra.”

 

“I went across the street and opened Bret Day Stables,” Bret added. “We were there for about four years. Our opportunity to come back north came when Marsha Anderson remodeled a barn in Hurricane, W.Va. We went there and I worked for them for about a year.

 

“It took a long time before I asked Susi to marry me,” Bret said. “I don’t know what I was scared of. We’d been together about eight years and have been married 10 years last December.”

 

Bret and Susi married on Dec. 7, 1996.

 

As with many who had lived in the heart of Saddle Horse country, Bret and Susi found the lure of the bluegrass hard to ignore. Bret’s dad’s foresight when the two first came to Kentucky paid off. The farm with a little tobacco barn and upstairs apartment became what is now Grey Ridge Farm.

 

When they first moved to Kentucky and the barn was under construction, the Days worked out of Jack Noble’s Stable, at the old Pendleton Farm.

 

“I loved driving into the Pendletons’ place every day,” Susi said. “A lot of wonderful horses came out of there. Jack couldn’t have made it any easier for us. We couldn’t have had a better landlord.”

 

After spending most of the day working horses at their temporary location, Bret and Susi completed renovations to their own barn. They added 16 stalls, a round pen and moved in. In the eight to nine years the Days have been in Kentucky, they have added to the barn three different times and purchased the senior Day’s house at the back of the property.

 

Bret is very objective about where he is and where he has come from. “Since I didn’t grow up in the horse business, I had to establish a name for myself, to get on the map. It’s been a long climb.”

 

Their first major success on the national stage came in 1999. The Days teamed Dakota Willimon with CH Vittadini for Louisville’s Five-Gaited Junior Exhibitor 13 and Under class. They tied reserve in the 18-entry qualifier and came back to win the 11-team championship. She was Grey Ridge Farm’s first world’s champion. That was the first of many. Bret won his first personal world’s title in 2003, driving A.E. Nelson’s In Touch to the Junior Fine Harness Stallion and Gelding Championship.

 

Susi spoke about the makeup of their client list. “Our clients are people we enjoy seeing and enjoy being around. Joan Lurie told me years ago, ‘Susi, I’ve always been a firm believer that water seeks its own level. Ultimately like people search each other out.’ We’re lucky to have a bunch of people who are very similar, easy to be around. They love their horses more than horse shows. We know what we want and what works for us in our barn. We’ve gotten to the stage where we’re able to see it, to know a certain client will work and another won’t. That’s very helpful.”

 

Several of the Days’ clients have been almost life-long friends. Tom Galbreath, Brad Seacrist and Keith and Sally Kurz head the list of those who go back for decades with Susi. One of the things Galbreath emphasizes about the couple is the way they complement one another.

 

“When Bret worked for Merrill, I always observed him as such a great young talent; a person of great detail and perfection. I always appreciated that as well. He is so organized; he thinks things out to nth degree. In his realm, he stands way above his group of peers. The horses, barn, tack, vetting, you name it. He’s on the top of every detail. How he gets it done is a problem for all of us who know him.”

 

Yet teamwork is part of the answer. “Bret seeks out, rather than be intimidated by Susi’s expertise. That speaks volumes about him and his character as well,” Galbreath continued.

 

“Susi always had such a natural feel, the kind of feel for a horse you can’t teach someone,” he continued. “She is a trainer’s delight. I think one reason her opinion even from the ground is sought because she has that instinct about what a horse is doing. She gets credit because of the eye God gave her.

 

“Another wonderful thing about Susi is that she loves the breeding aspect of it,” he said. “A lot of young people could care less. Breeding is a great love of mine, and we share that passion. She knows bloodlines, what performance horses are made of, what their genetic fiber is. She can speak most intelligently with anyone on that regard.”

 

The person Galbreath calls a “small beautiful woman who stands very tall in information about the breeding world” called him once from a sale. “She said a three-quarter sister to Moses was going through and asked if I had an interest. She bought Sadie’s Lady (CH Albelarm Supremacy x Kilarney’s Windsong) for me.”

 

Galbreath bred Sadie’s Lady to Sir William Robert and named her Mosette. She was the first winner of the All American Cup, earning a unanimous first-place out of more than 70 youngsters. The filly’s payday: $70,112. A month later, she earned an additional $22,212.40 with a reserve tie in the Bluegrass Futurity. With more than $103,000 in earnings through her two-year-old year, she is the biggest money-winner in Saddlebred history.

 

The highest money-winning Saddlebred

in history, Mosette, earned more than

$103,000 through her two-year-old year.

 

Bret and Susi operate a small breeding program, with eight or nine mares of their own – all they can handle at their farm. They stand The Mac Attack (Caramac x Sea Song P V by Oman’s Desdemona Denmark) and three-year-old Grey Ridge Heirosmith (Supreme Heir x Callaway’s Sweet Clover.)

 

“We started getting a little big with the breeding stuff and had a separate location for mares and babies,” Susi said. “Now we handle our own but have no outside mares. We tried the other way but felt out of control when someone else was handling things. Initially we were going to buy a much larger farm and have it all. That doesn’t fit our way of doing things. Bret, I and one other person got the farm started. Bret starts all the horses himself. Bigness loses meaning if you’re not directly involved with individual horses.”

 

“We just started bringing in yearlings, 18 of ours and our clients this week,” Bret said in early September. “I told someone other day if I don’t have a crackerjack two-year-old next year, someone needs to kick me in my rear end.”

 

Keith Kurz first knew Susi as part of the Castle Hills team. Today, he and his wife, Sally, are part of Grey Ridge.

 

“When Tom relocated to Hilton Head, we stayed with Steve and Julia [Joyce] for several more years. We made the decision that, since we are in business in Cincinnati and Bret and Susi were in Lexington, it was a natural fit for us. We’re staying involved in the horse business, although not on the same level as before,” Kurz said, explaining he and his wife pursue the horses as individuals and not with the family company. “They made it real easy to establish a business relationship with the horses after our friendship. It is a natural fit and good business venture for us.”

 

The Kurz typically buy young horses, campaign and sell them after a few years. The most recent of their champions, Redesigned, was the Two-Year-Old Three-Gaited Reserve World’s Champion in 2007.

 

The barn’s ‘personality’ attracts Kurz and the other Grey Ridge clients. “They have a great group of customers. A lot came by way of Castle Hills, some from different areas. It’s fun. There’s a lot of support there, not a competitive feeling within the barn.”

 

Janet and Jeff Sterba are relative newcomers. The former owner of Seven Oaks Stables elected to scale back her horse involvement and joined the Grey Ridge family.

 

“I’d been with Bret and Susi about a year when I saw this black filly. They had just brought her up. She was in the corner stall and didn’t know where she was,” Janet Sterba said. “I walked through the barn and asked, ‘Who’s that?’ Bret told me she wasn’t broke to line or to do anything, but he would lead her out for me. He kind of giggled as he brought her outside. She aired up and was so much fun.”

 

Sterba came back and bought Open Arms, by Supreme Heir and out of Leslie Lee, a mare named for Susi’s sister. The 2007 world’s champion junior fine harness mare became Grey Ridge’s first home-raised world’s champion.

 

Sterba says horses don’t come any nicer, sweeter or more consistent than Open Arms. On the other hand, she owns the horse she calls “her naughty brother.” Horace Taft, named by breeder Elisabeth Goth, “is his own person, very handsome and gorgeous.” He is her three-gaited country pleasure mount.

 

Coe and Bill London of Oklahoma City moved to Grey Ridge in 2002. Sultan’s Gold, a winner with Coe, Bill and their daughter, Adele, moved with them. The Londons and Sandra Salmen invested in horses together – usually with a profitable conclusion.

 

Coe spoke of the Days’ strengths, listing loyalty near the top of the list. “What sets Bret and Susi apart for me is their living part of their advertising slogan, ‘Dedicated to the horse.’ They worked hard with Sultan’s Gold, a ‘once-in-a-lifetime horse,’ toward the end of his career, taking care of all the needs an older gelding may have. And they attract customers with the same feeling. They work hard to make all our situations work.

 

Today, Sultan’s Gold is living a happy retirement in Oklahoma. The Londons have two horses, Wrapped In Roses WRF, which Coe now shows, and Major Starbuck, a five-gaited horse Bill London shares with Bret.

 

Rose Marie Wheeler’s being old enough to begin riding lessons brought her mother, Linda Fischer, and aunt, Karen Fischer Mayer, to Grey Ridge. For Rose Marie, ‘old enough for lessons’ meant three-years-old. Susi introduced the 2007 Eight and Under Walk and Trot Equitation World’s Champion to riding an American Saddlebred.

 

Rose Marie Wheeler began her show career

in lead-line at the 2005 Blue Ridge Classic.

 

One of the sisters’ favorite memories includes their mother, Rose, who often went along for her granddaughter’s lessons. “Susi put Rose Marie on CH Moses,” Fischer recalled. “That was very special to Karen, Rose Marie, Mother and me.

 

“We’d known and respected both Bret and Susi the entire time they’ve been in the horse business,” Fischer said. “What makes this special to me is that Karen and I get to share this together.”

 

Mayer bought Bono early in his three-year-old year; Bret rode him to the Three-Year-Old Stallion and Gelding World’s Championship. This season, Fischer has shown him to wins at River Ridge and Midwest. In September 2007, Mayer rode the Fischer sisters’ Simbara’s Cara Mia to the amateur three-gaited blue and tricolor at the All American Horse Classic. They also own Last Class, the horse Bret showed to win the Two-Year-Old Fine Harness Sweepstakes and the Indiana Futurity Two-Year-Old Fine Harness Championship at that show.

 

Susi pinned the blue to Bono’s bridle after

Bret rode him to the 2005 Three-Year-Old

Stallion and Gelding World’s Championship.

 

“Bret and Susi sent us to Kim and Fran [Crumpler] for Rose Marie’s equitation career,” Fischer said. “They are such fabulous teachers and closer to home for us so Rose Marie can ride more often.”

 

There is another, less serious side to the Days that some may not know. To begin with, Fischer says Susi is a “huge Fleetwood Mac fan. We can’t hear one of their songs without thinking of her.”

 

As involved as Bret is with his business, he still finds time to study the Thoroughbred world. “He’s fun to go to the track with,” Mayer said. “He’s knows horses’ backgrounds and is very knowledgeable. He’s very interested in Thoroughbred trainers’ methods and how they think about horse fitness in general.”

 

Fun, but all business is the way Fischer describes their trainers and friends. “We are very close to Bret and Susi. We love being with them, with Rita (Susi’s mother who now lives with them) and Griffin (their son). We’ve found our home.”

 

Connie Blue was the first of the Louisiana crowd to move to Grey Ridge. Her good friends, Sandra Salmen and Gayle Jones, had horses in another Kentucky barn. When that trainer had no more room, Connie and her son, Kendall, went to Grey Ridge. Salmen and Jones joined her. One wonders if Bret was prepared for the Louisiana group’s sense of humor. He had a first-hand experience when Salmen drove her country pleasure horse, Rasheed, at the Blue Ridge Classic.

 

“They didn’t know Sandra well,” Connie Blue said. “She wore a lovely hat when she showed Rasheed in the qualifier. Before the championship, we went to Wal-Mart, bought a baseball cap and put all these tacky, fake flowers on it. She wore a beautiful knit suit, and came out of the tack room with the baseball cap and fake flowers on her head, asking, ‘How do you like the hat I’m going to wear?’”

 

“It would have won any ugly hat contest in the country,” Salmen added. “Bret’s eyes got as big as saucers. He didn’t know if I was serious or not.”

 

“He wouldn’t say anything bad,” Blue added. “Finally, we burst out laughing. After that, he wasn’t ever sure what we were going to do.”

 

Andrea Nelson is another relative newcomer to the Day family. She and her parents, Californians A.E. and Shelley Nelson, have had Saddlebreds on the national level for decades. Currently, the family owns approximately 50, including two stallions that stand at Copper Coin Farm and 13 broodmares. Show horses are divided between the Days and Martin Teater. Andrea brought Whispers Of Moonlight and In Touch to the Days in 2001, shortly after she moved to Kentucky.

 

“This was about the time Rob [Tanner] was recovering from cancer,” she said, pointing out that the family had been with the Tanners for years. “I had come to look at The Mac Attack when we were customers of Rob and liked Bret and Susi. I needed someone who focused on amateurs and who had the time for it. They put the polish, the finish on their horses and everything else they do. I’ve never been in a barn that’s so perfectly organized. I never worry about anything.

 

“Bret and Susi are very up front and honest with their customers,” she continued. “They tell us how it is, not what we want to hear. When he instructs you, Bret is very good at explaining what he wants you to do. He doesn’t just say something and expect you to understand. I think he’s a wonderful amateur trainer.”

 

When asked about her favorite memories since she’s been with the Days, Nelson paused and mentioned two, only one of which is horse-related. The horse one involved their World’s Champion In Touch. “Bret was second with In Touch [in the Three-Year-Old Stallion and Gelding Stake] at Louisville in 2003. The next year, Bret broke his leg and Susi worked the horse with him. He showed at Louisville in a cast and won [the Junior Fine Harness Stallion and Gelding Stake.] It really was neat to see them as a team.”

 

Nelson says the Days are “very special, like my second family. I really look forward to spending every Thanksgiving with them.”

 

One can talk – or write – all day about Bret and Susi, the horse people. Since the birth of their now four-year-old son, Griffin, their priorities have shifted. Susi has stopped giving lessons and isn’t at the barn as often as she used to be.

 

“Griffin is the priority for me,” she said. “I am a mom, and that’s definitely a change. Bret and I were two people who never thought they would have a family. It caught us by surprise – the best surprise we ever had. It’s been an adjustment. Being older, you’re a lot more set in your ways. Every time I go to a show and have to leave him, I feel like I’m missing something. I wonder how long I’ll be able to do that.”

 

“My fondest memory probably is Griffin’s birth,” Galbreath said. “My daughter is a Suzanne; with Susi it’s like we have two of them. Griffin has a number of loving grandparents and I’m somewhere in that group. He is their greatest achievement. They’re doing the things I wish all young parents would do – put him first. They are educating him, introducing him to new things and keep his feet on the ground. In spite of all their successes, they have done very well in maintaining equilibrium with who they are.”

 

Bret, Susi and Griffin Day

 

“Neither Susi nor I were kid people before Griffin,” Bret said. “Todd Miles told us that a kid will change your life. I can’t imagine life without him. Every day I thank the good Lord for what I had and what I was prior to Griffin’s birth. It’s amazing. I now realize that I really have it good.

 

“Griffin did lead-line at Blue Ridge. He likes riding but probably likes the entourage more. He loves to watch ESPN, football, basketball and baseball. This is home – and always will be,” Bret continued.

 

Griffin made his show ring debut in

leadline at the 2007 Blue Ridge Classic.

 

He and Susi complement one another – at home and in business. “He is very meticulous and a very skilled horseman,” Keith Kurz said. “Susi focuses on the breeding side. She’s a great overseer and ground person with an eye for a horse. They give us a good professional blend as well as being close family friends. They are very straightforward and honest, giving honest opinions without pressure. They don’t make you feel uncomfortable but go out of their way to make it a good culture.”

 

Candy and Dan Hyman have been part of the Grey Ridge family for about five years. Their daughter, Jackie, showed such horses as She’s An Asset with the Days as a teenager.

 

“We met Bret and Susi at the Royal five or six years ago,” Candy Hyman, of Hy Horse Farm, said. “My husband and I decided we wanted to get involved with raising, showing and developing horses in the Kentucky market. I approached Bret at Louisville the next year and we decided to embark on the program together.

 

“What attracted me to them was their professionalism, their attention to detail and integrity as well as Bret’s tremendous talent as a trainer. Susi’s talent as an exhibitor and phenomenal horse person inspires people.”

 

The Hymans have had several horses at Grey Ridge. The Social Butterfly has been a star in fine harness and now in park, a division she stepped into at Louisville and the All American Horse Classic this year.

 

Candy Hyman’s favorite horse show memory concerns this mare. “My first time at Louisville, I showed her in the Fine Harness Mare Stake. It was big fun and we won the reserve championship. Having that experience, even getting a ribbon was unbelievable. The two of them taking an amateur like me, who had only been involved in horses for nine years, to Louisville is an incredible statement for the two of them. I was very prepared to compete at that level. The horse was at her peak and ready for me. All the credit goes to them.”

 

Hyman says Bret and Susi are “big fun away from the barn. When someone is in from out of town, we sit for hours, talking and laughing. I think that is why they maintain the customers they do year in and year out. It’s a very congenial group. Away from the barn there might be some horse talk but the conversation always shifts to current events. Susi maintains friendships and customer relationships with people she has known her whole life. Their being fully fleshed-out individuals with interests outside the training barn gives a nice perspective so everything doesn’t rise and fall based on a horse show.

 

“They have a good perspective on how horses fit into their customers’ lives. I think they have a good perspective as to the amount of pressure to put themselves under and where to take a break. All this comes from being able to have other interests and dimensions.”

 

Hyman says, “The interior world of the American Saddlebred is very important. They are dedicated to the long-term excellence of the breed and very involved with policy through the ASHA and Bret’s being on the State Fair Advisory Board.

 

Being straightforward is one thing both Bret and Susi admit to. “Bret is extremely level-headed. He’s patient with a lot attention to detail. I am probably the opposite in many regards. Sometimes I’m too brutally honest; he knows how to deal with a situation,” she said.

 

“I came along with people who told you what you needed to hear, not sugar-coated. If you want to achieve x, y, z, this is what you have to do,” she continued. “Sometimes that’s not something people can comprehend. Bret is very diplomatic. I sometimes can be a little too straightforward. People know where they stand with me. Sometimes that’s not a good thing, but that’s how I am. He is a little line across the page with a little ripple here and there. With me, it’s lots of spikes.

 

If you don’t want to hear the truth, you don’t want to be here,” Susi said.

 

Despite the workload at the barn and home demands, both give back to the industry. “So many trainers are caught up in themselves, their own barn and business,” Galbreath said. “Bret has a great grasp of the bigger picture for the future of our industry. He is very involved in governance with the UPHA and State Fair Board. I’ve never heard him talk about what would be good for his barn or clients but what is good for industry as a whole. He gives unselfishly in time and effort as Susi does in letting him go to meetings for betterment of the industry. He has a good grasp that benefits all of us and not just him.”

 

Bret also is a popular judge. “I enjoy judging. I feel it’s my obligation to put back and give back a little. Judging keeps me sharper as a trainer; it makes me come home and work a little bit harder. I have seen part of the competition, have stood out there and analyzed it, over-analyzed it. I come home and think I have to tighten up a little bit.

 

“Judging keeps me levelheaded. I don’t believe anyone out there is trying to do the wrong thing. But everyone is human; I realize we’re going to screw up. I have left a show at night and not slept. I eat myself up because of a horse I tied but I can’t go back and fix it. Something happens behind my back or I have to make split second decision,” he said. “I never try to kill a horse or exhibitor. Many times we go to the lineup and I’m not sure who won. My problem is to figure it out in a timely manner.”

 

With most of the Days’ clients coming from out of town, their schedule is somewhat different than many other trainers. “Saturday traditionally is the big day around Saddle Horse barns,” he said. “Many of our clients come in during the week. We  pretty much have a regimented training schedule, starting at six and working straight through. I like for the help to be out by three. Thursday is the ‘catch up around the farm day.’ We train Friday and Saturday, and Sunday is our day. We try to go out to breakfast; Griffin and I run errands together and grab some lunch. We spend Sunday afternoons as a family.”

 

So how does Bret Day see himself? Just 41-years-old, he already has achieved heights other, older trainers never may see.

 

He thought a moment and responded, “The best I can say is I am the kind of person who worries more about pleasing others than I do myself. It’s extremely important to me that my family, my clients and my friends are taken care of. I’ve often said I could go my whole career in the Saddle Horse business and never win Louisville’s five or three-gaited stake. I would be just fine. My ego doesn’t need to win a major stake or be in the spotlight on Saturday night. Achieving success for my clients, putting them in the spotlight gives me my high. I love the thrill of having an owner beam from ear to ear, of being able to accomplish something for someone else.

 

“Some people think because I deal with so many young horses that I love the thrill of making a young horse. I do that for the owner or person riding it, not for me. A lot of people see me get to win classes and think that’s what I thrive on,” Bret said. “I learned a long time ago not to be too proud to admit when I’m wrong. A lot of times I run into a roadblock with a horse and have to do something else. I know when to put my pride in my back pocket and do the right thing for my clients, to try to salvage something.

 

“When clients come in, I tell them we all are working to the same goal: to do well, to make as much money as we possibly can. I may not say what he wants to hear but I’m telling the reality of it. If we can only get ‘x’ dollars for a horse, that’s the reality. I want to get as much as I possibly can. Ten percent of more is more,” he said with a laugh.

 

“Bret lives for this farm,” Susi said. “We’re not people who go and do; we took the first vacation in seven or eight years when we went to Las Vegas for four days and a Stevie Nix concert. When we got married, we went back to work the next day. There’s no time when you’re in the building process.

 

“We’re here every day. Bret’s favorite form of relaxation is sitting on the mower and mowing. We do like to go out for nice, not elaborate dinners. Being on the farm is a treat for us now.”

 

“Living with Susi is wonderful,” Bret added. “She is very realistic. She doesn’t sugar coat things; you don’t have to worry about where you stand. She has such a passion for a Saddle Horse. A lot of that is the breeding; her broodmares and babies. Her mind is always spinning: what to cross this and that one with, what works and will not. She probably is one of the most intelligent people about breeding that there is. She and Tom Galbreath talk for hours on end.”

 

They are a happy family. “Ultimately I am the little girl still in love with horses,” Susi said. “I fell in love with them when I was six years old. For me, it’s about getting in the stall, getting them ready, petting them or going in the field to pet a mare and baby. My dream to have large enough farm to rescue 20-year-old broodmares and geldings going through Tattersalls has come true. We have a pretty good geriatric ward going.”

 

Bret’s name may be the one in headlines, but he emphasizes he hasn’t gotten there alone. “What people lose sight of is I could not have achieved what I have without Susi nor she without me. She has such an objective look at things. My wife is the biggest critic one could have. She keeps us working harder. It’s never good enough, never going to be perfect. We try to get as close to that as we possibly can.”

 

“Bret, Griffin and the horses make me get up in the morning,” Susi said. “Never in a million years did I think I would be able to sit on porch and look at mares and Moses out there. Life is better now. The show ring is the icing on the cake. The cake is all of this.”

 




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