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UPHA Richard E. Lavery Horseman Of The Year: Bob and Tonya Brison

With all of the talented trainers this organization has in the American Saddlebred, Morgan and Hackney breeds the Richard E. Lavery Horseman Of The Year award is indeed an honor. This year’s recipients represent generations of horse families and the great state of Missouri, which is sometimes forgotten as being responsible for so much history in the advancement of the American Saddlebred.

Her father (Garland Helm) and her brother (Virgil Helm) had a training barn in Evansville, Indiana where she hung out at the barn, growing up showing ponies on the Indiana/Kentucky circuit. County Fairs and one night shows were a way of life. The family eventually picked up and moved to Oregon where they worked for the Blacklaw’s Singing Hills Stables.

The other half of our award winning team grew up in the northwest, showing Shetland and Hackney ponies. Although his parents didn’t understand the fascination they were very supportive. Once he figured out that you could make a living training horses he was all in and to further his education, he moved to Iowa to work for the iconic Dr. Alan Raun. His time at Reedannland was so wonderful and rewarding, yet he returned to the Northwest going to work for Virgil Helm at Singing Hills.

If you’ll remember, Virgil had a sister who was working for him as well. You got it…the trainer’s sister and the new assistant trainer met, fell in love and were married, moving to Missouri a few years later to work for Johnny Jones at Callaway Hills. A couple years later he was offered the head job at Callaway Hills alongside Mike Benn and later Martin Teater.

“Those years with Mike and Martin were so memorable,” said our honoree. “We worked hard, had so much fun and had so many nice horses. Working for Mrs. Weldon was a school in itself. She taught you so much about business, handling employees and her knowledge of Saddlebred bloodlines was second to none. She was not always easy to work for, but you always had the utmost respect for her.”

During those years at Callaway Hills, UPHA legends Redd Crabtree and Tom Moore would spend time at the farm, always willing to help and offer up a good story. One of several highlights tonight’s recipients did together was putting on the Callaway Hills Production Sales at the fall Tattersalls Sale. “It was an exciting time, but a little nerve-wracking taking 50 to 60 yearlings, two and three-year-olds that had never been off the farm before. It could get a little crazy some times.”

Some of the greats he worked with at Callaway Hills included Hot Copy, New Look, Copyright, Born To Win, Forecaster, Will Gillen, Pretty Penny, Frank James, Capital Reporter, Banner Headline, Gold Reserve, Annie C, Gold Rush, Carnation, Little Dipper, Cameo, Powerful Magic, Northern Kiss, Claudette, County Fair, Buttons and Bows, News Flash, Adelita, Audrey Hepburn and many more.

“You always felt very fortunate to work so many nice colts.” said our honoree.

It was also during this time at Callaway Hills that our recipients bought some property and started building a barn. It had always been their dream to have their own place someday and in the spring of 2000, that dream became a reality. She opened up Fairview Farms, working a few horses and starting a lesson program. A few years later he joined the family operation and what a run it continues to be, even with a devastating set back.
As breeders they raise 8 to 10 colts a year and start several colts each year for other breeders, including Judy Werner who has been with them from the start and has been a big part of their success. They have always enjoyed starting the green colts and watching them develop into show horses. They also have developed a number of amateur riders, which has been equally as much fun watching the combinations come together.
“We love our barn family,” exclaimed our honorees. Their own family has also played a role in this story. Daughter Sarah Wisdom, who is married to Jeremy Wisdom, didn’t have an interest in showing but always enjoyed watching and now they have daughters Kennedy and Harper. Continuing the family tradition, Kennedy is a reserve world’s champion and reserve national champion with Kent Swalla. Our honorees’ other daughter, Morgan, was a highly successful equitation and junior exhibitor rider and  is now a professional horse trainer married to Tyler DeVore.

In March of 2016, tonight’s recipients suffered a tragic barn fire, losing seven horses and three dogs. “It was the hardest time in our lives, but with all of our friends, family, customers and the horse community, we made it through. We can never thank everyone enough for being there for us,” they said.

Fairview Farm has become a Missouri institution, developing and selling many world’s and national champions. Some of that group includes Take A Guess, I’m Something Wicked, Manila Thrilla, Holy Fruit Salad, Mr. Center Stage, The Brightest Blue, Uptown Funk, Soquili’s Georgia Firecracker, Soquili’s Sir Galahad, Callaway’s Sunday Edit, Undulata’s Heath Nut, Sterling Price, Goodfellow’s Park, He’s Here For The Party, Say Yes To The Dress, Glenview’s Excelalante!, Look Of Success, She’s My Sugarland, Don’t Mention It, So Swank, Balenciaga, Gentleman, Dressed For The Party, and Callaway’s Unsolved Mystery. Returning to their pony roots, this year they also had Heartland Supersonic, the UPHA Hackney Pleasure Driving Pony Classic Grand Champion with Amy Heuslein.

Their work in the show ring has been rewarded by judges time and time again, but they have also made an impact on their peers.

“If I were to pick one word that describes these two it would be ‘integrity,’” said UPHA Hall of Famer Chuck Herbert. “For all of the great young horses that have passed through their hands they were never looking for any fanfare or recognition. It has always been about doing their best and quietly helping who they can along the way.”

“We feel blessed to have a career working with the animals and people we love so much,” said our honorees, and we the United Professional Horsemen’s Association feel blessed to have talented professionals such as Bob and Tonya Brison, our 2019 Richard E. Lavery Horseman Of The Year recipients.

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