UF Alumni Slide into the Winner’s Circle at Mid-Atlantic Reining Classic
While the University of Findlay is known to equip students for meaningful lives and productive careers, it is not always said how strong, life-long connections are created along the way, and the difference the Findlay experience makes in the long-run.
Recently, alumni of the University of Findlay’s Western Equestrian Studies Program took center stage at the Virginia Reining Horse Association’s Mid-Atlantic Reining Classic. What did they contribute their success to? Hard work, a great network of peers, and their time at the University of Findlay.
The show, held in Lexington, Virginia, July 15-19, is one of the biggest annual reining competitions on the east coast with $125,000 added. Top-rated riders across multiple states participated in the event, including UF’s own Brandon Brant ’05. Brandon, of Brant Performance Horses, rode Littleelectriccolonel, owned by Mike ‘09 and Kristi Peplowski, to victory in the Level 3 and 4 Open Futurity with an astounding score of 224.5.
Julia Roshelli ’19, assistant trainer of Brant Performance Horses, was also in the winnings with a score of 214.5 on Cece Mi Diablo which led to her placings of 3rd in the Level 1, 5th in the Level 2, and 12th in the Level 3 Open Futurity. Additionally, Julia won the Rookie Professional class on Shez Up To Code.
When the Peplowskis picked out Littleelectriccolonel, lovingly known as “Fish,” they knew he was truly a one-of-a-kind horse. Now, towards the end of his three-year-old year, and having been under the careful guidance and instruction of Brandon, Fish has truly made the entire Brant team proud. While the process was long, Mike Peplowski said, “Fish has been very special,” and “has exceeded all expectations.” Brandon reflected on the event and said, “I know it meant the world to Mike for me to be able to accomplish this with his horse.”
Creating a Show Stopping Community for Life
“I met some of my best friends [at Findlay],” said Brandon. Friends that include his wife Cathy ’04, co-owner and business manager of Brant Performance Horses, clients Mike and Kristi Peplowski, fellow trainer and competitor Bill Bowen ’05, the current UF farm business manager, Jake Bowman ‘05, and director of equestrian studies and equine management programs, Meredith Marsh ‘03.
While Brandon and Mike didn’t graduate from the program together, they were both impacted by their time at Findlay and the undeniable community that it created for them. Mike said, “I saw Findlay as such a huge opportunity… I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
After graduating, Mike worked for Brandon part-time while attending veterinary school at Ohio State University. Now a veterinarian and part owner of Big Creek Veterinary Hospital, Mike maintains the connection to Brant Performance Horses by sending him reining prospects, like Fish, for training, and showing with his wife. “Brandon and Cathy are like family to me,” he said. “To watch all their hard work meant the world.”
Showing his continued support of UF, Brandon regularly hires interns and even full-time employees from the Western Equestrian Studies Program. Julia began working as an Assistant Trainer for Brant Performance Horses right after graduation and said that because of the program she has, “made life long connections and friends during my time at Findlay,” including her current employers, Brandon and Cathy Brant. She said, “I have landed my dream job with incredible people who give me endless support and opportunities. They continue to challenge me to reach for bigger goals and help me grow as a young professional in the reining industry.”
The UF Experience Makes All the Difference
Brandon fully attributes his success in the horse industry to his time spent in the barns at UF. “What I think helped me the most, was the foundation,” he said. Learning from instructors who are well accomplished and active in the equine industry give Findlay’s Western Equestrian Studies Program a definite edge. “Being able to ride with several different instructors and making connections in the horse world while learning,” is a very valuable part of the program.
“Something I truly love about the program, is the process,” Brandon explained. “Beginning with the basics and developing a strong foundation to build on, then developing a skillset from there.” UF’s unique course offering and instructors provide much more than an average education. Meredith Marsh, riding instructor and director of equestrian studies and equine management, said, “The fact that our instructors are active professionals in the horse industry greatly benefits our students’ education. Our instructors bring to the programs real-world, discipline-specific training and showing experience, along with a definite awareness of industry standards.”
Brandon reflected on the expertise each and every person involved in the Western Equestrian Program brought to the table from each area of the industry. “It helped me diversify,” he said. Learning the art of cutting, reining, pleasure, roping, and more by those who have trained, shown, and ultimately have been successful in those areas made Brandon, “a horseman, not just a horse trainer.” Julia echoed Brandon’s sentiment of the program and said, “the hands-on experience that students gain in the western equestrian program is what makes this program so special and prepares students for when they go out to work in the industry.”
The academic excellence of Findlay’s courses aside, Brandon said his amazing experience at UF wouldn’t have been the same without the friends he made along the way. He continued to say, “it’s not just the mentorship from your instructors, but your friends as well,” that puts you ahead in the industry and makes you a better rider. “Experiences I’ve had and people I met gave me a head start,” through the opportunities to network and form connections the program provides.
“By staying active as trainers, showmen, and judges,” Marsh explained, “instructors can also support students with a strong network of industry connections for internships and job placement after graduation. All of this helps to provide our students with the background and opportunities needed to be relevant in the competitive horse world.”
“Findlay’s Western Equestrian Program gave me a great foundation as a horse trainer and led me to the assistant training position I have dreamt of since my freshman year,” Julia said. “I am forever grateful for my time at Findlay and the future that I have at Brant Performance Horses.”
Capitalizing on Adding Value
Adding a second major to back-up an equestrian degree is something Brandon and Cathy Brant wholeheartedly believe in and highly recommend. With Cathy’s primary focus in the team’s business being the book end of things, she uses the education she attained through her double majors of English Equestrian Studies and Equine Business Management on a daily basis. Cathy said, “I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without the knowledge and education I got from the University.”
Cathy decided to pick up the second business major because, “when you go into the horse industry, you have to be prepared.” She is not only very active in the day-to-day operations of Brant Performance Horses, but is also very involved in organizing the Buckeye Reining Series and has put her education to the test in areas such as billing, accounting, website design, and marketing. “The classes [at UF] helped me tremendously,” she said.
“At the end of the day, you’re getting an education and I can’t even explain how important that is,” Brandon said. From learning a new hands-on skill in the barn, to the technicalities of running a business, these UF alum have had much success in the industry and attribute much of it to their time at Findlay. Agreeing wholeheartedly that getting an education is important, Mike said, “I think anytime you can do that [get an education], or better yourself, you should. You’re opening more doors for yourself.”