Charlie Brister of Blue Gum Performance Horses is an all-round horseman with expertise in retraining problem horses and coaching riders of all disciplines.
Q: Your age, and do you come from a horsey family?
A: Absolutely. Mum’s a horse trainer and Dad’s a horse vet. They had me on a horse at quite a young age. I’m 21 and a bit … 31 actually.
Q: Did you work with horses as a youngster?
A: Mum would have me ride ponies in the school holidays and she’d put me on young racehorses when I reached about eight. Had to earn my keep somehow. My stepfather, Paul Cave, is also a trainer and helped me break in young ones.
Q: Where are you based?
A: On the NSW Central Coast. It’s called Palm Grove although there’s no grove of palms – very disappointing.
Q: About your business.
A: Kaden Weaver and I run a breaking in and training business. We start horses of all breeds and disciplines under saddle. We also retrain a lot that are in need of a ‘boot camp’. I still teach show jumping, cross country, groundwork and dressage if someone asks nicely enough.
Q: You worked OS in your youth.
A: At 18 I went to Zuchtohof Klatte in Germany, a beautiful sport horse and stud farm and an eye opener. My riding was pretty basic so I had a lot to learn, and the horses were so different to those I was used to. I returned to Germany at 21 to Böckmann Pferde thanks to an Equestrian Australia Scholarship. Gilbert Böckmann was a fantastic show jumping coach and the dressage trainer there, Antonio Do Vale, was also a very skilled rider. He put me on the dressage stallion Fidertanz, which would have to be one of the most powerful horses I’ve ever ridden. I then went to Portugal to start young ones and help train the school horses at a Lusitano stud. This was a very different style of riding and I learnt a lot about building confidence in young horses. It was also a good experience being part of their exhibitions showcasing the breed. When I was in America I learnt much more about the competitive aspects of riding. Being in a competition arena is different to riding a young horse and it took me a while to make a seamless transition.
Q: Your first official competition?
A: Oberon one day event in 2004 aged thirteen. My pony, Chucky, was a superstar jumper and carried me around. My dressage was terrible and I was out of control in the show jumping and cross country. After scoring 42% in the dressage I moved up a few places despite a runout on cross country.
Q: Are you doing a university course?
A: I’ve finished my degree with a Bachelor of Political, Economic and Social Science. Very handy when dealing with horse people. Now I’m just doing my Masters in starting young horses.
Q: What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you when riding?
A: Just put ‘Charlie Brister fall’ into YouTube.
Q: Any superstitions?
A: I don’t waste time with that. Whenever the black cockatoos fly past I brace for someone to comment about impending rain.
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
A: Wet saddle blankets make good horses – Paul Cave; Lunge long, live long – Luke Thomas.
Q: Is there a horse you’d love to have owned?
A: Cristalline – so athletic and talented. Really well produced by Gabi and Chris Chugg and now competing for the USA.
Q: Your father’s a vet. Did you think about following in his footsteps?
A: Absolutely. But I didn’t apply myself well enough at school. I could always pick it up later – it’s only five years at university.
Q: Your favourite discipline?
A: Show jumping. Dressage is necessary for all disciplines, cross country’s a lot of fun but show jumping is very technical while also loaded with adrenaline to satisfy my need for speed.
Working with Bonita, one of Charlie’s young horses.
Q: Ever been scared before a competition?
A: It’s common to have a tiny bit of nerves but I don’t struggle with them much anymore. In dressage the tension would give me leg cramps. Thoroughly doing my homework and preparation gives me confidence in my horse at the level at which I’m competing.
Q: What would you do if you weren’t working with horses?
A: At school I thought about becoming a travel journalist. Now, if I had to give away horses, I’d make a lot of money in business, retire early and travel.
Q: If you could train with anyone in the world who would it be?
A: Buck Brannaman – he’s calm with horses and people, his feel and timing impeccable and he seems a modest, down to earth guy.
Q: A favourite breed?
A: A good mix is 80% Warmblood and 20% TB. The power and scope from the lighter, modern Warmblood and quick thinking of a TB.
Q: How about Baroque types, which are gaining in popularity?
A: When a horse has a good attitude I don’t mind what the breed is. I’ve had fun riding Lipizzaners and Lusitanos thanks to their willingness to learn.
Q: People you hold in high regard?
A: Mum’s always mentored me in horses and in life, not that I ever listened so had to go elsewhere. Fiona Hughes and Sharmayne Spencer got me started in eventing; Colleen Brook and Ann Slatford took my riding to the next level. Andrew McLean and Cody Rawson-Harris have been a big influence on my horsemanship and now James Mooney helps me with show jumping.
Q: How’s your social life?
A: Personal training twice a week with a jump club or competition at weekends. I do make an effort to go to weddings. Before COVID I’d go wakeboarding in my spare time.
Five extra Q and As – Charlie Brister
Q: A bit about your family.
A: My mum came from a completely non-horsey family. She got the bug at a young age and had to work all week mucking out stables just to get one riding lesson on the weekend. After eventing all over NSW she now runs a boutique racing stable at Warwick Farm and rides for fun nearly every day. My dad grew up on a farm at Merriwa so was on horses from a young age moving stock and riding at Pony Club. After spending a few too many years playing rugby he loves getting out eventing with his horses. Annabelle Warren, one of my aunts, recently trained Timmy Almighty, a super Clydesdale x TB up to Grand Prix dressage! After doing eventing and show jumping with me Annabelle had him passaging and doing one-time changes – all at the ripe age of 20.
With Timmy Almighty, a magnificent Clydesdale x TB.
Q: Is there a decline in horsemanship?
A: In some areas there is a decline and in others horsemanship is improving as new ideas and techniques become available. But when young people spend more time on their phones than riding their horses what do you think will happen?
Q. Are you sometimes frustrated or annoyed at the attitudes of some horse owners you’ve dealt with?
A: Haha, absolutely! Myself included. Horses are very important to their owners so I try to be understanding of that when they’re being demanding. Most of my clients are quite understanding with the work, feeding, rugging and fees for their horses. In general people need to be more understanding of the whole situation. They might own one horse but I am in charge of thirty so it’s definitely important to find the balance between setting boundaries and being accommodating to specific requests.
Q: Are there some aspects of horseracing you’d like to change?
A: I’ve been involved in the racing industry most of my life – I love it but I would definitely make some changes. Better education on both sides is key. The general public needs to be better educated on how well racehorses are looked after. The racing community could become more knowledgeable about horse behaviour and how they learn. Instilling more patience would make a big difference. Starting horses at a young age is not a problem for me but there is a lot of pressure for them to perform early. Again, more patience is required. Having cross training facilities at racetracks would also help horses physically and mentally. Putting arenas, small jumps and trails in would benefit them in training and assist in rehoming.
Q: What are your aims for the future?
A: To recover from all my injuries in 2022. My body needs a bit of TLC. Having a farm where young horse education and competition horses can all be in the one space would be amazing. Does anyone know the winning lotto numbers? With the young horses I have I can’t wait to move up the grades in show jumping. To produce horses that are more rideable and more confident than what is common is my goal.