The iconic and longstanding partnership between Canadian Olympian Jacqueline Brooks and D Niro has turned them into a crowd favourite in dressage arenas across Canada and around the world.

D Niro (D-Day x Napoleon 625) – a Swedish Warmblood gelding owned by Mary Brooks and Brookhaven Dressage Inc., and affectionately known as Goose – first stepped into the ring at the FEI level with Brooks nearly a decade ago. They have since travelled the world together and represented Canada at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2013 FEI World Cup Dressage Final in Gothenburg, SWE.

Throughout their career, Brooks and D Niro have racked up major wins across North America, with the majority coming in the Grand Prix Freestyle – a telltale sign of their ability to capture hearts and minds with their stunning choreographed performances that inspire all the ‘feels.’

Paying homage to her Canadian pride, Brooks has been lauded by the equestrian community as well as the public at large for her moving Freestyle performances at the Royal Horse Show in Toronto, ON. In 2012, crowds went wild when Brooks and D Niro performed to a Canuck-inspired mix that included Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Spirit of the West’s Home for a Rest, while Tamara Williamson of the Toronto-based freestyle music design company, Kurboom sang live onsite (watch the performance here).

At the age of 19, D Niro continues to stay in the spotlight with Brooks. The duo had an impressive season in 2017, picking up back-to-back CDI Grand Prix Freestyle wins in Ottawa and Cedar Valley, ON, and capping off the season by debuting a new freestyle at the Royal Horse Show, interestingly set to an acoustic cover of Simon and Garfunkle’s The Sound of Silence. They are currently kicking off another season together at the 2018 Adequan Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) in Wellington, FL. Facing off against some of the best dressage athletes in the world, Brooks and D Niro have been earning top 10 placings in the CDI Grand Prix division.

EC recently had the opportunity to speak with Brooks about her incredible partnership with D Niro, and what it takes to remain competitive as a duo for the long haul.

Read Brooks’ responses in her own words, then tune in to the video below to get behind the scenes with Brooks, D Niro, and his groom, Allie Dean.

EC: How long have you been partnered with D Niro?

JB: I bought D Niro in 2011. He had a cursory knowledge of grand prix but certainly was not a confirmed grand prix horse – very hot and very nervous. It was more communication issues than lack of wanting to try or wanting to do. Once we sorted out a language that worked for us then away he went.
I had a timeline to get him to the Olympics in 2012. It was slightly less than 18 months. That was quite a challenge and quite a journey, but he is an amazing horse. He was amazing at the Olympics. It was probably one of the best grand prix still to-date that I’ve ever done with him. He’s 19 now and still going strong.

EC: What are the benefits of having such a long-term partnership with one horse?

JB: You know each other extremely well, so you know what’s real and what’s not. For example, when he’s in a (busy or competitive) environment, and he wants to get going and is tugging at the rein… I know that’s him saying, ‘let’s do this’ not ‘I’m tired of being out here’. The subtleties in communication are better read. Riding a horse for seven years at grand prix, I know if he needs a nudge, a push, a cluck or a pull to help him find his balance. And, once he finds his balance, he does the work.

EC: What is his personality and character like?

JB: He’s strong. A very strong personality; a very strong character. He has to be fed first or he will take the barn down. He has to go on the trailer last and off first, because if he’s on it alone, it’s no good. He has many rules. I think they’re reasonable, but other people tell me that maybe they err on the side of unreasonable. But, his rules are straightforward. He tells me what he wants, I do it in a way that I can manage it, and we get along great.

He is a very strong-willed horse as well. At any show, even ones he’s never been to, he knows he comes off the trailer and goes in a stall. If you try to stop him instead of just guiding him to the stall, he’ll drag you. He’s like, ‘I go to a stall, I roll, and then I drink a bucket of water. Then, I’ll talk to you.’ He’s like a kid, you know. People want you to stop and take a picture and I have to tell them I can’t because he has to go straight to the stall or he’ll go without me. He’s a real ‘routine guy’.

EC: What does it take to keep a horse motivated and competitive at the top level for so many years?

JB: Unfortunately, there’s this struggle: if they’re hot enough and young, they can still be going this old. If they are a little bit too hot, then they are a little bit too tired when they get to this age. So, he’s an interesting mix. He has quite the work ethic; he is a goer.

They have to have that Energizer Bunny attitude. Like, every time you pick up the reins they’re ready to go. If I drop the reins, and I pick them up, he’s like, ‘Okay, let’s do this.’ I don’t have to drop the reins, kick him, encourage him… He’s on the job, instantly. I think that if you find a young horse that every time you pick up the reins, they’re asking you, ‘Would you like to trot?’, then you’re going to have that horse at 19 as well.

EC: What are some of your best memories with D Niro?

JB: There are a million. Look how much he’s done, I owe him so much.

London, of course, is an irreplaceable memory. He was positive every day. I loved the test, he loved the test, he loved walking out. For me that was a real highlight.

Certainly winning Devon. He won the Special and the Freestyle there. That was a bucket-list thing.

Sweden (FEI World Cup Dressage Final) was probably the most special because he’s Swedish. We found his breeder – she lived about 100km from Gothenburg. We got her accreditation to come in the back (stalls area). She walked in and was crying, and he had his head in her arms. It was very emotional. Swedish fans have this clap they do before a Swedish rider comes in. Once they found out he was Swedish, they did it for him. The whole arena was clapping in unison, waiting for him to come in. That was huge! Then, all the guys in the back, there were 30 of them, met him afterwards with flowers. Each one had pictures taken with him. He was welcomed home. It was amazing.

EC: What’s next for the two of you?

JB: We’re taking it show-to-show right now. Right now, when we take off the bandages in the warm up, he tries to go in the ring. It’s very hard for me to keep him out of the ring. I have this routine with him where I’m saying, ‘It’s not your turn, I’ll let you know when it’s your turn.’ But the minute I take off those bandages and he tries to take me back to the barn, or I go in the ring and I’m asking too hard, then that will be it. It’s entirely up to him.

Want more Jacqueline Brooks and D Niro? Check out this behind-the-scenes video from the 2017 Royal Horse Show.