Sometimes, in order to get your boot in the door and make a name for yourself, you have to pack said boots and head off for faraway lands.

After graduating high school, that’s exactly what Canadian rider Braden James did.

Originally from Kamloops, James set out on an adventure, riding for some of the best-known horse people in Europe. It began in Ireland, where he rode for the legendary Eddie Macken and with Andreas Rodriguez. After a year and a half, he moved to Germany to seek out one of their best.

“I got the address for Christian Ahlmann’s stable,” the 27-year-old James recounted. “I just showed up with two suitcases, $200 in my pocket, my riding boots and said ‘I’m here for work.’ I think I mucked boxes for the first two months. They gave me a couple of horses, but nothing worth mentioning.

“After doing that for a few months, living off pennies, he shows up in the yard one morning, I jumped the horses that I had been working with, and next week I had a lot of stallions from Zangersheide and all his main ones, actually. I helped produce Caribis and Clintrexo. I did Dominator … a lot of his good horses I had a hand in producing when they were between six and nine years old. So that experience was amazing.”

Three years later, he rode for a private family for a bit before heading over to the Netherlands to work with Alan Waldman for another three years.

“I got the address for Christian Ahlmann’s stable. I just showed up with two suitcases, $200 in my pocket, my riding boots and said ‘I’m here for work.’”

“It was amazing, especially as growing up we didn’t have the most funds to compete in the sport,” pointed out James, who has since returned to Pitt Meadows, B.C. “I think when I was with Eddie and Andreas, I was thrown in the deep water a little bit; I had to manage shows, teach the clients, so it was a really good introduction to doing it properly.”

The Ahlmann experience was particularly crucial. “I think the biggest thing that really helped me was the quantity of horses,” he noted. “I’d never ridden so many horses in my life! There, I’d be riding twelve to fourteen horses a day and a lot of it was visual learning, watching how he trained, making my own mistakes and learning from them. I think that was huge. Staying late to watch the vet, the blacksmith. To be able to succeed when you have to do it all yourself, on your own funding, you have to find the best ways to manage possible. In that regards, it was exactly what I needed.”

His parents have a small farm in B.C. and he has students there. He’s left some of his horses in Europe, but competes primarily on the west coast now with his others.

The KWPN stallion Iceman (Ameretto D x Lux Z x Cassini 1) stands at James Sport Horses in BC. (McCool Photography)

“I split time back and forth between Europe and here, but I think I would need to be based there in the sense that I’ve been lucky that the horses have been paying their way this year. But if that wasn’t happening, I’d be in the hole big time,” he admitted. “There, it’s a lot more practical. I can go to an international show for 450 euros, national shows are 20 euros. For me, I can actually survive.”

He brought his most promising mount, JSH Ice Man, to the Spruce Meadows September Series in order to give the eight-year-old some much-needed high-level jumping. Ice Man has won a couple of grand prix in California.

“He did really good this year and here [Spruce Meadows] you really see where the horses are at mentally, whether they need another six months,” James noted. “He needs a bit more time. I’ve been stepping him up to a metre-fifty this last month just to see where we’re at. The winter we step back again so he can get confidence and then when he’s nine he can really shine through.”

He does note that he has been to Spruce Meadows before … albeit in a bit different circumstances.

“I came when I was around 11 years old,” he said with a chuckle. “I did the ATCO double slalom, so it’s been about a decade and a half since I’ve seen it again.”

The plan is for James to stick around this part of the world for the fall, then head to Las Vegas and also take in the Sunshine Tour in Thermal, CA.

“Because I don’t have any owners supporting me, I really want to keep building my own string of horses,” he said of his hopes for the sport. “To be able to jump all the grand prix; my dream has always been to win Aachen or Rome … that’s the endgame for me.

“When you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. I was gone for a long time. But it’s nice being back and the horses having a little bit of success … hopefully some good comes our way.”