Ep6. [Part Two] Julie Brougham and Vom Feinsten's Story


Today's episode is part two of the story of New Zealand dressage Olympians Julie Brougham and Vom Feinsten or Steiny as he has also known. Last week, Julie shared about her early riding days why she chose to pursue dressage as a riding discipline, what led her path to cross with Steiny's, and the time preparing for and representing New Zealand at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

So, if you missed that episode, it's just one episode back, number five. And that's the background to today's episode. If you did miss it, you might want to pause this one, jump into episode five and then visit me back here at episode six. Because today Julia sharing about her journey to the World Equestrian Games (WEG), her battle with cancer and what equestrian life is like for her now.


Fast forward approximately 18 months from your Rio Olympics debut. And at this point, your goal was selection to represent New Zealand at the World Equestrian Games that were coming up in Tryon in the USA. So WEG was about five months out. And you made a courageous decision to undergo a hip replacement. Is that right?


Yes, but it wasn't a courageous decision. That was very much a necessity. I rode through the whole summer in absolute agony. I'd had a young horse for training, and we just had an accident, unfortunately in the arena. It came as a complete surprise. I was riding this horse around and I thought it was going very nicely. And I think I was a little bit distracted thinking about what I needed to get out the deep freeze for the evening meal. And the next thing I know it had flipped over and it rolled on to my right and onto my leg.

And I actually thought that had broken my leg. But my groom came running and she got me up and no, my leg was fine. But then later, I began to get pain. And that pain just got worse and worse and worse. I got an x-ray and it showed that I had arthritis in the hip area. So you know, ultimately, I was going to need a hip replacement.

So I managed to somehow to get through the summer through all the competitions and then went and had the surgery. And when they took the femoral head out, they discovered I had a fracture right over the top. So that had been the reason why I had been in such pain.


Do you have the highest pain threshold?


I think I must really do.


That's amazing.


I don't know that I could have got through the summer on another horse. It's just that I know Steiny so well, and he's so sensitive and electric that my right leg just literally hung and didn't do any work at all. So yes, it was a little bit close to the World Equestrian Games. My husband's an orthopaedic surgeon, he was pretty confident I'd get through it without too much trouble.

If I hadn't, and there had been a problem we would have had to withdrawal and I think everybody would have understood that. But I didn't want to let the New Zealand public down. A lot of effort had been going into fundraising for us to get to this event. Sadly, we had lost Wendy Williamson's lovely horse Deja vu. So where as we thought we had a team we no longer did.

But still, John Thompson was keen to go with his lovely horse Antonello, and so it landed up with just being the two of us. But yes it was a bit of a touch go thing for time, I think because I'd had the Olympic experience and that experience of riding in Europe and because I knew Steiny so well, it really wasn't a problem. It was, it was doable, and we did it.


And while you were recovering, who kept Steiny fit? And how did that work?


I wasn't off him for very long. I won't say how long because it might be unwise, of me to, but yes, my surgeon at the time went to say, well, when are you going to get back on the horse? And then he said no, don't tell me. Don't tell me. So I think Andrea came up a couple of times and sort of walked and trotted him around, but he basically had a bit of a holiday and I jumped back on board and off we went again.


That's amazing.  So you made it to the States for WEG and enroute you spent time preparing in New York. Can you tell us about Saugerties?


We were staying at Avalon Farm in North Salem, and Saugerties was only about an hour and a half away. So it was quite near, and we got transported to go there. And we unfortunately, we didn't have a huge class, but Steiny was really on form. And he did two super, super tests. He got almost 70% in his Grand Prix which he won. And he got over 70% and the Grand Prix Special and both were just such wonderful tests. And we were so thrilled because we felt really on track for the World Equestrian Games and producing our very best work at the Games. So that was a very exciting show you again had a wonderful audience and he was very much appreciated by the crowd. It was a, it was a fun show for us.


So then you arrived at WEG and I mean, we would never have known but Steiny, he was feeling off color and you were in terrible pain.


He was fine when we arrived. He was in really good health and good spirits. And he often you know, when you are training your horses, you get land up with quite a crowd around the arena watching and we had many a comment about the wonderful work he was doing. And he was quite a star. And then it was a matter of days before we were due to compete that Andrea meet me in the stables and said, Steiny, he has cough and he had gunk coming out his nose. And that was incredibly concerning.

Of course, we were at a point where we were very limited in what we could give him to help him with this nasal and coughing distress.  He could get antibiotics but really not anything else. And we were so worried about and getting swabbed. The person that probably came to my rescue there was again, was Ton de Ridder because I was feeling terribly bad about riding a horse that wasn't 100%. But Ton said, Julie, you have to ride. You're here representing your country, you have to ride.

So when I did train, he was there watching and giving encouragement and also recommending to Andrea and myself how best to handle the situation. So we did. We just got on and rode.

In terms of myself. I was getting these dreadful cramps but I usually got them early in the morning and then was free of them and I certainly wasn't affected, I don't feel, in my riding by them.

It's very hard when you're riding as an individual because at that stage, John Thompson had withdrawn, AJ. And once again, we didn't get the best of the draw. We were early on in the morning. Andrea was brick she was up early and at the stables early and walked Steiny early to try and allow him to get the gunk up from what accumulates overnight. And I also rode him when I got there at 7:30 in the morning, and the poor horse he was completely under the weather, but we did have to try and get the gunk up so he wouldn't cough. And he didn't have long from the time I rode him. He got plaited and then we were back out competing in the arena.

Shall I tell you about the test?


Yes, tell us about the test.


Well, of course it wasn't easy. Tryon was in North Carolina, the conditions were incredibly hot and humid. I mean, you just dripped really all the time. Steiny did a reasonable warm up. But I knew he wasn't quite himself. He's always so energetic and goey, and he didn't feel like that, he felt a bit flat. Not quite himself.

But he's such a brave horse, he went out and he did a foot perfect test.

It might not have had quite the spring and bounce of the Olympics and what he usually would do, but he didn't put a foot wrong. We were very unfortunate with, they play music while you do your grand prix. And whoever was looking after the music for us played some really awful music, which was really annoying, because it was quite loud. But that's something you just have to cope with and put up with and try and blot out your mind.

But again, I was very proud of him, particularly as he was so foot perfect.

 I had many people come and say what a fabulous test it was, including Carl Hester and Ton de Ridder. We were just a bit unlucky with a mark we got from a young Danish judge otherwise he was marked very well. Initially we ended up on the screen as 69.2 I think it was was over 69% and I thought, well, I want I wanted a 70 but considering how unwell Steiny is that's a pretty good mark.

And then later it changed to 68.999 and I was terribly disappointed not to have knocked off that 69%.

There's nothing much you can do about it. I'd certainly got one judge had given me a very high marks almost 72% and he had actually been well judged except by this one judge which I don't know why he did mark him down.

Everybody else seemed to be very impressed with the performance. But then I thought well, what an amazing horse. You know, given any other circumstances had I been home at a show in New Zealand I would never have competed them. And here he was. With basically the flu and he went out and did a foot perfect Grand Prix.

I was pretty, pretty happy with that.


Yeah, what a big heart he's got.


He has a huge heart, huge willingness.

Probably what I haven't said was for a horse to compete as Steiny has internationally because you come from New Zealand which after all is next to the South Pole. They have to be wonderful travellers, and he has been a phenomenal traveller.

If he wasn't, I couldn't have done what I've done. But I would be very reluctant to ever make him do it again. There's been so many huge trips.

When he went and AJ went over to the States, they started off in Auckland, they flew to Christchurch, they overnighted and Sydney. They then travelled to Shanghai, they then travelled from there (that's in China of course), and then they travelled up to Anchorage, Alaska. There the plane broke down and they were stuck on the runway for ten hours.

They then flew to New York, they were very slow to unload them, and they were put on transporter and taken to Newburg Quarantine Station which is renowned for being unpleasant. And they were there for three days before they were released and they could then travel to Avalon Farm.

Fortunately, from Lexington coming home, it was a much easier trip. They went from Chicago to San Francisco to Hawaii to Auckland. But travelling cargo as they do it's not nice, it's not fun for them. As I say I would never expect Steiny to travel again like that.

It's a big deal to ask, it's a lot to ask of your horse, which is of course also why I try and travel with him.


Is it unusual for the rider to journey with their horse?


Yes, it is. They will try and not accommodate the rider traveling. I have been very fortunate that IRT has allowed me to do the traveling that I've done with Steiny. But I'm not alone in that, Isabell Werth, when her horse travels to World Equestrian Games or the Olympics she herself travels with her horses as a groom. So I'm not the only rider that's wishes to do that.


Yeah. And I think that says a lot for your, for your love of him. That you want to make sure he has the utmost care and that you're there if he needs you.


Yes. Having said that, I do think that IRT have really looked after Steiny in all his big travels and he's had a favourite groom, Allan Goodall. And Allan often is the one that does travel with him. They put him on if they possibly can, they have Allan traveling with Steiny so I've been very, very lucky about that. 


Then you came back to New Zealand and got the news about what those stomach cramps you're experiencing were. Can you tell us about that?


Yes, I stayed with Steiny. Everyone went home, but I stayed on in Lexington with Steiny until he went into quarantine. And during that period I was getting more and more unwell and more and more of these, wretched stomach cramps which I didn't have any idea what they were.

But I was certainly pleased to finally get home and you know, be able to go and see my GP and start to sort out what was the matter with me.

And anyway, then I landed up having an exploratory operation and from that they discovered that I had cancer.

It was peritoneal cancer of ovarian type. And the prognosis wasn't good. That was a huge shock. I never anticipated that in my life I'd get cancer . After all I had been a pretty fit person. I've always eaten my broccoli, and I never smoked.

I could see no reason at all, I should land up with cancer. So yes, that really has changed our lives significantly.


Yeah, for the next 12 months, was it you know, numerous surgeries and chemotherapy?


Yes, I immediately more or less immediately started chemotherapy, which was very unpleasant. It didn't take long before my hair started to fall out. It was Carbo Platinum plus Paclitaxel.

For the type of cancer I had there's a pathway that steen's women to the Main Hospital in Wellington to have surgery to hopefully remove the cancer. They call it debulking and find the original source, which I duly did.

And unfortunately for me, I suffered medical misadventure. And in the process of my surgery, the surgeon actually managed to cut the blood supply to my bowel. And this, the surgeon, the lady surgeon didn't realize she had done even though I became very ill.

And a CT scan at four days didn't, she didn't think showed that there was anything untoward going wrong at the time. I got discharged on the eighth day and I was terribly, terribly ill. We were pleased that I was discharged and came home.

And then the next morning David took me into Palmerston North hospital where I was immediately given another CT scan and then told I could not go home that I needed to go straight to emergency surgery.

As a consequence of that surgery, I lost half my large bowel. And when I did wake up and I was in ICU, I found out that I had an ileostomy as a consequence of that surgery going terribly wrong, the initial surgery.

I then had two more surgeries, again, which weren't particularly successful. And then prior to Christmas, blow me down, I needed another round of surgery.

So 2019, I spent a third of that year in Palmerston North hospital. Twice long lengthy session in ICU. And yes, I very nearly lost my life. Fortunately, I seem to battle on and survive.

And I think through it all, um having Steiny somehow and knowing I had to get back to look after him, probably helped to get me there.


Yes, it just gave you that impetus and determination. And you knew he was there waiting for you.


Exactly. And I did get back to riding him again. Initially, I was very thin and very weak. But of course, he knows it all, he's Mr Einstein. And so, unbelievably, we did get to compete in October, no, sorry, September of 2019. And I did get to do a Grand Prix test at the Central Districts Championships. And he did a wonderful test, and he easily won it with a score of 69 plus percent. And that was a huge thrill for us both.

But then unfortunately, it was discovered that my cancer was again, an issue and I had to go back for more surgery. And that really pretty much then takes us through to Covid.

So we've had lots of interruptions and things that have gotten in our way throughout the period from the World Equestrian Games to today.


Yes. Now, I'd like to just backtrack a little bit. You obviously at some point had spotted another horse that had taken your interest. Leo, can you tell us a little bit about him?


Leo. He was actually born and bred in Germany at Vorwerk Stud.  Which is, I think the oldest, or one of the oldest Hanoverian studs in Germany. It's up by Hamburg.

They have two parts of Vorwek, there was where the mares and foals and young stock were and then there was a stallion station as well. Which is a magnificent place at Cappeln. And Steiny and I actually completed there prior to going to the Aachen CHIO. It had some very famous stallions there.

So that's where he (Leo) actually was found.

It was really at the time that I was having the exploratory surgery and then the subsequent cancer diagnosis that Ben Conn got in touch with David and myself. He said he had been to the Vorwerk Stud up by Hamburg, and he had found Steiny the second who was a young colt, rising three, and he thought was ideally suited to me.

Anyway he sent videos and we talked about it and then we thought, yes, we might take this risk and get this young colt, which would go to Ben for being broken-in and training.

And then of course, I had this disastrous operation and emergency surgery. And while I was going into emergency surgery, I said to David, don't buy that horse. As this isn't going to end well. Just don't buy it.

It was some time later. When I had recovered that I said to David, so what'd you do about the horse? And he said, I bought it.

David felt that I needed a goal and something to look forward to. And so yes, Leo was initially broken in and trained in Germany and then when Ben moved to Holland, he took Leo with him. And then Christmas this year, just before Christmas, Leo travelled over to England to go to New Market and into quarantine, where he was for seven weeks over the Christmas/New Year period.

And then he travelled to Auckland where he did a further three weeks in quarantine, and then came to the Manawatu to our home in mid-February this year. And he's lovely. He's a beautiful horse. I don't know that he's Steiny the second but we do love him and we're very pleased to have him.

I have two very beautiful chestnut horses.


What has the unwavering love, support and dedication of David played in your achievements and your success? As well as your health battles and recoveries? What has David meant to you? I think it's amazing what he did buying Leo, a real act of faith, you know, just willing you to get better to be able to ride him.


Oh well he's...I couldn't have done it without him. Without his support and energy and generosity. He has probably been to quote "the wind beneath my wings". Um, I don't know how I can ever really thank him enough for all he has done. Yeah.


Just an incredible husband and partner in your equestrian pursuits and everything. It's lovely.


Julie, you have such incredible drive and determination. Where does that come from?


Oh, look, I'm not sure. I don't know. It's just the way I am. Maybe it's because I'm number three child in the family and number three tends to get ignored and not noticed. As I'm told.

I just think, believed, that you, you can dream big. And even if you don't knock off that dream, you might come close to it. And in this case, I did dare to dream and dare to believe that I was good enough to go the Olympics. And I did. I made it happen.

But certainly, I don't think I could have done it without David's support. It's been a fantastic partnership. And of course, I couldn't have done it without Steiny. I had to have a horse that was good enough to take.


Yeah. And that leads me nicely into the next question. If you could name one gift that Steiny has given to you. What would that be?[ 


That he took me to the Olympics. That I did get to fulfil my dream.


Yeah, what a wonderful gift.

Well, I had the privilege of creating a framed Horseshoe Memento for you that has Steiny's horseshoes from Rio from your Olympic debut, and a beautiful photograph of you performing at Rio. What does that mean to you?


Well, it's in our family room on the wall and there wouldn't be a day that doesn't go past that I don't look at it. And it's a direct reminder of what we did and what we achieved. And the horseshoes in gold are absolutely beautiful.

It was probably helped too that Carsten Neumann put very fancy horseshoes on Steiny. So they look a little different from normal New Zealand horseshoes, they're absolutely beautiful.

So it's a wonderful memento of a very fabulous occasion. And then you also did them for me for his horseshoes from when we went to the World Equestrian Games and we have those in our lounge.

And again, I'm enormously proud of them.


It was a real honour and I, and I have to say I had never seen horseshoes like them. And I remember when they arrived thinking what on earth are these little, you know, little stud things and I puzzled over them and then I had to get in touch with you to find out what on earth they were. I'd never seen anything like it.

So for those of you who are listening, I'll include a photograph of them in the show notes, so you will be able to go and have a look at and see these interesting horseshoes.


Are there any sponsors that have been particularly supportive?


There's one very special person I'd like to name who is an old friend of mine called Annette Burmeister that has a shop in the Manawatu called Prebble Equestrian. Annettte has been a long time sponsor Steiny and myself. And in spite of the fact that we haven't been able to compete since the World Equestrian Games, she remains a very loyal sponsor to us and we're very grateful to Annette for that continuing loyalty.

There's another person that has been very generous to us and that's Sandi Johnson, from Classic Equestrian who stocks Cavallo clothing and boots. Sandy was so good. She sponsored our beautiful black tails that we wore at the World Equestrian Games. And so I'm very grateful to her for that beautiful coat that I got to wear.


What's equestrian life like for you at the moment? What are you up to? What are you working on?


Well, I'm still riding my two lovely chestnut horses, my two golden boys. But because of COVID it is very quiet. And I was very disappointed that our New Zealand Dressage Nationals were unable to go ahead back in March, April because of COVID. Because Steiny and I were all set to go.

But we are looking forward to competing again.

Of course with COVID we can no longer go over to Australia and compete, which is very unfortunate for New Zealand dressage riders who have aspirations of going there. It's certainly a very good stepping stone to thinking about going and competing on the other side of the world.

We just hope that New Zealand remains nearly COVID free so that we can get back to holding shows and competing again.


Yes, absolutely. Will you be out with Leo?


I'm not absolutely sure. It depends a lot on my health. My horses are certainly able to go. I am currently supposedly in remission, but it's not all perfect. And I have had so many plans and goals that have basically turned into custard since I've had cancer.

So I hope I get out there. I hope we do get to compete and enjoy it, but we'll just have to wait and see how it goes.


We'd love to see you out there.  For those who are interested in what you're up to. How can they follow you?


I do have a website called www.juliebroughamdressage.com it probably doesn't get updated as much as it should, because of this health issue that I've had.


Thank you so much for your time today and sharing your inspiring story, talk about journeying, the highest of highs and some of the lowest of lows. You're an inspiration.

And I think what stands out to me is your focus, your drive, your determination, you're prepared to work hard, and you definitely don't give up - and your health battles are testament to that. You're not giving up!

And we wish you all the best with your health.

And I just like to thank you again for your time today. It's just been an absolute honour.


Thank you Kate, it's been my privilege to be able to tell you our story.


There we have it. I hope you enjoyed the inspirational story of Julie and Steiny.

Julie currently has a small number of pupils she is teaching one-on-one and after our recording she expressed to me how thrilling it is seeing her pupils develop and improve as well as the enjoyment she is getting from contributing back to the sport in this way. 

The engraving on one of the plaques in Julie's framed Horseshoe Memento simply reads dare to dream. It sums up the story of Julie who dared to dream of representing New Zealand at the Olympics and later dared to battle it out with cancer and all that, that threw at her. And then there is Julie's husband David who dared to buy Julie a beautiful young horse when her life was hanging by a thread. I think there's a lesson for us all in the story. And that's not to shy away from being a little more daring.

If you liked this episode, it would mean a lot if you subscribe to this podcast and leave a review. If curious to see a photo of Julie's framed Rio Olympics Horseshoe Memento and her World Equestrian Games gold Horseshoe Memento click on the link in my show notes, or visit horseshoemementos.com/blogs/podcast/6.

Thanks as always, for listening to The Horseshoe Storyteller podcast. Where we believe every horseshoe holds a story.