First appeared in the September 2014 issue of The Equiery
By Katherine O. Rizzo
When 28-year-old Alexa Briscoe, then only 15, first sat on the Bavarian Warmblood Wildfeuer while on a horse-shopping trip to Germany she certainly had not been looking for a four-year-old stallion but it truly was love at first sight. “I wasn’t very interested in him when he was first brought out. But the second I sat on him and picked up the reins, I knew he was my horse,” she said. “I don’t really believe in soul mates or anything like that, but I do know how I felt about Feuer right from the start.”
Alexa’s trainer Becky Langworst-Barlow also had some reservations about pairing her young pupil with a young stallion but said, “when she sat on him, she just know that was the horse for her and when Alexa makes up her mind about something, she has made up her mind.” There was no looking back and from that point on, Alexa’s determination has carried the pair up through the Grand Prix level and to earning their USDF Gold Medal. And it sure was not an easy road to ride, making winning this award that much sweeter.
The Dressage Attraction
Alexa’s love of horse started at an early age. “The first thing she drew in her life, at age two, was a horse,” her father John Briscoe remembered. “She stayed focused and fascinated and so when she asked to start lessons, we were able to do it and happy to do so.” Alexa was only seven years old at the time.
Initially Alexa rode at Potomac Glen Riding School but by the time she was 11 years old, she knew she wanted to focus on dressage. “Somebody at the Surrey recommended Becky [Langworst-Barlow], who was teaching out of the Potomac Horse Center at the time,” Alexa explained. “I love that you can do [dressage] your whole life and still be learning. I love the close relationship it fosters between horse and rider and the beauty of well-executed movements.”
Shortly after meeting Becky, Alexa’s parents bought her a Thoroughbred named Patent Leather, a.ka. Pat. “He was owned by a student of mine and Alexa learned a lot from him,” Becky stated. Pat was trained through Prix St. George and within a few years, Alexa was competing Pat at Second and Third Lvel. “Pat was a truly remarkable horse and a wonderful teacher,” she said.
In their first year of recognized shows together, Alexa was First Level Jr/YR champion and went to U.S. Pony Club Nationals in dressage riding for Seneca Valley Pony Club. “I was really only a member for less than a year,” she explained. “Back then you had to jump to move up in rating. Pat was getting older and wasn’t up for jumping too much and I wasn’t really interested in it either.
In 2009, after having already sold Pat to another one of Becky’s students so he could continue to be a teacher, Alexa was given a seven-year-old Thoroughbred named An’Dante. “Dante had the truest soul of any horse I have every known. He would do anything you asked him to and could be ridden by anyone,” she said. With Dante, Alexa branched out a bit, competing through Novice in eventing and even participated in the Extreme Cowboy Race held at Loch Moy Farm in Adamstown that year. The pair won the Non-Pro division. She also tried her hand on team penning and sorting. “Unfortunately that incredible soul was not put in the soundest body, but I was able to find a wonder home for him as the personal horse of a woman who runs a horse rescue on Long Island. She still sends me pictures of him fat and happy.”
One in a Million
Alexa and Feuer (pronounced “Foyer”) first started competing in 2001. By 2005 they were USDF/GAIG Jr./YR Champions at Third Level. Things were certainly coming together for the pair and just when they started looking at moving up to Fourth Level, Feuer developed a sudden lameness. “He was diagnosed with a bone cyst in his left shoulder and was operated on at Texas A&M,” Alexa said, adding that she had taken him with her to college at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
After several months of stall rest and hand walking, she finally began to ride him again but missed all of the 2006 and 2007 competition seasons. They did a little showing in 2008 but Feuer became lame again. This time, since they were back in Maryland where Alexa was now attending the University of Maryland for graduate school, she took Feuer to the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Virginia for a second surgery to clean up the cyst. “Feuer never got any better after that one. It got to the point where he was lame at the walk.”
Enter Norrie Adams, DVM, a surgeon and lameness export at Marion duPont. “I had read about a similar case study done at Purdue where a section of the biceps tendon was removed,” Dr. Adams explained. “The surgery was still experimental at the time and the first one we had done here at the hospital.”
“ We really didn’t have any other choice. It was either to try the surgery or put him down,” Alexa added. “My hope was that he would be comfortable in a pasture and maybe even be able to lease him to someone riding at the lower levels.”
Dr. Adams and his team performed the surgery, called biceps brachii tenotomy, in April of 2009. “At first his shoulder seemed really strange, all loose and wobbly. He was on stall rest for a while before being turned out,” Alexa remarked. Then one day, Alexa watched in awe as Feuer trotted soundly across the field. “His muscles seemed to have learned to compensate and I sent Dr. Adams a video of Feuer on the lunge. He gave me the go-ahead to start riding.”
“It really is such a rare injury and one that normally ends in euthanasia but this surgery is proving to be very affective,” Dr. Adams commented. “Feuer is an exceptional case. I don’t think there is any other horse out there that has returned to such a high level of performance. It really is a fantastic comeback story.”
One year later, Feuer and Alexa were back in the competition ring. “I am so grateful to Dr. Adams for giving me all these years with my beloved horse.”
“ We have found it extraordinarily moving to see Alexa’s time commitment to [Feuer’s] wellbeing never wavered. That he recovered from the experimental surgery and performed at Grand Prix was a great added bonus,” John proudly stated.
Achieving More Than Gold
Back in full work and full competition mode, Alexa and Feuer continued to climb the dressage latter earning the USDF/GAIG Prix St. George and Fourth Level Freestyle championships in 2011. In 2013, the year the pair earned this award, they scored a 69% at Intermediarie I, won the FEI Test of Choice and earned the High Score award at the PVDA Summer Showdown.
That September they competed in their first CDI, Dressage at Devon. “It was a little stressful to learn all the new rules and unfortunately I forgot to drop my whip in the Prix St. George test and was eliminated from my first class,” she said of her first Devon experience. “But when we rode Intermediarie I in the [Dixon] Oval the next day, the atmosphere was incredible and Feuer loved showing off.”
The next month they won the USDF/GAIG Championship at Intermediarie II and then headed to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky to compete in the U.S. Dressage Finals. They came in second by a hair, “only because I halted one letter too early at the end of the test and got an error!” In the end, they still earned the Adult Amateur Reserve Championship.
Also while in Kentucky, Alexa rode Feuer to their first ever Grand Prix. “And we broke a 60%, first time out! After everything Feuer and I have been through, I was so happy to be there that I almost cried when I went down centerline. Finding out in December that I won this award was just the cherry on top of a terrific year.”
To add to such a successful show career, this spring the pair earned their USDF Gold Medal. “When she told me she had gotten her last score for her Gold Medal, I nearly cried. I’m just so proud of her. She made that horse on her own and I feel very lucky to have her in my life,” Becky commented. “Alexa is a wonderful person and it has been a pleasure watching them grow and become successful.”
Building a Future
Recognizing that she only has a few more years of competitiveness with Feuer, Alexa bought Bugatti Royale, “Remy,” a Hanoverian yearling but has no plans on ever selling her current equestrian partner. “My goals at this point are to keep riding and showing at Grand Prix as long as Feuer’s comfortable and then keep him happy and healthy for many years. I am hoping that he can be a good trail horse for my boyfriend Scott so that we can ride together when Remy gets started,” she said. “I’m really proud of the fact that I have a successful Grand Prix horse who can also hack out on a mostly loose rein, cross wooden bridges, pop over the occasional log or ditch, etc.”
With Remy, she is building for her future hoping that she will have a future Grand Prix horse in the youngster. “He loves people and is very easy to handle,” she said, adding that she wants to do some in hand obstacle-type competitions with him in a year or two. “He’s just so naturally brave and a lovely mover. I have high hopes for him.”
For now, the future star gets to hang out at Alexa’s family farm Tin Vane in Poolesville where they built a new barn and fenced in pastures this past July. “I have boarded my whole life and having my own barn seemed like a distant dream, but it came true! I love looking out my window to see the horses grazing and being the one to take care of them.”
And while Remy hangs out grows up, Alexa and Feuer continue to compete aiming for both Devon and the Regional finals this year. “Maybe even head to Kentucky again,” she added.
“ I definitely could not have done it without Becky, who has taught me literally everything I know about dressage. And my parents, who bought me Feuer and have supported me in everything I’ve done,” Alexa stated. “But when it comes down to it, I have been the one showing Feuer and riding him every day. If I had bought a made horse, I probably could have moved up the levels faster, done NAYRC, done better at Devon, gone to more CDIs,… but I could not have more pride or sense of accomplishment than I do as it is.”
“Yes, I have helped Alexa through the years but she is the one who really made that horse,” Becky said. “We think that stable, loving and supporting parents do play a role [in a child’s success] but it is the child who has to make her own decisions and chart her own course,” John added. “We have been very blessed that Alexa has done this so well.”
Alexa summed up their whole journey stating, “To me, this is really a remarkable story of hope and recovery, and how close I came to losing Feuer makes me thankful for everything we have accomplished.”