By Katherine O. Rizzo
More than a decade ago, Rhiannon Barreda of Virginia had a custom model made of her dream horse. It was based off of the “Winter Song” Breyer mold but adjusted to be in a bowing position much like a circus horse. “I wanted it to be a black and white Friesian and the artist was like ‘are you sure? Friesians only come in black’ but I knew what my unicorn horse would look like,” Barreda said. “That model sat in a curio cabinet in my house for years while life moved along.”
Barreda enlisted in the U.S. Army and spent 23 years as a MEDEVAC helicopter pilot serving during combat in the Middle East. Although she rode as a kid, horses took a back seat to life as a combat pilot. “Under the previous administration, a bunch of us were forced into early retirement,” she said explaining that budget cuts forced many military branches to retire those older soldiers with more experience since it was cheaper to pay someone straight out of flight school. “I’m going to be very open about this… I really struggled with being a civilian. I just couldn’t figure out how to fit in.”
Barreda then found a way to still serve her country without being an enlisted soldier, by becoming a civilian contractor for the U.S. Army. “I was right back in it, flying again and everything seemed to be right with life,” she said. But then, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world in 2020. “The pandemic was the death of aviation,” she said. “We weren’t just furloughed; we were laid off with no idea if we would ever be able to fly again.”
Struggling to figure out what to do next with her life while her family kept urging her to retire anyway and stay closer to home, Barreda was scrolling through Facebook and saw an ad for a black and white Friesian stallion. “It had always been in the back of my mind to get back into horses and I just kept going back and forth on if I should buy this stallion… and then… I was walking through my house and saw that model I had made so long ago.” Barreda called the seller and arranged to purchase the stallion she eventually would refer to as Ezra. “Everyone thought buying a horse during a pandemic was a bit crazy, but I had a plan to make my next career be about horses, not horsepower,” she stated.
She established Wing & A Prayer Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where she began teaching riding lessons as well as hosting farm parties, raising ducks and many other farm activities. Renamed Battlefield Angel HP, after the name given to the MEDEVAC pilots by wounded battlefield soldiers, Ezra joined the family as well and went into training with Redha Gharsa of Pillars Equestrian Center in Waldorf where the stallion stands at stud.
“He’s just a great horse,” Barreda said. “He doesn’t act like a stallion and can be handled by anyone… kids too!” Ezra’s athletic talents are in dressage where he competed at First and Second levels last season and is currently schooling Fourth Level. He was the 2021 Barock Pinto Association High Point Horse as well as earning top scores at several regional and national dressage competitions.
One day while teaching at the farm, Barreda got a call from a Breyer representative saying that she’d like to talk to her about her pinto stallion becoming a model. “I literally dropped the phone right there in the middle of the ring,” Barreda said. “Breyer had this Friesian sport horse mold they wanted to use but didn’t know what to do with it and so an artist was tasked to research and find the right horse for the model.”
Robin Davidson, the Breyer artist assigned to this project, found Ezra’s photo while conducting searches online for photos of Friesians. Barreda shared, “She picked him based on his looks but then his story really sold them and now he’s a Breyer!” Battlefield Angel HP is Breyer model #1865 and was officially released in July of this year at BreyerFest in Lexington, Kentucky. “His model sold out within the first few minutes on the first day,” Barreda stated. “I didn’t even get to buy one!”
At BreyerFest, Ezra, ridden by Gharsa, gave two performances a day and was also part of official autograph sessions and photo opportunities for the over 30,000 visitors. “But really, we were swamped all day, every day with people who wanted to hear his story and meet a real life Breyer horse.” Barreda shared “his” story, which was in fact, HER story, with everyone who asked and for once in her life, she felt accepted. “It was something that… in the life that I have had.. I never imagined I’d have an opportunity like this,” she said, breaking up a bit while she spoke. “I have never felt like I belonged here in this civilian world until now. I found my herd.”