Saying goodbye: Chase It With Brandy, 2009-2017
June 13, 2017
Four tiny hooves that first touched gumbo earth at the end of long shaky legs on the Schimkat Ranch near the mighty Missouri River in South Dakota grew into talented flying hooves raising dust along a far-flung and magical star-studded trail before leaving their final prints in sandy loam far East of the Mississippi River.
The Silver Spurs Arena in Osceola Heritage Park is near the Kissimmee River and the northwest shore of Lake Tohopekaliga in Florida – an area that was home to some of the first horses in America. That's where the unbelievably brave, beautiful, faithful, loving and talented Chase it With Brandy placed her final hoofprint, just before her awesome spirit winged a shining way across the rainbow into Horse Heaven. No one who truly knew Brandy will ever be the same again.
Owner-trainer-rider Jana Griemsman says, "I haven't talked to any of the reporters or people who have called, but to have a tribute to her — we want that. I want to find someone to pencil or paint a picture of her for me, too. I'm going to try to find all the photos ever taken of her. She was amazing…I don't want her memories ever forgotten."
From birth the foal called Brandy mesmerized horsewomen Brandy Holzer and Ruby Schimkat into spoiling her. They just couldn't help themselves, and they weren't the only ones. Who wouldn't idolize a beautiful filly with a perfect white heart in the center of her forehead? Ruby's daughter Jana, still shaken to her core weeks after Brandy's passing says, "I revolved around that mare when she was a baby. I always said that she gives her whole heart to me… one more thing that makes her so special. "
The foal of Ruby's daughter Jill Schimkat Moody's Corona Special and Terry Moody's TM Sakem Drift was destined for greatness and born with the charisma to carry it off. Somehow Jill just knew Brandy belonged with her sister, so when the filly was two she sent her west to the Black Hills to live with Jana and Paul Griemsman near Piedmont. "My husband knew from the beginning she was going to be something special," Jana says, "And I was just lucky enough my sister let me keep her."
Brandy never bucked but her brilliant brain took note of plenty that spooked her. Yet Jana, who started her on barrels as a 2-year-old, remembers, "I knew she was going to be nice — and the whole time I was running her at futurities I was pregnant with our son Laken."
Laken, now a 3-year-old, fell in love in utero with Brandy and the thrill of running fast barrels on her! It was a mutual love. Jana relates, "I'd win a rodeo on her and my little boy would come running up to us beaming, 'Mom! You're the champion!' I could hand her over for him to lead back to the trailer right then. She was a gentle soul…but a fierce competitor."
Laken owes his wonderful toddler memories of Disney World to Brandy, too. His mom Jana's goal for 2016 was to win the barrel racing title in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Badlands Circuit, thereby clinching a ride in the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo near Kissimmee, Florida. Jana and Brandy not only earned the ticket to Florida by winning the average at the Badlands Circuit Finals, they also won the 2016 Circuit championship and Brandy (who won over $25,000 in the 15 Badlands Circuit 20l6 rodeos) was named "Badlands Horse of the Year" in the Women's Professional Rodeo Association.
Jana enjoyed Disney World almost as much as Laken and they made three trips there. Tears stream down her face today as she relates how Brandy's tragedy drowned that joy; and how tough it is for Paul and her to enter into Laken's excitement of remembering and discussing Mickey Mouse and his other favorites from those trips. "We had been having the time of our life…and now that vacation will never be the same," she says.
Jana's horses have always come first and she says she's been fanatical about seeing them the last thing at night and the first thing in the morning, making sure they are ok. Brandy's relationship with her was even deeper than other horses. Jana gave up a likely trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo last fall to bring the faithful mare home for a rest.
She says for most of 2016 the duo pocketed a check every time they unloaded – a rare feat in today's competition. Then Brandy had some off days in September, and a vet Jana took her to found some lung inflammation. Some people would've given her antibiotics and kept pursuing that coveted WNFR berth, but Jana pulled up for Brandy's sake. Paul flew to Idaho and drove them home, where Brandy enjoyed home pasture R & R until the Circuit Finals.
That wasn't the first time Jana had gone beyond normal to insure Brandy's health and wellbeing. She says, "The winter of her 5-year-old year she started kind of going by the first barrel. She'd never done that, never slipped, never had any soundness issues, there was never anything wrong with her. So I took her to the vet then, but he couldn't find anything at all wrong. Even so, I just took her home and turned her out for six months; just let her be a horse and no pressure."
Factors including distance hauled, change of altitude, climate, temperature, humidity, even air pressure between Florida and South Dakota throw big challenges at runners. In spite of all those variations Brandy's first out in the Silver Spurs Arena last month was a respectable 15.55, barely out of the money.
Then came April 8th and nirvana! The Women's Professional Rodeo Association website reported "Griemsman posted the fastest run of the rodeo, a blistering 15.09 seconds after Brandy dropped low and tight on three corners."
Even Jana was blown away and she says, "I pray I never lose that feeling of that phenomenal run Saturday night! It was perfect, in my body and in my mind." Fourth to run, the ground was good, and they won the round as well as topping the two run aggregate with a 30.64 total!
The launch pad was perfect for the final run, but Jana's mind somehow hadn't reported 'all systems go.' She recalls, "I had an intuition that morning as we were driving over to the barns to do the chores. My husband alluded to a worry we'd had last winter…we just weren't clocking and kind of struggling on our practice runs and we didn't know what was going on with her and me. And then it passed – so on the drive to the barns Paul looked at me and said, 'You have your horse back. I'm so thankful you have her back and she's doing what you want to do.'
I looked at him and said, "You just never know…you never know when you're going to have your last run on them."
After we'd taken care of her I started packing up in the trailer, to get ready to head home. As I was packing, something kept telling me to go outside. Something told me to stop packing and just go outside and be with my horse. So I stopped and went outside and brushed on her and spent time with her. To this moment I can tell you every bump on her hide, my hands can still feel them. There was a little piece of hair on her fetlock I was wishing I could get cut off…a little scab on her left flank…I can still feel every little bark on that beautiful hide."
Jana's sister Jill called earlier that morning to wish her luck. "She asked if everything was OK," Jana remembers. "She said, 'You don't sound good.' I told her I wasn't liking being eighth on the ground, they'd had some problems with it; but I knew Brandy would take care of me. She always has, she never slips, ever…once slightly at the First round of Circuit Finals back home and they let the girls come back and run…so I was just a little worried about it. But Jill said, 'Brandy will take care of you'. And she did…until the end!
"She turned the first barrel perfectly like always, then slipped really bad on the back of the second barrel. Halfway to the third barrel I knew something didn't feel right and tried to pull her up. She was injured. We never had a wreck at the gate. She never fell. Never did anything but come to a stop outside the gate.
"I thought she'd injured her left hind leg and I was crying out for my husband and for a vet. Pulling my saddle off and looking at her leg, and she started getting weak and didn't want to stand. We had to get her to a vet, so Paul went and got the trailer and loaded her. She nickered at her friend that she was going to load, and I rode back there with her while he headed for a vet. She nickered again and I told Paul he had to be back there, I couldn't hold her. So we switched.
"I was not even out of the arena and he called me. She had laid down already. I stopped and we jumped the other two horses out of the front of the trailer and called for the vet there on site to get her up and see what we should do. It was hard for my husband as well…Paul wants to be the tough man, but I am so glad he was there to hold my hand in that trailer. There we are, in the middle of Florida…I don't know where to go and what to do but I have just lost a piece of my heart there in that trailer.
"By the time I got it all ironed out they had determined she had somehow bled to death from the run…somehow slipped on the second barrel and they think something in her pelvis had torn a vessel so she just bled out. Why couldn't she have just laid down in the pasture and it happened at home so we could have dealt with it among family and friends?
"She had just had the biggest win of my lifetime the day before, and less than 24 hours later she was taken from us," Jana sobs. "Thankfully I had a cousin in Ocala and they met us at the vet clinic. They made us stay until morning before starting out. We drove straight through the next two days – a long, long drive.
"Horses come and go in people's lives but she was amazing. You don't get horses that run that well in good, bad, small or big arenas. She never balked. She had confidence and was always calm and collected. I could have hauled her even last fall, she was tough. But I knew I loved my horse more than I loved the idea of myself making the NFR.
"Now I'm torn, because she qualified me for Calgary, and now I need to make a decision. Brandy got me there…my sister and husband want me to run. Jill has a brother to Brandy, so it would still be family and I could try…but I don't know. This kind of took it out of me. I'm still riding but I will never be the same.
"I have to think of my son. So much of his life and where he's been and what he has done are because of Brandy. My baby and my horse were all I had time for…and I'm blessed that she was a winner. Laken sat on my lap and said, 'It's OK Mom, Brandy's just at that doctor in Florida and he's gon'na make her run better.' We explained it to him again and when he was ready for bed and having a popsicle he came to me and said, 'I love you. I know you don't have Brandy anymore and we won't get to go to Rodeo Houston and watch bulldogging, bronc riding and calf roping.'"
Tears pour as Jana says, "Because of Brandy I got to run at Houston! Not in a million years did I know I'd not get to go back there with her.
"I've spent the last three weeks, day by day, unpacking my life out of my horse trailer. My saddles and bridles I used on her, I may never use them on another horse. All her boots, her blankets, packed away in a Rubbermaid container…brushes that have her hair on them I can't use — I put them away.
"I would give anything to have her back…even a piece of her. I never flushed any embryos because I didn't want to stress her. Her dad and mom are still alive but it's not likely we could ever get any offspring. I'll be trying to find some bloodlines along the way that we can have a piece of her somehow….
"We've gotten some cards from friends and from people I barely know. You really learn who your true friends are…people have texted and messaged all of us, and we can't thank them enough. It has meant the world to me, and to Paul, and we want people to know that. I'm not the same person – will never be the same competitor. They changed our lives.
"There never will be a day that goes by where we won't think about Brandy and everything she did for us. What she taught me, where she took me, all the memories she made for Paul and Laken and me. She was phenomenal – my champion and my guardian at the same time. She changed our lives and everything my husband and I do.
"I cherish the memories she gave my family, and hope she's happy and knows how much she is loved and missed. I have her long hair and her shoes, and I had her cremated and brought home. She's home now," Jana weeps. "I pray I never lose that feeling of that phenomenal run Saturday night…I will never have another run of hers."
–Reprinted with permission from the Wrangler