Grand Prix: Where New Blood Meets Warmblood

Grand Prix show jumper Brittany Albrecq, 18, focuses on a jump barrier she’s swiftly approaching. Through piercing blue eyes, she sizes up the distance and counts the steps until she’ll need to signal her horse, a 1500 pound warmblood named Union Jack, to leap. Seconds before a would be impact, the command is given with a kick of a heel and the rider and massive horse soar over the barrier, clearing it by inches.

“It feels like you’re flying,” Albrecq says of show jumping. “It’s an amazing feeling when you go around clear, it’s probably one of the best.” She trains Union Jack at the LA Equestrian Center in Burbank, where he lives with over 800 other horses in a 72 acre complex behind the Hollywood Hills. Both Albrecq and Union Jack made the transition into Grand Prix level competition in the fall of 2011. “You’re competing at the top level of show jumping, against professionals who have been in the saddle for 40 years,” she says. Riders who participate in this type of show jumping can clear barriers as high as 5’3”. She adds, “There’s a lot more pressure and it’s much more expensive.”

According to Albrecq, Union Jack is classified as a warm-blooded horse because he’s a mix between a heavy draft horse and a thoroughbred. He spent most of his life in Belgium before coming to America with the help of the Albrecq family last year. An assistant trainer at the center said that horses like Union Jack can sell for up to $65,000 on international markets.

Albrecq and Union Jack train on a course six days out of the week where they practice on a course constructed by her trainers that includes jumps of varying heights. “When I can’t ride for multiple days, I get really restless,” she says. “I just want to be out here, I need to ride.”

Though he’s wholly unable to speak, Union Jack’s unique personality is obvious while they’re training. Sometimes he gives Albrecq a friendly push with his nose when they’re walking in the stable together, almost teasingly. “He knocks me around sometimes, it’s an abusive relationship,” she says, jokingly. “But I love him.”

The girl and her horse share a special bond. “I talk to him all the time,” she says. “On good days I tell him how cute he is and when I’m having a bad day I talk to him about what’s been going on with me. He’s like my therapist,” she adds.

Albrecq is competing in Grand Prix this year and is optimistic about the season. She says that if Jack could talk, he would probably take credit for their success together. “He’d say, I’ve taught her everything she knows, I do everything.’ cause he’s that kind of horse,” she adds, laughing.