Photo courtesy of Archive
(1999 – 2021)
Owned by Peggy C. Thomas
Inducted: 2013


Mention dressage in America, and one name instantly comes to mind: Brentina. As she blazed a path to international dressage glory, the striking Hanoverian mare captured the imagination of American dressage enthusiasts, who hoped she could be the one to take on the European dressage powerhouses and win.

From day one, Brentina proved that their hopes were justified. Owned by Peggy and Parry Thomas, she began her international career at eight years old at the 1999 Pan American Gamesin Winnipeg, Canada, where her sheer brilliance and poise under pressure made up for her relative lack of experience. After guiding the United States team to victory, she took charge in the individual competition, becoming the first U.S. equestrian double gold medalist at the Pan American Games since 1983.

Over the next years, she and rider Debbie McDonald continued to develop their remarkable partnership. The two brought out the best in each other, and Brentina's dedication and work ethic took them both to new heights. "I have never had a horse that was willing to come to work every single day," McDonald said. "I give that mare the credit. What she gives on a daily basis is amazing."

At the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, Brentina and McDonald cemented their role as the stalwarts of the U.S. team. They earned a team silver medal and finished fourth individually, just a few hundredths of a point behind the bronze medalists.

2003 marked Brentina's most historic accomplishment, as she became the first American horse to take the FEI World Cup Final, in Göteborg, Sweden. Only one other U.S. horse has claimed the honors at the World Cup Final since then: dressage great Ravel, ridden by Steffen Peters. Brentina and McDonald returned to the World Cup Final podium in 2005, when they took third in front of an enthusiastic Las Vegas crowd.

Jane Thomas, the daughter of Brentina's owners, described the mare's willingness to rise to the occasion. "The bigger the crowd and more frightening the situation, the better she does," said Thomas. "'Bring it on, I can take it,' she seems to say. She lit up the minute she walked into the ring at the World Cup, as if to say, 'Oh good, my public has arrived!'"

Brentina was so essential to American team dressage that when a tendon strain prevented her from competing in selection trials for the 2004 Olympic Games, selectors made the rare decision to allow her to bypass the normal process, giving her time to rest before she joined the team for the Games. She repaid their confidence in spades, leading the U.S. team to a bronze medal over such prominent dressage nations as The Netherlands. Brentina and McDonald also took fourth individually, finishing just off the podium.

At the World Equestrian Games in 2006, Brentina contributed to the U.S. team's bronze medal before withdrawing from the individual competition due to a minor injury. Early 2008 saw her back in shape and scoring convincing victories at CDI3* events in California. Brentina finished her brilliant career representing the U.S. at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong, earning her well-deserved retirement at the Thomases' River Grove Farm in Idaho.

Although she is no longer competing herself, Brentina may be represented in the future by new dressage stars. Since her retirement, she has transitioned to a new career as a broodmare. Her first foal, via embryo transfer, was born in 2010.

Brentina's retirement ceremony, held at the 2009 World Cup Finals in Las Vegas, paid fitting tribute to the accomplishments of America's beloved dressage mare. With McDonald and longtime groom Ruben Palomera at her side, she paraded in front of over 6,000 enthusiastic fans.

The numerous tributes to this exceptional mare demonstrate just how much she meant to those who followed her successes. Brentina has her own television documentary, was named the inaugural USEF Horse of the Year in 2005 and inducted into the Roemer Foundation USDF Hall of Fame in 2009, and has a major dressage program named in her honor.

The Young Adult 'Brentina Cup' Program, sponsored by the Thomases, was developed to support young, up-and-coming dressage competitors as they transition from Young Riders to the Senior Grand Prix. The program is already producing successful alumni: Adrienne Lyle, the 2008 Brentina Cup Champion who trains with Debbie McDonald, represented the United States at the 2012 Olympic Games. Even after the end of her competitive career, Brentina is still contributing to the American team.

"She is truly an American-made horse, and the country has watched her since she was three years old," said McDonald. "She has overcome all these things with heart, and I think people recognize that."

Postscript: Brentina died in April 2021 at the age of 30. "Thank you, Brentina, for all you have done," said McDonald on her passing. "Hope you are running the fields, eating as much as you want, and that Parry is feeding you lots of bananas! You were my horse of a lifetime; no other can compare."