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Corro Stories

From the Gridiron to the Barn – Brian Westbrook Found A Love for Horses in Between NFL Seasons

By Riesa Lakin & Jessica Konopinski

Brian Westbrook may be best known for his incredible career in the NFL as one of the best running backs of all time and Hall of Famer for my favorite team, the Philadelphia Eagles. What you may not realize is that Brian Westbrook has also spent the last fifteen years as a proud horse farm owner, where he rides, breeds quarter horses, and runs a private boarding facility for both English and Western riders. While not the typical path from a former NFL athlete, Westbrook is finding solitude and enjoyment by spending his time with horses.

 

That ride on that afternoon was just so peaceful. It was an escape from the everyday stress of playing football, and that was really cool.

Image courtesy of Brian Westbrook's social media.

A Love For Horses

Image courtesy of Brian Westbrook's social media.

Growing up, Brian Westbrook always had a love for animals. He rode horses when he could, but between the lack of time and financial commitment, he was unable to continue riding on a regular basis. Instead, he attended college at Villanova University, where he played for the Villanova Wildcats football team, and then was drafted into the NFL. It wasn’t until three or four years into his career that horses re-entered the picture.

“One of my good friends owned a dog kennel down in Maryland. I went down and visited him and his neighbor, who owns horses. We went over there and rode horses for a couple of hours. I really enjoyed it. At that point I said, ‘I'm going to buy a horse farm,’ which now looking back was not the best way to go about that type of business. I didn’t know anything about horse’s other than how to get on them and sit there,” Westbrook said with a laugh.

Not long after that day, Westbrook found his horse farm in Maryland and named it Westbrook Horse Farm. He knew it was going to be a lot of work to figure it all out, but it was important to him to learn the ins and outs of farm management and horse care.

“There was the chore of figuring it out, but that ride on that afternoon was just so peaceful. It was an escape from the everyday stress of playing football, and that was really cool. Playing football is a stressful job in general, even though it is a game. It’s still a stressful job, so I loved it (riding horses),” he said.

Westbrook spent the next six months figuring it all out. From 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., he was cutting the grass, mucking stalls, and performing other daily maintenance required to support the property and the horses. “The guy that was selling the property to me stayed on for another six to seven months and basically showed me everything. He showed me the ropes and was just a good guy for showing me everything I needed to learn about the property, about horses and what they’re all about. First of all, you don’t find a lot of good people like that, but it was refreshing to be with him every day, teaching me all these things that I literally had no clue about. It was pretty cool,” he shared.

“I did that for a long time, and I didn’t even own a horse at that time. It was kind of ironic but also funny to own this big, old 25-acre farm and not even own a horse or know how to ride that well either. But over time, we've owned the farm for about fifteen years now, we've made a lot of editions to it and have learned a bunch as far as managing it and all of the other things that come with owning a horse property,” said Westbrook.

My favorite part is of course being around horses, but also the learning process.

From Trail Riding to Reining

Image courtesy of Brian Westbrook's social media.

The former farm owner’s mentorship and experience in the equine industry led Westbrook to discover the world of reining. After learning about the discipline and the key players in the space, he purchased his first reining horse, who he had trained and was ridden by $1M NRHA rider Matt Mills. He later sold that one and bought Hollywood Dun It. "He was a good horse. That horse went to the Finals, Futurity, and NRBC,” shared Westbrook.

This brought out Westbrook's competitive side. He was learning a lot about the reining industry and what it took to be successful and make money. He said, “You’ll make a little bit of money if your horse ranks within the top 20 in the world, but unless you're top three or four, or even in the top ten, you’re not making money to survive on that type of stuff. There are a lot of people that are happy to be there—this is probably my competitive side of things comes out, which is not always great—but I wanted to win. I also want to make money; do both if possible,” explains Westbrook.

Westbrook ended up moving the horse over to $6M earner Shawn Flarida, who was the number one ranked rider in the world at that point. Sean did well with the horse and took the horse as far as he could go. After realizing, the horse wasn’t going to be a top ten horse, he ended up selling the horse to a young girl on the East Coast.

“Now, we’re breeding reiners. We still have our trail horses on the farm, and we’re also dabbling in the business of doing some show ponies and stuff like that. It’s been good. We’ve enjoyed it. It's been a good experience for me and my family, so it's been pretty cool,” Westbrook shared.

Now it’s a whole family affair. Westbrook’s wife, son, and his eldest daughter ride horses. “My other daughter is only one, but she wants to ride. I’ll throw her up on a horse and she loves it. But they’re all riders, so that’s pretty cool,” said Westbrook.

When I asked about his riding, especially with the reiners, he laughed and said that it’s not the right time for him. “You pay all this doggone money for these horses, paying for training, so why as an amateur would I go ride these expensive horses? Let the professionals do it and see what we can do was kind of my thought process. Now, my wife is kind of like, ‘Listen. Maybe you should just go ride.’ I’m like, ‘eh.’ It’s now more about the kids and making sure that they're having fun. So, I don't know that I’ll do much riding myself, but I’ve certainly considered it,” Westbrook shared.

If he’s not spending time in the saddle, then what is it that Westbrook enjoys about being a horse farm owner and breeder?

“I think that my favorite part is being around the animals and understanding them. I was always a dog guy and still am a dog guy, but just being around the horses and seeing their personality, seeing the quirks about them and what makes them the type of animals that they are is certainly special to me. I think people in general enjoy learning, and for me, just learning the process, learning how to drive a tractor, how to drive a Bobcat, how to muck a stall, give IVs, bute, banamine, learning what to do when a horse colics—all of those things I had to learn and luckily, I had a good teacher,” said Westbrook.

Image courtesy of Brian Westbrook's social media.

"He certainly wasn't a vet or anything like that," Westbrook said about the former farm owner who mentored him. "But he was a guy that was willing to teach me, which was pretty cool. So, my favorite part is of course being around horses, but also the learning process. One thing that I don’t think people realized prior to COVID was that you don't have to be on the go all the time. There’s nothing wrong with slowing down. There's a peaceful element to being slow, deliberate, and just relaxing. That is probably my favorite part of it (owning a horse farm)," said Westbrook.

Image courtesy of Brian Westbrook's social media.

The Value of Hard Work

We spend 80% of our time working and maybe 20% of our time riding.

Owning horses and running a farm is hard work, both physically and mentally. Westbrook explained that when you’re just looking for somewhere to go and ride, you may not be exposed to all of the hard work that goes into it. However, once he purchased his farm, the experience fast-tracked his understanding for all the work that would be required to run and operate the facilities. “We spend 80% of our time working and maybe 20% of our time riding,” admitted Westbrook

Westbrook Horse Farm consists of 30 stalls and was run as a boarding facility for up to twelve years. When asked what surprised him the most or has been the hardest part about owning and running his own farm, Westbrook shared how much he enjoys the physical labor involved in managing a farm, but was surprised with how much time it actually takes.

“I don't know that anything is hard. We have some things that are more time consuming, like mucking 30 stalls, but we’ve always looked at it as a labor of love. We enjoy doing this. We don’t have to do it—we could pay someone to come in and do it. But, we do it because we love and enjoy it. We don’t look at too many things as a burden because we’re enjoying the process and not just the final result. It’s a simpler lifestyle for us,” said Westbrook.

Image courtesy of Brian Westbrook's social media.

Giving Back

After 11 years of running Westbrook Horse Farm, Brian decided to shift his focus from operating as a boarding facility to serving his community. Not only is the farm located twenty minutes outside of Washington D.C., it's also not far from where Westbrook grew up. He created the Brian Westbrook Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, with the mission to give back to young people in underserved communities, offering them the opportunity to enrich their financial knowledge, leadership skills and life skills through character training and vocational training, all while being exposed to the joy of horses and running a horse farm.

Kids are invited to Westbrook's farm where they are able to learn different trades and vocational skills. "You got to be a part-time electrician, a part-time plumber, a part-time carpenter, a part-time mechanic. You have to be able to do a lot of those things or else you've just spent a lot of money trying to figure it out or you're paying someone to do it," he shared.

"As you know, you don't get into horses to make money. Some people may think you can, I thought about it at first, but that's not the profession that you get it to make money. So, for us, we just want to give back. That's our biggest goal now for my wife and I. It’s about leaving a legacy—how can we leave a legacy not only for our kids, but the generation behind us who may have never even seen a horse or that may have never understood the joy of cleaning poop,” Brian said while laughing.

Westbrook acknowledged that not everyone may be good at school. They may not get good grades and risk getting kicked out, and then have a harder time succeeding without graduating high school. Westbrook believes this is a huge issue, but also a big opportunity. "I believe that people may be good in vocational stuff or they may be good at trades. There's a place for that and they need a place to hone those types of skills. We want to give them that type of training. We want to also bring in financial advisors, resume writers, and etiquette experts. You have to have workplace etiquette and, unfortunately, in so many of these schools now, they're just not learning that," said Brian.

"For us, to be able to give back and teach our community those things, I think it's our job. The goal of the Foundation is to give back," Westbrook shared. "If we happen to use horses to get the kids in, then w’ell do that. But, the most important thing is that the kids get a good understanding of what life is about and how you can be very successful in life without being a millionaire, a football player, or a professional athlete. You can be successful in this world by being a carpenter and working your butt off nine to five every single day. There are so many kids that believe they've got to be an athlete, doctor, lawyer, or drug dealer, unfortunately, to be successful in this world and that's just not true. There are people like my neighbor who started their trash company with one truck and he worked his butt off. There were endless hours, long nights, and things like that, but now he has one of the most successful trash companies in Maryland. It’s African American-owned. He's doing all these things, and unfortunately, not a lot of people know those stories. If you don’t know those stories, you don’t understand that it can happen for you, so you don’t pursue it."

The Brian Westbrook Foundation wants kids to know that you can be successful without making millions of dollars. Brian shared, "You’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to be strategic. You’ve got to be frugal in some situations. But most importantly, you’ve got to be hard working, and that's what horse life is. It's a bunch of work and you’ll get some payoff, but it’s mostly a lifestyle, and you’ve got to enjoy it. I think that's what is most important and what we’re trying to teach these kids.”

Image courtesy of Brian Westbrook's social media.

The Future of Brian Westbrook & Westbrook Horse Farm

Image courtesy of Brian Westbrook's social media.

Just when you think running a horse farm and a foundation would fill up all your time, Brian has quite a bit else on his plate. As a member of SeventySix Capital’s Athlete Venture Group, Westbrook invests and works directly with top sports tech startups and entrepreneurs, and is a scout for Light Speed Venture Partners, where he’s constantly looking for companies within the sports industry where he can leverage is business and marketing background to help companies grow. If that wasn’t enough, during football season, you can also find Brian commentating on TV and radio.

As far as horses are concerned, his biggest focus right now is on breeding top reiners—hoping to produce the next Futurity Champion and top-performing horses. He’s been prioritizing his breeding operations and enjoying trail riding when he’s able to find the time.

Image courtesy of Brian Westbrook's social media.

When asked if we’d ever see him in a horse competition, he said never say never, but the focus right now is on his family. “My wife and I talk about it a bunch. But, that’s not my number one goal. I’d rather see my daughter or son out there competing before me. If it ever came down to them or me riding, I’d always choose them because I want them to see the joys of it and also find a discipline in it. There’s a joy in doing well, but there's also lessons to be learned when you don’t do as well as you want to do,” Westbrook shared. “My oldest rides English, but she rides trails with me all the time, which I enjoy the most. And my son, he just wants to sit on the horses all day long. He doesn’t care what type of riding. We probably ride the most together because when the girls (his wife and eldest daughter) are having their lessons, we’re jumping on the horse, getting on the trail and having fun together.”

While owning and operating a horse farm was not part of the plan Westbrook saw for himself, he has found peace with the change of pace that has come with it. “That's the beauty of life. You may have a great game plan, but sometimes God has a different way for you to go. It's disruptive, but I think it's pretty cool when you think going one way, and then you end up being in the whole different place,” he shared. “People like myself like to be in control of life. You think that you have the ability to move the way that you want to move and do the things you want to do it. Sometimes God has a way of humbling you and saying that ain't it.”

While Westbrook refers to his journey into the horse world as an expensive hobby, it’s something he and his family have fully embraced and get enough of. “It’s our peaceful place where we can get away from the world. It has been a dream of mine since I bought this farm that my family come here and enjoy it. They love it the same way that I love it. They've become passionate about it and enjoyed it on the same level that I do. I’ve enjoyed watching them literally fall in love with going there every single day during the pandemic. That's probably the reason why we will always have a farm and horses— that’s the end game for us.”

Image courtesy of Brian Westbrook's social media.