Brittany Halstead comes back from devastating car crash and has a way of helping to calm ponies — and their riders.
WELLINGTON — After a head-on car collision five years ago that left her with serious brain injuries, Brittany Halstead is back, full-time.
Truth be told, with all the work she is doing, the 32-year-old Wellington resident is putting in a lot more than full-time hours — a circumstance that’s at once urgent and a reflection of the miracle of her second chance at life.
Halstead, a willowy brunette with almost storybook tendrils escaping her no-nonsense ponytail, returned in the last six months to full-time work as a veterinarian technician at Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Wellington.
And, as she had before the 2014 accident in Lobos, Argentina, she helps groom and train horses that compete at the highest levels of polo and dressage, but also those working as service animals.
It’s this work, which the Nashville, Tenn., native has been certified to do since age 18, that helped her recover from debilitating brain injury to full-time life and, along the way, inspired her to help others — both equine and human — get second chances of their own.
Replay Polo, a nonprofit Halstead launched in 2016, trains retired polo ponies for lives beyond the Sport of Kings.
Sitting down for an interview recently at Santa Clara Polo Club, south of Wellington on 48 acres owned by one-time polo star Luis Escobar, Halstead said most polo ponies “are just retired” when their playing days end.
Want to help?
Replay Polo is also looking for volunteers, whether to help feed and exercise the horses, clean stalls or lead the nonprofit’s social media efforts.
Two fundraisers are planned for early in the new year — one set for Taylor Made Cafe and the other at the Trophy Room, both in Wellington. Details are pending.
Gracida Wine, founded in memory of the late Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida, helps support Replay Polo by donating $1 to the nonprofit for every bottle of wine it sells. The wine can be found locally at Star Liquors in Wellington.
Horses that won’t be in the mix to play once preparations ramp up for the international polo season in South Florida, running from January through April, are left behind, Halstead said, often growing fat the way some former NFL players do, with more time devoted to eating and less time to activity.
“Now I look at those horses to serve another purpose,” she said.
A natural with animals — her golden retriever Elvis left her side only to plop himself in a nearby mud puddle — Halstead is, from all appearances, the platonic ideal for the work she’s doing as Replay Polo’s president and founder.
A hunter jumper rider since age 10, she’s well-rounded as a trainer of both horses and riders in a surprising number of arenas, from polo to jumping and dressage to equine therapy.
Halstead now feels her experience coming back from her devastating injuries — which affected her sight, sensory perception, balance and her thinking — has deepened her empathy and patience as a teacher as well as her ability to be flexible and creative.
“If I try to explain to you a math equation, and you’re not getting it, sometimes it might just be time to take a break — do something else, listen to some music, then come back to it,” Halstead said. “But sometimes, it’s as much about the teaching as it is the learning — and then I need to try a different approach to helping you understand.”
One of her favorites among Replay Polo’s retirees is Dos Equis, a 10-year-old chestnut gelding donated by four-time U.S. Open champion and 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Ruben Gracida. An able game pony for six years, Dos Equis didn’t particularly like competition.
To Halstead, who took on retraining Dos Equis in June 2019, the 1,200-pound horse showed some aptitude for jumping.
Even better, since Halstead was then at a crucial stage in her own recovery — just arriving at the point where all of her own physical, mental and emotional re-training was coming together, however exhausting — Dos Equis turned out to have the sort of winsome equanimity that made him perfect for re-training and an ideal partner for someone who also needed patience and understanding.
This past September, Dos Equis was adopted — “re-homed,” as Halstead put it — and now resides in Franklin, Tenn.
Halstead, meanwhile, has more work ahead.
While Replay Polo found a home last year at Santa Clara’s barn, where Escobar donated space during the off-season, Halstead said a new space for her operation is a top priority.
Currently, three retired ponies are available for her to re-train, she said, “but I need at least $5,000 for each horse, plus a free place for them to stay.”