Helping their daughter compete, Tom and Roberta Hawkins fell in love with equestrian —and saw first-hand why it’s so important to support Team USA’s hardworking athletes.
Tom and Roberta Hawkins have always loved horses. When their daughter, Bronlea, started riding at 8 years old, the Hawkinses realized just how rewarding equestrian could be — and how much work it took to be successful in the show ring.
That’s why for 25 years, Tom and Roberta have been passionate supporters of the U.S. Equestrian Team and the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation, giving back to the sport they adore so America’s best athletes can excel on the global stage.
A New Family Member
The Hawkinses’ story started out simply enough, with a little girl taking riding lessons.
“I wanted Bronlea to learn to ride better than Dad,” says Tom, “which she does. In high school, she showed in Western riding and made it to the horse shows and did well in them.”
When Bronlea competed at local American Quarter Horse Association shows (AQHA) in Washington, Tom and Roberta came along to help.
“It brings back memories of all the preparation it takes to compete,” says Tom. “Roberta says she is now an expert at hoof-painting and mane-braiding. I, on the other hand, honed my skills mucking out stalls and hauling saddles.”
Weekends at competitions brought the family closer together. “It gave us time to see how well Bronlea matured and competed in the ring. There were always lots of smiles when she did well and brought home those beautiful blue ribbons,” says Tom.
And on the other days? “Life lessons,” says Tom. “Hugs and encouragement on those days when things just didn’t go as planned.”
When Bronlea was in college, she worked at a riding camp in Mount Vernon, Wash. It was there she met Valentine, otherwise known as Val, a quarter horse mare with a heart-shaped blaze. Val was spunky, Tom remembers, and a few of the young riders at the camp fell off.
“By the end of the season, the camp owner decided the horse was a liability,” says Tom. “Bronlea found out she was going to sell Val. So, she looked at her own limited savings and figured out what she could spend and asked what the woman was willing to let her have Val for.”
Without consulting Mom and Dad, Bronlea bought herself a young quarter horse — and just like that, the Hawkins family had a new four-legged member.
What It Takes to Succeed
Watching Bronlea train and ride, Tom and Roberta gained a deep understanding of exactly how much work it takes to succeed in the competitive show ring.
“You really get to learn the nuances of the riding and the horses,” says Tom. “That experience has made our watching of the U.S. Equestrian Team’s competitions so much more enjoyable, because we get to observe the big picture. We understand how hard it is. We know how expensive it is. Going to a horse show, boy, you can go through money like a hot knife through butter.
“We really appreciate everything the U.S. Equestrian Team does to put out the quality in the big European competitions. It’s great to see how well they do. We’re just plain people, everyday folks, and helping out the Team is one of those things we like to do.”
Adds Roberta: “If you can’t have horses of your own, this is a way of being able to provide support for very worthy horses.”
‘Horses Make Life Better’
At home in Washington state, Roberta and Tom are making the most of retirement. They love to spend time outside, garden, read and work on various projects. And of course, they enjoy watching Team USA compete, particularly the dressage and eventing teams.
They also make time to visit Bronlea and her equine duo: Val, who is now about 27 years old, and Bronlea’s younger horse, a 4-year-old Mustang. “Val is still pretty spry,” says Tom. “If I get the urge, I’m allowed to go up and ride her.”
Tom and Roberta say their personal experiences with Bronlea and Val have motivated them to continue to support Team USA’s endeavors.
“It is always a thrill to watch the competitions and how well our athletes, human and equine, perform in the world arena,” Tom says. “Let’s face facts: Horses just make life better.”