Horse Stars Hall of Fame Honors TDO Blackburn Hop, aka Bronco
The Horse Stars Hall of Fame honors the contributions of amazing horses by sharing the stories of their athletic and humanitarian feats. It was established by the EQUUS Foundation and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) in 2013 to celebrate the extraordinary talent of horses and their magical and powerful bond with people.
The USEF inducts the horses recognized annually as “Horses of Honor” for their stellar athletic performances. The EQUUS Foundation inducts horses who have had an inspirational impact on the public as companions, teachers and healers.
The 2022 Horse Stars Hall of Fame inductees are Aupollo’s Midnight Marquee, Balou du Reventon, Big Shot, Elmer, Happy Thoughts, HS Daydream’s Heads Up, Suppenkasper, and TDO Blackburn Hop. For the first time, the inductees included Elmer, the mule, to share the story about how all equines – not just horses – are stars and have a great impact on people.
TDO Blackburn Hop
(1993 – ) Owned by Erika Berg–Inducted: 2022
Erika Berg first met the Quarter Horse gelding named TDO Blackburn Hop – affectionately known as “Bronco” – in 2011, when he joined the herd at Riding on Angels’ Wings (ROAW) as a therapy horse. When ROAW closed its doors in 2017, Erika was able to provide a home for two of the horses from the program. Bronco was one of them.
Later that same year, a new equine assisted services program was founded at North Dakota State University: Bison Strides Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies. Naturally, Bronco was called upon to join its herd, where he has been an integral part of the team ever since.
Erika described Bronco as the epitome of an equine assisted services horse.
“For over 10 years, he has willingly embraced each and every role we ask of him with grace and kindness, directly impacting the lives of over 200 people,” she said.
Despite his advancing age, Erika happily shared that Bronco is in excellent health. When he’s not busy maintaining his youthful nature by wrestling with his four-year-old pasture mate, you can find the 29-year-old gelding participating in a myriad of activities at the barn.
“He is our most trusted and versatile program horse,” Erika said. “He carries hippotherapy clients, works with horsemanship participants both on the ground and in the saddle, engages in group psychotherapy sessions, brings calmness to veterans, teaches patience to equine assisted learning students, and helps to heal the spirits of breast cancer survivors. Pages could be filled with Bronco’s miraculous moments!”
Bronco’s unique propensity for therapy work allows him to connect with a wide variety of participants. Erika said that he maintains a calm, steady rhythm when a frightened rider cries or screams, and then takes a deep breath when that rider finds peace in the saddle. He also gives confidence to nervous, newly independent participants who stand straighter, walk prouder, and look people in the eye because of the skills they have learned on his back.
Erika credited much of Bronco’s success as a therapy horse to his incredible intuition. She recalled a session in which Bronco absolutely refused to move at all. Moments later, the child on his back had a seizure. She believes that because of his intuitive nature, he knew something was happening before anyone else did and waited until his rider was safe before stepping forward.
Another instructor told the story of a very shy and quiet adapted riding participant who was beginning her first session as an independent rider. Bronco was much taller than any of the other program horses that she had worked with, and she found his size intimidating. Bronco, sensing this, lowered his head, closed his eyes, and just waited, staying present with her while she prepared to ride. The rider later shared that Bronco was a gentle giant who made her feel calm inside.
“[She] feels like a superstar when she is on Bronco,” said the rider’s mom, adding that her daughter has gained strength, cognitive processing skills, and – most importantly – happiness, since riding Bronco.
Indeed, Bronco is a special part of the team at Bison Strides. And while he is still in great health, Erika knows that someday he will be ready to retire from the important role he plays there. When that time comes, he will live out the rest of his life on her farm. But even though Erika is Bronco’s official owner, she conceded that he really doesn’t belong to any one person.
“He is a part of the many lives he has impacted through both the ROAW and Bison Strides programs,” she said. “We are simply grateful to have had the opportunity to witness the gifts he has shared – and continues to share – every day, with every person he encounters.”