While snow stubbornly lingered well into spring amid portions of the Tug Hill paddock of Ernie and Irene Bragg, several newborn foals were cozy within the meticulous rough hewn stables nearby. The North Country of NYS Route 177, Barnes Corners, is a harsh, rugged locale with around 325 inches of snow this past winter, hardly a mecca for foals. Here veteran farrier and trainer Ernie Bragg and his wife Irene of R J Performance Horses, Inc., are meeting the challenge of one small boy’s dream of raising and training quality cow horses.
Irene Bragg is a local girl, having grown up on the family land once known for her father as “Leonardo’s Livery” and where, “My mom was definitely horse crazy. My sister Flossie and I always had a horse and were active in 4-H, riding and showing,” she explains.
Irene Bragg has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Equine Science from SUNY Morrisville, in 2008, with a specialization in breaking and training. She has been riding most of her life and has been training for ten years. She specializes in English and western pleasure horses but has worked with reiners, gamers, cow horses, and jumpers. She has shown and trained horses that have competed at the local and regional ApHC and AQHA levels and at the AQHA Congress.
R J Performance Horses, Inc., is now located at the family land. Ernie Bragg is a slender but hearty Maine native whose love of all things equine is rooted in his heritage and his sensibilities. Bragg’s grandfather and father were farriers who had beef and dairy cattle. “They always had a few horses around to raise and train and sell,” notes Ernie. “Horses are in our blood.”
As one of five boys, young Bragg learned early to work hard, to compete and to excel. “Competition was major hard between the boys,” he recalls. Early on, he rode and showed horses at local and county shows and fairs. He still has boxes full of trophies as memorabilia.
Among his first “real” jobs, Ernie explains was the experience of working for St. John’s Valley Show Horses where rode Jani Giles, one of the youngest world champion eventers in saddle seat equitation.
Out on his own at 19, Ernie Bragg’s diverse interests led to an Associate’s Degree in Graphic Arts from Central Maine University in Lewiston. Yet he had learned horse shoeing at an early age and the cowboy world beckoned. Eventually he had been graduated from Oklahoma State Horseshoeing School.
In the Midwest he worked on big cattle ranches doing all the jobs expected from sun up to sunset and beyond: roping, branding, vaccinating, shoeing, fixing fence. He even tried rodeo. (Once he rode in three classes after suffering a fractured pelvis.) He returned to Maine in 2001, but settled in upstate New York in 2006 after bringing horses here to sell. He now has over 27 years of experience as a certified farrier and dozens of years as an owner, trainer, and breeder.
After years as a well known regional farrier, Ernie Bragg’s first horse here was a six year old unbroken mare, Boon Badger Blondie or “Boon” as she is affectionately known. Under his tutelage she is now well gentled and trained. And she has become an integral part of his successful equine business.
As members of the Black River Valley Horsemen’s Association Ernie and Irene have shown and won multiple placings. They have received high points and year end awards. For AQHA, they have received multiple ribbons and all around champion awards as well as placings, ribbons, and trophies from various shows and fairs.
The Bragg family has 11 mature horses on the property at the moment. Besides the two stallions are several mares and a gelding. Several spring foals added to the herd.
Now the darling quarter horse foals clung closely to their mothers, but eyed onlookers with reciprocal curiosity and friendly demeanor; each secure in the newly built and well bedded separate stalls. They were not yet haltered but already their training had begun. They were handled gently and in soothing tones.
Ernie and Irene Bragg also provide riding lessons, as requested, for cow events, gaming, or pleasure riding, including trail riding to the renowned Otter Creek NYS Trail System on the wooded edge of the Adirondacks in Lewis County.
A particular and unusual goal, however, is for Performance Horses, Inc., to become a stallion station for artificial insemination for collection of frozen semen to be shipped across country within the next year or so. This equine service is not readily available in the North Country. SUNY Morrisville is the nearest likely facility at this time, notes Ernie Bragg. He has acquired most of the proper equipment and an addition to his stables is being built.
“We want horses born of bone and brains. I don’t desire giants where the oxygen is rare, but horses that can turn on a dime and turn smart. My purpose is to breed horses with a sound mind and a sound body and usable. I want a horse that can go his best in a pen or down a trail,” explains Ernie Bragg. And that is no unfounded brag, just the truth.