In 1976, a native New Yorker made his way to Colorado. He loved horses, and had spent the better part of his young life with the majestic animals. Now, 35 years later, Tony Brunetti is the cowboy he always wanted to be.
This article was a finalist for the 2012 City and Regional Magazine Award in the photography category.
Tony Brunetti first pet a horse when his family was on a day trip to upstate New York, far from their bustling tenement in a predominantly Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn. Tony was just five or six years old at the time, and a group of five horsemen stopped to let the wide-eyed boy have a closer look. “I felt the muscle and the bone and the hair, and the smell. The beauty was just overwhelming,” he says. “I knew right then and there that that’s what I was going to do for the rest of my life.” After the horses moved on, Tony followed the hoof prints along the dirty street, trying to catch up with the magnificent animals that had come upon him almost as if by some divine plan.
The young New Yorker didn’t waste time in pursuing his dream. As he got older, he landed himself a string of jobs that would take him from a gig at a Queens stable to training horses for the New York City Police Department’s Mounted Unit. He dabbled in horse racing—as a jockey—before taking a position as the assistant trainer at an exclusive horse farm in Florida, where he oversaw the conditioning of the prized animals bred for life on the racetrack.
By the time he was 23, he had started a family with his young wife, Denise, and found the circus life of horse racing didn’t offer the kind of stability he needed. It also didn’t offer the Roy Rogers ruggedness he’d dreamt about as a child. “When I was back East, I was always considered a horseman, you know, being around thoroughbreds,” Tony says, “but I always wanted to be a cowboy.”
So, in 1976, he came to Colorado—and over the years became one of the best horse trainers in the state. Today, Tony showcases his work at the Extreme Mustang Makeover competition, in which he takes a wild mustang to show-ready in just 100 days.