Fiona knew Precedence long before he walked into her showing stable. “I followed him on the track; he was a real favourite of mine. He was one of Bart’s last horses, so there was that sentimental attachment; I had huge respect for Bart Cummings as a trainer. I was really lucky that I’d previously had, and still have, one of Bart’s other horses — Sirmione, who won the Australian Cup and also ran in a Melbourne Cup.”
Sirmione came to Fiona via Bart’s foreman, Reg Fleming.
When Precedence retired, one of the owners, the Duchess of Bedford, knew that the horse meant a lot to Reg, and so he was offered him. With Sirmione going well in Fiona’s care, she got the call from Reg — and was thrilled to welcome Precedence to her stable.
“He was interesting to start with,” recalls Fiona. “He was renowned on the track for pulling. Anyone who was involved with the horse would tell you he probably would have done a lot better over his career if he behaved a bit better, because he’d start pulling and going too early!
“I’ll never forget the first ride I had on him. I thought, ‘how are we ever going to hold this horse? He was so strong, and really reactive, hot and explosive. I got off him and called the stable, and the response I got was, ‘Well, the track riders used to argue over who was not going to ride him at work!’”
Fiona was concerned he might not make it as a show horse, but to his credit it was simply a matter of him learning the requirements of his new career. “Bless him, the minute I started working on him doing groundwork and then getting him going soft…. it just clicked and he just went, ‘Oh, yes, I can do this!’ We went from using a sweet iron so I had some stopping power, to now just using a beautiful loose ring snaffle. He carries himself and he’s just as soft as butter, which is a beautiful feeling. That being said, he still has some fire in his belly some days!”
Precedence had quite a bit of success in his first season showing. He won a Newcomer Championship, and qualified for the Grand National Saddle Horse Championships at his first show in the open section, which was huge. He then won the Off The Track Newcomer class at the VAS (Victorian Agricultural Shows) Saddle Horse Championships.