Are we born with a mutant equine neurosis gene? Or are we influenced by our environment that shapes our passion for all things equine and “matchy matchy”? Curious by nature, I thought this would be an interesting concept to explore.
Lucky for me, on my doorstep in Tasmania I have the perfect subjects to quench my curiosity: three generations of State, National and Trans-Tasman champions. Collectively they share over 100 years of a deep and unswerving love of horses. What sustains them in their ongoing involvement with horses? What is the single source of truth for each of them?
In their own words, drawing on their own experiences, what I discovered was not what I expected. I started at the end, with Sabrina, daughter of Lydia and grand-daughter of Cheryl. With an enviable pedigree of State, National and Trans-Tasman champions, one could assume that Sabrina’s equestrian life started at that moment where fireworks light the sky and waves crash on sandy beaches. Without a doubt, Sabrina was going to be a prime Nature candidate.
In her first magazine interview, Sabrina shares with me her own memories and thoughts about her life with horses. “I love horses because they are like your partner,” she says, “and you get to play with them as well, and they are your friend. You get to do so many fun things with them.”
I asked Sabrina to close her eyes and go back to the first time she saw a horse and how that made her feel. For Sabrina, it was coming to Kingston Agistment with her mum. “When I came here to the farm I just thought ‘they are cute’. Their faces and how they can react — Archie smiles and it makes me happy.” I ask how he makes her smile and Sabrina answered: “He follows me around, we play chasing, and he eats my Oreos. He even eats my brother’s lollipops.”
Sabrina has no recollection of the moment that her equine passion began. Going to Kingston Agistment, now owned by her parents, it was inevitable that she would come into contact with horses. Her mum, Lydia, and Nona Cheryl will tell you about Sabrina as a baby, sitting in their arms as horses were being ridden in the arena on a circle around her. Sabrina’s eyes never leaving the sight and sound of the horse. Her arms stretched out, longing to touch and feel the soft coat and warmth of their breath.
Once she was walking, every horse was lovingly adored by Sabrina; brushed, patted and led to the wash bay; the potential snorting equine dragons were placid and like putty in Sabrina’s care. They listened to her natter and chatter with one ear and a warm muzzle searching her pockets for treats. All attempts at pawing ceased, each horse standing square and not budging when Sabrina was in the stable.
So, when I ask Sabrina what it is that she loves about horses, I didn’t expect this answer — “Because they are my friends and I want to spend all my time with my best friend Archie.” Archie is your typical liver-chestnut pony, angelic one day and not so the next day. Being dumped in the show-ring is something Sabrina experienced very early in her competition career. Yet despite that, Archie is “her best friend, he is cute, funny and quirky”, she says.
Horses are magnificent animals with their own instincts of flight or fight. Did they sense something within her genetic code that gave them confidence? Sabrina’s age and her natural feel for the horses would suggest that she is a candidate for Nature being her source of truth.
I move on to Cheryl who has a lifetime of experience with horses that extends beyond the years of Sabrina and Lydia combined. I ask Cheryl to consider her child self and go back in time to discern what ignited the fire that burns so bright and strong generations later.
It all started at a local riding school in the Hobart suburbs, Cheryl explains. “My sister rode and she wasn’t allowed to go unless she took me with her. I think my mum just wanted me out of the house. I was under 10 and quite a nuisance.” Neither of her parents had a history with horses and accepted their daughter’s interest in going to the riding school as nothing special.
Cheryl recalls there were quite a few Shetlands at the riding school, and when riding them she was off them more than she was on. “They got a lot of brushing, I could spend hours brushing them and the smell of them was just beautiful,” says Cheryl as she goes back in time and the beautiful memories so clear in her mind return. “That horsey smell was a really beautiful smell!”
When asked about riding lessons, Cheryl recalls clearly “hands still and heels down” was the extent of the lessons Mr Seymour, sitting in his jinker, would yell out at the children hooning around the paddock. “That’s how we learnt to stay on.” Freestyling.
From Shetland ponies, Cheryl moved on to a New Forest Pony. A beautiful creamy colour, his name was Alladdin’s Cream, imported from the UK. Her voice softening as the memory returns… “He was beautiful to ride.” The two would ride around the foothills of Hobart and chase a lot of boys in the gorse bushes who dared to poke fun at her.
They knew not to mess with the young girl on her New Forest Pony.
In our conversation, a wonderful memory emerged of the sisters galloping up the local streets; the horses freshly shod, there would be sparks flying from the road metal as they made their way back to the stables. Could you imagine doing that these days? Says Cheryl: “It is completely absurd but a lot of fun”.
Another treasured memory is that Cheryl’s mother made her first velvet cap and riding jacket for her to compete at her first Royal Hobart Show riding a white Shetland pony called Marigold. “We looked a wreck but we had a lot of fun,” recalls Cheryl.