Helen Chugg now runs the farm with top rider Amanda Madigan. The team is really coming to the fore with some fabulous homebred horses promising an exciting and upcoming season. Helen’s story is full of amazing experiences from which she has amassed an incredible wealth of knowledge. Down to earth and always positive in life, her enthusiasm for making the most of each day is infectious. She is ever encouraging and respectful and her horses are always in the peak of condition and sensibility. She is logical, honest and loyal with an eye for aptness and is one who always has a kind and positive word in an industry that is often fraught with difficult and trying situations. With people in the industry such as Helen Chugg, it’s reassuring and refreshing
Helen was born in Sydney and lived in the eastern suburbs. Neither of her parents, Eileen and Preston Crothers, had any interest in horses, but when Helen was 13, her father organised a holiday for her at Tony McAleer’s property at Three Springs in Western Australia. “Dad was a Geraldton boy and had many connections to WA,” says Helen. The McAleers had a huge property and many horses, as they played polocrosse. Helen learnt to ride during that holiday and was hooked.
On her return she took lessons at a riding school in Randwick with Bruce and Sonny Carnes. It wasn’t long before it was obvious that her passion was not going to wane, so her first horse was purchased. Sonny, a palomino gelding, was a great all-rounder and quickly became the love of Helen’s life. Helen attended the Eastern Suburbs Pony Club to better her skills with instructor Rose Gough. After Sonny, along came the first of many thoroughbreds, Renegade. “A bit of a silly one, but he loved to jump and was brave and honest,” says Helen. “Heaven only knows how he put up with those early learning days with no jumping instruction at all!”
Uni and TAFE followed school, but horses were to become the focus of Helen’s life.
“In those days the main source of competition horses was in the off-the-track thoroughbreds and that’s what so many riders had to train and jump.” says Helen. “It was during this time that I took an interest in bloodlines of the thoroughbreds that had jumping talent, which turned out to be beneficial later.”
Helen married Chris Chugg in 1985 and Helen’s parents bought a property at Freemans Reach in the Hawkesbury area north-west of Sydney, where they built a new house at one end of the property while Helen and Chris moved into the original house. “When I met Chris he was apprenticed to my farrier, Ian Dix, and Sky High was a D grader. In those early days there were so few warmbloods. He was extraordinary, I still remember being amazed by his amount of bone. He was such a delightful horse in nature and the most amazing horse for Chris; they learnt the ropes together all the way to National Champion and the World Cup finals,” recalls Helen.
In 1987, Sky High was the Pacific League winner of the World Cup series and Helen and Chris took him to Paris for the final — the first of many overseas trips with horses.“Our next Grand Prix star was the thoroughbred Mr Currency, who won the World Cup league as well, before heading to Gothenburg for the finals. It was amazing to travel with the horses, such a great learning experience. Mr Currency went the long way due to trouble in the Middle East — via New Zealand, Hawaii, Alaska, Ireland and finally the UK. We led horses up a long, narrow ramp into the plane and built the stalls around them. I’ve taken horses on flights to Korea, on combi flights that were half-people, half-cargo. I think people would be amazed that we were taking care of horses when we disappeared through the door at the back of the plane!”
Helen and Chris lived through the exciting era in WA when Alan Bond and Laurie Connell boosted the prize money and generated enormous interest in showjumping. Helen and Chris crossed the Nullarbor four times to compete with a team of horses including Sky High and Stretch, another thoroughbred that was ultimately sold to Laurie.