James Paterson-Robinson was born in Carlton, Victoria, in 1978, and grew up in a rural riding community on the Bellarine Peninsula under the encouraging eye of his mother, Fay.
Fay had been a talented horsewoman on the Sydney scene, competing in eventing, including the Sydney three-day event when it was at Centennial Park, and the steeplechase at Randwick racecourse. James’s father died before he was born and Fay remarried Joseph Paxton Robinson, an ophthalmologist. They moved to Victoria to a property at Leopold, between Geelong and Queenscliff, and then to the nearby village of Wallington. Fay continued to ride for pleasure and training but didn’t compete after James was born. There was no need to, as James started very young – in fact, he competed at Melbourne Royal when he was two years old!
James never looked back, and has been a really stimulating, competitive and successful character all along. His attitude exudes confidence and bravado, and as much as he is a joker and fun-loving, there is a very serious side to him. He is diligent and hardworking and has an uncanny calmness and ability to focus when necessary. As a competition rider there are not many better. He has a will to win along with a clear understanding of how to train and get the best out of every horse. He is never ever slapdash and is forever learning and enjoying becoming a better rider and coach.
He attended Geelong College where he was a good student, but horses started to rule his life. He started out showing ponies and then galloways and hacks. His mother encouraged and helped him at every turn to make sure those turns were with the right people and in the correct direction.
He won many rider classes and show championships at all the Royal Shows on the east coast. He took up showjumping and he did some eventing at Pony Club. Fay eventually decided it was time for James to specialise and not be a ‘Jack of all trades’. She felt he’d had a smattering of experiences in many disciplines and it was time to decide on a path. At the same time he was showing, he took to showjumping and demonstrated natural flare and attitude.
At 15, straight from school, he was offered a position at David Brideoake’s property and invited to go overseas with two horses, Quamby and Zaphod, that David was taking to Wiesbaden, Helsinki, Drummond, Falsterbo and Hickstead. It was an amazing experience for the teenager and no doubt the catalyst for James to later return to Europe to indulge in the sport of showjumping that was starting to dominate his life.
On returning to Victoria, James’s Pony Club coach, Kate Wallace, who was a great friend of his mother, bought James a horse called Savoir Faire, and James continued the horse’s journey that had been started by Chris Smith. Impressively, James competed the grey at Grand Prix level at the age of 17. Kate was a great behind-the-scenes supporter of James and Fay. James went to work for Dirk Dijkstra at the Australian Equine Academy (AEA) at nearby Wallington Park, from where he rode young horses and stallions from small classes to Mini Prix and Grand Prix. He also had Savoir Faire there at the time and he is forever grateful to Kate Wallace for her support.
From here he decided to give it a crack by himself and started to break in horses and train others for good owners on 100 acres that was leased to him through a friend. All was going well until he seriously injured an ankle in a horse fall that rendered him unable to ride for a long time. He decided to go to Marcus Oldham College and do a horse business and management course. He applied for a scholarship and was awarded it over many applicants. The head horse management lecturer was the talented rider and coach, Chrissy Johnson.
“He was a very generous and giving young man,” Chrissy recalls. “Of course, he was head and shoulders above the other students in talent and practical and competitive ability, yet he was always humble and endearing to their needs. He was always there to help them out and be positive. He amazed me with his work ethic when we all knew he was a wild character at heart if let loose to have a great time. He was always respectful. It was obvious he was in a bit of a league of his own. He had a truck at the college and never, ever was it left dirty. He paid attention to detail and when it was time to toe the line he was always the first one up to the mark. He was competitive but was calm and it was in him to be this way.”