When Sammi, Hels, three horses and two dogs relocated to the UK in 2005, the plan was to stay for a few years, however, they never left. While Sammi remains an Australian at heart, England is now home. She misses her family in Australia, and admits that she is struggling with the thought of being unable to spend Christmas 2020 with her parents. “I would normally see them at least every six months. This year was definitely planned to be a ‘go to Australia for Christmas’ year. And my dad’s getting older,” says Sammi. “I found that very hard this year, the fact that normally if anything happens, I can just get on a plane. It’s been another challenge for 2020. Everyone’s in the same position, but it’s tough.”
With 29 horses on the yard in England to look after, Sammi will be kept busy over the festive season while Gizmo enjoys a well-deserved break. “He’s having a little holiday, then he’ll slowly be brought back into work. He’s a bit of a brat, if we put him out with another horse he tries to play with it and then he’ll end up getting kicked or something like that, he’s injury prone!” Sammi laughs. “So we keep a close eye on him. He’s going out in the field by day then back in at night so we can control his behaviour.”
As 2021 dawns, there’s plenty for Sammi to look forward to. Having now qualified for the postponed Tokyo Olympics, Sammi’s tone is pragmatic as she shares her thoughts on selection. “Obviously I would love to represent Australia at Tokyo. Riding at the Olympics has been a lifetime goal, and now we’re qualified. I just wanted to tick that box this year. We’re qualified and all set, and we will wait and see what happens.”
“We were traveling reserves for Rio, and that was great for us at that time. I think he’s a real Tokyo horse. I think the Aussies are really strong contenders; I would be surprised if Australia does not win a medal at Tokyo. The problem for all of us in contention is that we could almost front two teams at the moment, and do well on both of them! That’s the hard thing, of course, I would love to go but a lot happens between now and then. And yes, we have a lot of depth right now, but then horses do tend to fall apart in an Olympic year. It happens every time – I obviously became a victim of that coming into WEG 2018. So we’ll wait and see.”
Tokyo dreams aside, Sammi has an exciting stable of horses to campaign in the New Year, including Finduss PFB with whom she has qualified for Badminton following their results in Portugal. On return from Barroca d’Alva, Sammi was delighted to meet a new arrival from Australia – Gizmo’s four-year-old half-brother, Dasher.
“Gizmo was the first foal out of the mare Lilly, who was by Brilliant Invader, and Dasher is the last,” says Sammi. Like Gizmo, Dasher spent his early years with her good friends Prue and Craig Barrett in Australia, who started him under saddle. While Gizmo is by Wirragulla Hamlet, Dasher is by Sandhills Sensation, a horse that the Barretts bred and produced. As Sammi explains, he is quite travel-light after his quarantine period in Australia and the long trip to England, however, he hasn’t stopped eating since he arrived. “Hels is a feeder!” she laughs. “To be honest, he looks gorgeous. So fingers crossed he’s going to be good!”
While Sammi crosses her fingers for Dasher’s future, those in her village collectively cross their fingers for her; for some riders, the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics has been a disaster, yet for Sammi the timing may work in her favour. When it’s suggested that she deserves a bit of luck, Sammi laughs again: “Well, I’ve just had some, so I’m happy!” If Sammi’s Olympic dream does come true in 2021 it will be due to a whole lot more than just luck – hard work, commitment and a brilliant team will be the key ingredients – and everyone will agree that she has earned and deserves it. EQ