PLUS: ASSERT YOUR SENIORITY WITH KERRY MACK, RACHAEL CLARKE’S TARCOOLA EQUESTRIAN CENTRE, THE MAKING OF ‘PHAR LAP’, MEGAN BRYANT’S LESSON WITH LYNDAL, CAROLYN LIEUTENANT’S VICTORY SALUTE, OUR BLACK SUMMER HEROES, AUSTRIA’S GOLDEN HORSES, IRELAND’S CONNEMARAS, FEEDING OMEGA-3s & A VET’S TAKE ON EUTHANASIA
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My Favourite Dish
WITH RACHAEL CLARKE
Rachael riding Candy, Lisa riding Cassie and Les riding Bob.
With purposeful determination and dedication to her horses, competing and riding, Rachael Clarke has not only made a name for herself in dressage and hacking, she has established a flourishing business at Tarcoola Equestrian Centre.
“Rachael, at the age of 6, was out practising her lead changes.”
Rachael and Bindi Eye Petite.
At the age of 36, Rachael has established the popular and wonderfully organised Tarcoola Equestrian Centre at Brombin, a few kilometres west of Port Macquarie, NSW. The business caters for all aged riders but specialises in beginners and young riders. Rachael’s enthusiasm for all things equestrian, her great manner and jovial attitude, does not cover up a very serious and talented determination to be the best she can at her work and as a rider. Always thirsty for new information and training methods, she takes what works and puts the rest aside for another time.
Rachael’s parents, Robyn and Les, have always been supportive of her endeavours since she first showed an interest in ponies — which was as soon as she could sit up, they recall. Born in Sydney, Les was always interested in the land and horses. His father had worked out of the Blue Mountains for the Main Roads Department during the week and as a bullock driver of a weekend. Les rode to a good level and took up campdrafting. He became a diesel mechanic and was working at Waugh & Josephson, an earthmoving business, when he met Robyn who was working in the office. They were a great match and married, moving to Camden on one acre with daughters Lisa, 2, and newborn Rachael. The move was so Les could have room to keep and work his campdrafting horse.
A few years after moving there Les was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosis, and was warned that he would be blind by the time he was 40. With this news they decided to move to a more open area and relocated to a 100-acre property at Cowra. Les now had a stock horse and Lisa was keen to get riding. They bought her a pony and went to Cowra Pony Club where Rachael was encouraged to sit and colour in books while Lisa rode. That was a joke and she had many a throw-down as she was desperate to ride. Rachael was four and it was no use trying to keep her colouring-in, so she went on to Lisa’s pony while another was found for Lisa. Lisa was not so competitive but all Rachael wanted to do was be the best and win everything.
Rathowen Reflective won Champion Novice Galloway at Sydney Royal and the following year was top 10 at Show Horse Council Nationals.
“Two broken arms, hospital and plaster… then back to the grounds where she wanted to ride in the parade!”
Rachael’s next pony, Penny, was a reject and, according to the instructors, of little use. The look on Rachael’s face at the age of six was priceless and Les and Robyn will never forget that look of total disgust! It was obvious then that Rachael was not one to give in, nor was she a bad loser, but simply determined to soak up knowledge and progressively get better. That pony was not great on picking up one canter lead until eventually a friend and trainer took her for a week and returned it well trained to pick up both leads. The look on Rachael’s face was another moment. The next morning at dawn, Les and Robyn were awoken to the sound of cantering and leapt out to see what was happening. Rachael, at the age of 6, was out practising her lead changes! They wondered how she got the bridle on. The pony wasn’t that easy and was way too clever for Rachael to put the bridle on, they thought, on asking her, Rachael looked at them as if ‘what a stupid question’ and replied, “I tied her head down to the bottom of the gate”. Her determination to be independent, train, ride and compete was compulsive.
Two years later, a cute chestnut show pony, Bindi Eye Petite, was purchased and so the showing chapter began. It was full-on as well as lessons at Forbes with Nadine Animus. Showing for Rachael became an addiction and Petite was already a seasoned show pony and just the right horse to kickstart Rach into the showing arena. As if they weren’t successful! They competed at the age of 8 in the 6 and under-9 rider at Sydney Royal, placing third, and then Canberra Royal and all the Pony Club jamborees.
When Rach was 10, she was at the Asimus property when she noticed a chestnut mare (warning!) with a flaxen mane and tail in a group of maybe 40 horses. She singled it out and was hell-bent on having her. This was Warrawong Park Songbird, who was dutifully broken in and made ready for sale by Nadine Asimus. The early days were not such a magical time, however, it was many times a fall. The mare was cold-backed and wicked, but Rachael and Songbird grew to know each other with help from Les, who would keep a close eye on proceedings and have the odd ride when essential!
Warrawong Park Songbird.
“Rachael’s desire to ride dressage grew stronger.”
Rachael persevered through many falls and with never a whimper or a thought to give up! Her persistence paid off and Rachael again tasted sweet success… her driving factor. They won many championships in both pony and rider classes and rode their way to EA NSW Pony of the Year and were second of 102 entrants in the riding class at Sydney Royal. Rachael trained Songbird to Medium level dressage. She realised that the way to win over the best-looking ponies was to have confidence and training that would make the work look easy and the pony look in the best frame and shape.
Rachael started to ride Lisa’s galloway, Smokey. At a NSW Pony Club jamboree riding Smokey, she was a point away after all the disciplines to win the point score: It was down to the flag race and, of course, as if she wasn’t going to win! They were in the lead in the final but going too fast around the top flag and over they went… two broken arms, hospital and plaster… then back to the grounds where she wanted to ride in the parade! The answer was no as it was against Pony Club rules to ride with arms in plaster! Despite discussing it with officials, she accepted the ruling and marched in the parade on foot!
Rachael was a good student at school, doing the minimum but gaining good results. She would ride before and after school and was always doing her stables and caring for the ponies. Her focus was always on the big picture and her goal was to win at Sydney Royal. With Robyn now working in the offices of John Patrick Prestige Cars in Port Macquarie and Les at home, they were positive in their encouragement of Rachael’s riding pursuits.
Rachael, 16, with Spanish City after winning at the EA NSW Horse of the Year show.
“Superbly-run Tarcoola has become a hub of activity.”
When Rachael was 11, the family moved to Wauchope on two acres for the two ponies and a galloway, which were the kids’ projects. Petite, Rachael’s first pony, was sold and Rachael took the sale in her stride, realising that to progress there had to be some changes. It was full-on carting around to shows and lessons from here. Les’s eyesight had deteriorated and he was no longer driving. Both the girls were diagnosed with degenerative eye disease, but thanks to modern advances, the progression of the disease has been slowed enormously and for Rachael her eyes are actually getting a little better.
It was now that an off-the-track thoroughbred was purchased by Les and he rode Spanish City for the first year or so. Rach and Les would ride out in the forests and surrounding areas until Spanish City was settled enough for Rachael to take over. Another big learning curve and off to shows as often as possible with Les and Robyn and the two horses. Spanish City was 16 hands and Rach was only 14 years old, but of course they won numerous classes; Rachael was champion girl rider at 16 on Spanish City at the EA NSW Horse of the Year, gaining a reps position for the Nationals at Werribee. She was also EA National Junior Judge of the Year at the Nationals in 2000 and 2001.
At the end of her schooling in Year 12, it was obvious horses were Rachael’s life, but she had thoughts of going on to Uni and took a gap year. Some gap year! She rode daily, took horses for others on training and gained a few more horses along the way. It was full-on, still showing at every opportunity and building experience and a great name. She was very good competitor and took the good with the not so good. She was never emotional about winning and losing (well, as Robyn says, until she was in the car on the way home!) She was extremely polite and not in anyone’s face. Rachael simply lived to do her best and train her horses and loved the fact that they gave their all; that’s what mattered, the winning was a bonus but one she so desired.
With 12 horses on the two-acre plot and neighbouring properties, it was obvious the family needed more space to sustain Rachael’s desire. Lisa married Dave Winchcombe, who has a great job in environmental technology while Lisa is an accountant in Newcastle where they reside. They have three children who are keen to ride whenever they visit Auntie Rach. A few weeks ago, Ruby, the oldest daughter, announced to Auntie Rachael that it was time that she had her very own pony! Uh-oh, look out!
Tarcoola Furst Romanz.
“The joy that Tarcoola exudes is a total inspiration to everyone who visits.”
The time to expand had come and 30 acres was purchased in the undulating country at Brombin, about 30 minutes’ west of Port Macquarie. It was a vacant, unfenced block with nothing but parramatta grass. So, living 20 minutes from the two acres in King Creek, Robyn would drop Les off each day and a dwelling was built and a barn. Rachael moved in. Then the fencing and an outdoor flat area was put in and Rachael began teaching clients in the paddock.
There were now a couple of school horses that Rachael adored, looking after them as she did her show horses. University was no longer on the cards. A good friend in Jo Parry bred and produced a lot of good horses, so they developed a working relationship where Rachael would take the horses and train and show them — and as if they were then sold! (Not!). Rathowen Reflective was the star and won Champion Novice Galloway at Sydney Royal and the following year was top 10 at Show Horse Council Nationals. A good thoroughbred mare, Megawati, won Champion Led out of a huge thoroughbred class at Canberra Royal. This mare and another, Eva Diva, were put in foal to warmbloods as Rachael couldn’t afford a warmblood of quality and decided to try her hand at breeding. Megawati was actually bought out of a dogger’s yard and her bridle cost more than she did!
Rachael’s goal from so many years ago was to win at Sydney Royal. Now that it was done she fell in to a bit of a hole. The travel bug got to her and, despite building great beginnings to her business, it was time to party and travel for a few years. Horses were still an important part of her life but competing was put on the back burner. She went to Asia several times and Europe, and a final trip to America, but her highlight and true to form wanting to push her boundaries, she went to Nepal and climbed to the Mt Everest Base Camp — nearly killing herself but fulfilling her goals yet again. At 31 she settled well and truly back in to the horses at Tarcoola Equestrian Centre, where a roof was put over the arena. Her well-schooled show horses became school horses and Rachael loved them all, knowing them inside out and being the best school ponies ever.
Tarcoola Hot Shot.
The Clarke family.
“Her ponies are never overworked and are always happy to please.”
Rachael’s desire to ride dressage grew stronger, and out of those two mares came Tarcoola Hotshot by Remembrance Day x Megawati, and Tarcoola Furst Romanz by Fürst Love x Eva Diva. Hotshot is big and flashy and scoring in the 70s at Elementary at state championships and showing great potential in the FEI movements, while Romanz is ready for PSG, also doing extremely well with great percentages through to Advanced and now working on FEI work.
Superbly-run Tarcoola has become a hub of activity with Rachael giving clinics and holding children’s holiday camps as well as daily lessons with her school ponies, Rachael is fully booked up. She married a few years ago to Shanon, a bull rider in his younger, more crazy years who followed the rodeo circuit but now has an interest in horses without being an active participant.
Les, who you would never guess has many eye problems, actually only has a little tunnel vision in one eye and no sight in the other. The girls don’t see down the tunnel like him but have the opposite — peripheral vision. It’s all about living your life to the most you are given and the Clarke family do just that. Les is an avid worker and is every day feeding, rugging, building and mowing while always being there to assist Rachael. He is one of Rachael’s mentors and greatest critics whilst Robyn takes great delight in shopping and cleaning gear and prides herself in helping behind the scenes. She has a passion for getting gear and the likes always immaculate. It’s a real team effort and Robyn still working with Prestige and her good accounting background makes certain the equestrian centre stays centred!
Les and Robyn have built a four-bedroom house and swimming pool on the property on the opposite side to the centre. Tarcoola’s indoor arena has a synthetic surface that is always immaculately presented, as are the surrounding lawns and gardens that Rachael and Les established. There is a large jumping arena where visiting instructors hold clinics, and there are two groups of stables and covered yards. A well-surfaced round yard and 20 big, well-fenced and pastured paddocks are used for agisting horses and the school horses that all live in the lap of luxury with their own paddocks and two hard feeds a day as well as rugging. There is a four-horse walker and Rachael is a stickler for healthy and happy horses and her ponies are never overworked and are always happy to please. There are 30 horses on the property that are cared for daily by Les and Rachael and two farm hands and two part-time instructors.
Tarcoola was a blank canvas in the beginning.
Rachael with Tarcoola Ram Beau.
Transforming the property.
Rachael’s dressage pursuits are set high and with a wealth of experience and knowledge she is patient and kind yet definite and rewarding. Competent and serious, jovial and light-hearted, she still has that underlying mad passion to be better every day. Her experience at riding all sorts of horses makes her ideal to help with clients’ problems that might arise, and with Les a constant, it’s always great to bounce ideas off one another.
Rachael now has the wonderful old Grand Prix horse Weltsohn, who is a constant help in her pursuit to training her first horse to Grand Prix. He gives his all and Rachael can practise all the Grand Prix movements and keep the feeling and then use it to feel movements on her own horses of which she does just as a talented musician can play by ear.
To see a family follow along together to this end in times of hardship and some turmoil is an absolute credit to them. To see Tarcoola Equestrian Centre transform from barren ground to the ever-improving wonderful property is a credit to the family’s determination and dedication. To see the organisation of Tarcoola and the joy that Tarcoola exudes is a total inspiration to everyone who visits. It is also a very viable business and looks very encouraging to even be bigger and better in the years to come.
There is no question that Rachael will soon be riding a Grand Prix test on a homebred horse that she has taken from an embryo to maturity. Determination, dedication, a will to win, competitiveness all wrapped up in a family unit with kind and passionate love of the common bond, the horse. That’s a winning and rewarding life for sure! EQ