“There’s so much more to horses than just riding,” says Emily Stirling, who at the tender age of 21 has already built an ever-expanding business that embodies this ethic. The 2019 Victorian Young Rider of the Year for Jumping may be striving to reach the giddy heights of global success in the glamorous sport of show jumping, however, it’s the love of the horse – rather than the glory and the ribbons – that keeps her grounded and drives her forward.
Emily runs Cloroy Park, a coaching, breeding, spelling and rehabilitation business in Victoria’s Bacchus Marsh in conjunction with her grandfather Geoff Closter, while also campaigning a team of show jumpers – all mares – who she fondly refers to as “my girls”.
“My grandfather took me to a carnival one time – I must have been about four, and he sat me on a pony – and it all went from there! I started lessons and then when I was eight he bought me my first pony. He thought it might just be a phase – I’ve always said I don’t really think he knew what he was getting himself into!” Emily laughs.
The horse phase was there to stay; from humble Pony Club beginnings, Emily developed an interest in show jumping and started jumping competitively at the age of 12. She hasn’t looked back.
“I’m very lucky that I had access to Jess Pateman, or Barton as she was then, and I started having lessons with her. Then I started going to shows with her and something just clicked – I knew that was what I wanted to do,” Emily explains, when asked what attracted her to show jumping over the other disciplines. “I love jumping around a course, and show jumping is a great sport that you can do so much with; there are so many opportunities that can come out of it, here in Australia and also in Europe and America where the sport is so big.”
For Emily, the first opportunity – one that would contribute to her decision to pursue a career as a professional rider and coach – came about when she was just 17 years old in the form of an amazing trip overseas to represent Australia at Haras de Jardy – a jumping competition in Paris. The once-in-a-lifetime trip opened her eyes to the magnitude of the sport and left her inspired and brimming with business ideas before she had even finished high school.
“I completed year 11 and 12 via distance education. When I was 15, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, which threw a bit of a spanner in the works,” Emily explains. “I’d always been interested in law and veterinary science, and thought I’d pursue one of those avenues after school. It’s hard at a young age, so many young people are pressured to know what they want to do, and not many people can figure it out. So I took a gap year after school, and during that year I started teaching some local kids riding lessons. When I came back from Europe the year before, having seen how they run lessons and training programs over there, I’d developed a bit of a vision of what I wanted to do with horses on the side, but then it got so big during that gap year that I thought ‘I can make a living out of this, let’s keep going!’”
Emily’s 2017 trip to France not only influenced her career choices, it provided her with a chance to meet other young riders from around the world and gain insight into a very different approach to owning and riding horses than the one she had grown up with.
“The opportunity to go to Paris came about through a lovely friend of mine from New South Wales, Jamie Priestley and her family. There was a big competition going on over there, and a training program, and they wanted a few riders from each country. Jamie went as a Young Rider and I went as a Junior for Australia and we were in a team of riders from countries including Sri Lanka and Thailand!” Emily enthuses. “We were also able to watch a leg of the Global Champions Tour which was incredible too.”