Fresh from a very successful weekend at Barastoc Horse of the Year show, at which Rebecca and Percy won both their classes – the Rider 26 Years and Over class and the Racing Victoria Off the Track Ridden Hack class – Rebecca is quick to acknowledge the role her dressage training played in their success, explaining: “I really rode my workout on the weekend very much like a dressage test in terms of focusing on straightness, good corners, and setting up transitions.”
There were 50 entrants in the Off the Track Ridden Hack class at Barastoc Horse of the Year 2021, the highest number of entries in any class in the entire show! The growing support for Off the Track classes indicates an increasing number of people are choosing a thoroughbred as their horse of choice for performance disciplines, and it’s something Rebecca’s very happy to see.
“Racing Victoria’s support of Off the Track classes in dressage, showing and other disciplines is definitely encouraging some diversity back into the way we approach our horses’ careers,” says Rebecca, who grew up competing in not just showing but also eventing, through the Pony Club ranks. Those were days when most children and adults had a go at everything, all on the one horse – and that horse was often a thoroughbred. It seems the wheel could be coming full circle.
“I think education is the best form of sedation for thoroughbreds because it keeps their heads cool, it gives them something to focus on,” Rebecca explains. “Thoroughbreds are great horses, and I personally believe that when people go wrong, it’s usually because they haven’t taken their time and they’re not patient enough. I’m a very patient person with my horses – more so than I am with people – and when I try to explain this to my non-horsey friends, I say it’s like taking a child and putting it in preschool. You can’t just think ‘oh he’ll go one day a week and he will learn everything’. It’s about doing small bits, regularly, being really consistent, establishing boundaries and rewarding good behaviour. I think there are so many thoroughbreds with huge potential, but sometimes they’re not given the opportunity because people want to fast-track them.
“I also keep my property very calm. There’s no yelling and no one is rushing around being frantic, and I think that is very important for off-the-track horses. I think a lot of thoroughbreds come out of these busy training stables where there are 40 to 50 horses and things are happening from quarter to 4 in the morning, and that can affect their behaviour. When they come to my place it’s all very calm and there’s a routine. There’s always a very calm horse to keep them company; my old horse, he’s 26 now, he’s always in the stable next to Percy. A lot of these horses have never had that one-on-one attention, and it takes time. People can think ‘Oh but I’ve had him three months and he still hasn’t settled’, but it can sometimes take up to 18 months before you start to really know the horse.”
As for selecting an off-the-track thoroughbred, Rebecca says the first thing that catches her eye is how a horse looks. “They have to have a good head and a beautiful eye, an interested eye. That, to me, is more important than a pretty little pony head. I look very closely at how the horse is put together; I think that goes across any discipline. I look at a horse like Percy who’s an athlete, and I actually think he could do any discipline because he’s really, really well put together and he’s incredibly athletic. I like long, correct legs, a good shoulder, a good length of rein and I don’t like a horse that’s long in the back. Overall, I like a horse that cuts an elegant picture.”
Assessing how a future performance horse moves is very important; when doing so, Rebecca pays particular attention to the walk and the canter. “It’s easy to get excited about a great trot, but I feel that if you’re looking at a thoroughbred, you really should be paying more attention to its walk and its canter because they haven’t done a lot of trot, and it’s something they’ve never really been taught to do. Often their trot is like a jog that leads into a canter, which then leads into a gallop. You can really improve the trot with time and training, but the canter is particularly important in the show ring, because we get called in off the canter!”
After a stellar start to this year’s show season, Rebecca is now looking forward to the Nationals with Percy later this year, and continuing to compete in the Off the Track classes at Boneo Park’s monthly dressage competitions. Having placed in both Novice OTT divisions at the Summer Dressage Championships in January, Rebecca was unable to make it to the February event, however, she plans to be back in the arena with Percy at Boneo’s March competition.
“I love competing at Boneo Park, the facilities really are beautiful, and I find it just such a competitor friendly environment, it’s actually a really relaxing day out for me. Having been a show rider my whole life, who is trying to train a horse correctly behind the scenes, I find it really rewarding to go to Boneo for the dressage because it is about you, your effort, your work, and being rewarded for that. For me, even the drive to the event is done with a very different mindset. It’s not about who’s judging and who’s going to be there, and will they like my horse. It’s about me going through my head, how my last test went, where I need to improve and what I need to do today,” Rebecca enthuses.