PLUS: GRACE KAY, THE HORSES OF GILI, CELEBRITY CUTTING CHALLENGE, PIGGY MARCH, WILLINGA PARK’S GOLD BUCKLE, ROGER’S TIPS FOR THE MEDIUM TOUR, KERRY MACK’S DRESSAGE FOR JUMPERS, THE INS AND OUTS OF BUYING A HORSE, A NEW APPROACH TO LAMENESS DETECTION & MY FRIEND FLICKA
Grace Kay is a name that has always been in the dressage wings in NSW, ever since she won National Young Rider as a novice when she was only 10. A more delightful rider and happy competitor you cannot find. Win or lose is pretty much all the same for Grace. Her connection with every horse she rides is obvious, her compassion is paramount and there is never a bossy moment in her riding.
Grace has been passionate about horses since she first rode as a four-year-old, despite having parents who lived in town, were not involved in horses and were too busy to indulge her interest. One of two daughters to Singleton chiropractors Chris and Deidre Kay, she made her own way by riding ponies at a friend’s property when she was five. There she soon found herself under the auspices of Kim Peterson, the working equitation enthusiast. Grace made sure she gained as much time in the saddle under her eye as possible – along with “plenty of falling-off practice”, as she tells it.
It wasn’t long before Kim recognised Grace’s talent and found her a pony. Rothwell Stagecraft was his name, and he was affordable – which usually comes with another cost! He was talented but naughty, however, Grace made him into a very successful pony through her patience and persistence. They were so successful that they made the NSW Young Riders Squad where Grace was the youngest member. The combination won the National and the NSW Young Rider titles at Novice when Grace was only 10. Two years later they backed that up with NSW Young Rider Medium Pony Champion.
At 14, Grace, was asked to be a demonstration rider for the German master, Christoph Hess, at an Equestrian Australia clinic for judges and trainers – not only was she the youngest rider, she was also on the youngest horse. Elite Dynasty was three years old at the time. Grace had found him unbroken and running in a paddock with 30 other horses. At the time of the clinic, ‘Dino’ had only been broken in for five months. Grace was absolutely professional at that age and became the talk of the judges and onlookers at that clinic. Her ability and attitude were very much praised and admired by Christoph, and Dino continued with Grace to qualify in the four-year-old young horse class at the Sydney CDI but was unfortunately unable to compete.
Dynasty sustained an injury that ended his career and so the next horse to come along for Grace was Karingal Jamirquai. Grace was still at school and training with Kim when this big, leggy chestnut with plenty of chrome by Jive Magic x Salute x Ludendorff was purchased. Jamirquai was far from easy; in fact, Grace describes him as very difficult at the beginning. Grace drew deeply on her patience and understanding to make her way around his quirkiness.
Grace and Rothwell Stagecraft were very successful in the competition arena.
Grace competing with Rothwell Stagecraft at the Canberra Classic in 2003.
At this stage, Grace started work for Kim breaking in and training the young horses. She also worked a little with the legendary horseman and liberty trainer Heath Harris, making the most of the opportunity to absorb more knowledge. She watched and worked with Heath and Kim in liberty work and went on to do some riding with Heath and the Girls Girls Girls trick riding group.
Her readiness to start at the bottom and learn as many skills as possible on the way up is inspiring. As with everything Grace has a crack at, she does it with a smile and look of total enjoyment, but deep down is a very serious person driven to better herself. “Competitive” is not quite the right word for her attitude, as she simply wants to be the best she can be at every ride, and hopefully success comes from hard work. For Grace, that’s the icing on the cake or simply a reward and proof of her diligence and love of horses and their training.
She was rewarded in 2010 when Jamirquai was named Preliminary NSW State Champion and was second in the Sydney CDI 4-year-old class; the following year he was second in the five-year-old class. There were many wins along the way leading to Champion Advanced at the National Young Rider Championships and a third in the Inter I freestyle at the Sydney CDI. An amazing performance for a still young rider with a difficult horse whom she adored.
Win or lose, the smiling face of Grace simply being amongst horses is her trademark. When Jamirquai was six, Grace started training with the renowned Portuguese-born, Australian-based classical dressage trainer, Miguel Tavora. The training continued towards Small Tour, which was challenging, but Grace was prepared for the steep learning curve, taking the highs and lows as part and parcel of dressage life. About this time the family moved to a property and then bought 25 acres at Lochinvar, where they have set up a great establishment from scratch, including stables and yards and a good arena. It’s very functional and works well for Grace’s growing business, and she is forever grateful to her parents for the support of her passion and career. Grace was a great student at school and went on to university to study International Business.
Grace competing Karingal Jamirquai as a four year old.
Grace and Karingal Jamirquai.
MUM’S THE WORD
When Celerity Park Faberge was purchased – another leggy chestnut gelding by Celerity Park Fabulous Lad x Sky High – it was obvious that Grace was going to stick with a career in horses. Her mother left the chiropractic practice to dedicate herself to supporting her. She became groom and driver and all the things associated with her daughter riding her heart out and studying, not to mention supporting her financially until Grace started to earn a wage. In Grace’s first year at uni, she packed up her horses and went to train with Miguel Tavora for about four months. It was a time she will never forget, training with the master.
“Every now and then I think you come across people who not only impact your life but change its whole trajectory,” says Grace. “This is how I feel when I look back, with incredible fondness, on the time I was privileged enough to spend with Miguel. Miguel was an absolute master at training horses because he trained on a set of principles that were specifically tailored and adapted to each horse that he worked with. He never required the horses to fit into ‘his’ system, instead finding exercises that he could use which would help the horse in its understanding. I remember Miguel telling me once that the difference between a trainer and a good trainer was simply being creative, that is, being able to come up with five different ways to say the same thing in order to find the way which best suits the horse.
“Spending time with him not only taught me a lot about training horses but about life itself, how to manage the highs and lows of working with horses and within the industry, and that issues are often not caused by spite but instead from a lack of understanding and communication. I like to think that I take Miguel’s classical approach to training into all aspects of my horsemanship now and am forever grateful for the many lessons I was able to learn under his guidance.”
On returning to university, Grace had up to five horses of clients in work as well as her own and it was full-on for Chris and Grace at every level; however, it was a passion and rewarding. After winning the Aachen Challenge (at Dressage & Jumping with the Stars) on Jamirquai – where Grace actually won on all three horses – and then going over to Aachen, Grace stayed on to make the most of the time and train with Johan Hamminga in Holland with young horses that she adored. There followed a few weeks with Wolfram Wittig that was amazing, and then two weeks in Ireland with the Duffy family in showjumping.
Grace took Karingal Jamirquai from Preliminary to Small Tour.
Grace having a lesson with Miguel Tavora, riding Celerity Park Faberge.
Grace loves the freedom of jumping and it is a great release from her structured dressage training that she adores.
Grace’s interest in showjumping came about with Faberge when he was at Miguel’s. Doing some cavaletti work, she realised his power, brave attitude and attention to the jump were his strengths and helped with all his work. It was then off to George Sanna, who was ideal to set Grace along the correct way with her jumping where she showed a natural talent and feel for the sport. She says she loves the freedom of jumping and it is a great release from her structured dressage training that she adores. Of course, it is a natural progression from all that to eventing and she has never looked back.
Faberge was no slouch and gradually and unobtrusively won the Esther Bellis Trophy for the best performed dressage and showjumping horse at Dressage & Jumping with the Stars in 2013 and 2014. He was reserve Advanced Young Rider National Horse in 2015, and then in 2018, after many successful eventing starts, won the 2018 Wallaby Hill 3DE 2* class, followed by winning the 3* class the next year. In 2020, he had his first 4* start. What an amazing rise to fame and so modestly done and in the wings with no fuss or huge accolades, and we are talking about a young rider here!
Grace was devastated by the death her coach Miguel Tavora, in December 2017, as she is very structured in her training and follows her path to the nth degree. It was a period where she struggled, along with Miguel’s words and exercises staying in her head. It was a timely moment when Dianne White called Grace to offer her a spot in an upcoming Stefan Wolff clinic in the Hawkesbury. She was hesitant but took the opportunity, one that she has not regretted. There was similarity in the training but Grace realised that Stefan put more emphasis on what was required to get better competition scores. She refers to this as “modern competition training”, but all the same her classical foundations still hold firm. She has not erred from Stefan’s techniques and has been to Germany for several weeks at a time over that last few years, riding four-year-olds through to Grand Prix horses under his watchful eye.
With Covid upending so many activities last year, it was a time to consolidate. Given her ambition and desire to learn, Grace found it somewhat frustrating, but then again, beneficial in that she had time to refresh the basics with her horses and life.
The new star in her barn is WG Confederate, who is an absolute star. He and Grace won the Medium 4B and placed second in the 4C with scores of 74.775% and 71.474% at the recent Willinga Park Dressage by the Sea competition (event two). Competing alongside the likes of Jayden Brown and Brett Parbery in both tests, it was no mean feat! Grace also placed in the Medium classes with Sonara, scoring 69.189% and 65.834%.
WG Confederate is a great horse for one that was not a superstar at the younger levels. It has been through Grace’s consistent and level-headed training that he is developing the strength and showing confidence and great work and starting the FEI movements. Grace says they have worked a little on the piaffe and the passage and he finds it easy and so it is put away now. It’s just back to basics and gaining strength and confidence.
Confederate is owned by Pam Maclean, and being all showjumping bloodlines in Contendro, Alberich and Caletto I, has an awesome canter, but Grace says she loves to work on the trot as it is so elastic and easy! It shows in Grace’s diligence to developing not only his physical strength but also always having her horses mentally on her side. Grace does cross-training with all her horses and keeps them interested at all times.
Another consistent horse is Bluefields Federer, owned by Joanne Keyte who has moved from Hobart to Ballarat and then to the Hunter, and who also trained with Miguel. Federer is heading towards Small Tour and is a very consistent performer through the levels. At the Sydney CD-LITE, the pair contested the Advanced classes, with a highlight being their third place in a very competitive 5C class on a score of 69.402%.
Joanne also part-owns Bluefields For Cello with Grace. He is by Bluefields Floreno and out of a thoroughbred mare and has hit his straps in eventing, coming second in the CCN1*S at Wallaby Hill International Horse Trials this year.
Grace has several top-bred and performing young horses for her owners and for sure it’s an absolute pleasure to have such a talented rider in the saddle to train them. Grace is always delighted with every horse she has and never makes excuses for good or not so good performances. It’s simply another day at the office and tomorrow is a new and exciting day. She is grateful to the team of support she has around her, especially her long-term sponsors Trailrace Saddlery and Hunter Pulse Therapy, who have believed in her progression through the years.
Despite the difficulty with travel, Grace is heading off overseas to train for six weeks with Stefan and also with Sophie Leube in her eventing pursuits. Sophie worked for Ingrid Klimke for many years and so again the classical training is holding everything in good stead. There is no question when talking to Grace that her mindset is towards eventing, and what an amazing grounding she has behind her with so much dressage influence.
In Grace’s words: “I love to get out and gallop and be free and to jump. It’s simply refreshing, but it’s this way as I have a great dressage grounding and development physically and mentally with my horses. Even the dressage horses that aren’t so talented as the eventers still let loose in cross-training. And to do cavaletti work with them, it feels so complementary and full of fun and ease, it’s a real release and a moment to breath and relax and enjoy so much.”
It’s obvious from the get-go when you see Grace compete, train or simply chat in the stables, that she is “the goods!” Her smile is so effervescent and her demeanour easygoing and uncomplicated, her riding sympathetic yet definite and her joy in her work is mesmerising. Modest always and respected by all her fellow competitors. There is absolutely no question that for this demure, charming and radiant athlete, there is one hell of a future. Watch this space! EQ