AUG 2021



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A Few Words



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EQ Families


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Shane Rose and Virgil on their way to team silver in Tokyo. © Hippo Foto - Dirk Caremans.

When Michelle Hasibar went out to check on her mare in foal, she noticed a tall and leggy newborn perched on the side of the dam. How did he get there? Surely he hadn’t jumped the fence…

Michelle Hasibar is a name that is synonymous with the NSW equestrian world, not only in the Australia eventing crew but internationally. She is a very private, unassuming smart and savvy woman who was born in Sydney and grew up on a five-acre property in Galston, an hour’s drive from Sydney.

Her parents had migrated from Austria and had no interest in horses, but when Michelle was three years old she developed pony mania and begged for a pony. Her father relented much to his wife’s disgust but told Michelle she would have wait until she turned eight. So, at seven-and-a-half, the nagging started and the pony arrived on her eighth birthday! Michelle rode and trained a lot with Lynette Holwick’s twin sister Annette Smith who ran a riding school not far from home. Michelle rode at the local riding club, which at that time was not an affiliated pony club.

Her love of glamorous people and sport led her, of course, to “showing hacks”, at which she was extremely successful. Having a tall, elegant figure she was made in the mould to sit elegantly on a horse! She always dreamed of becoming an eventing rider and, after leaving school, she went to university and graduated with a degree in computing and statistics. She then worked in IT in the city but would ride at her parents’ Galston property at night.

With a laugh, Michelle recalls how she learnt to stay on. “The arena had light and next door was a market garden run by very industrious Chinese. With the lights on, it gave them light over their property and not to waste this they were all out there working. The problem being that with their tent-like straw hats they would bob up out of the vegetables and the horses would absolutely think they were going to be killed by what seemed to be aliens. It was so funny and it sure as hell taught you to hang on!”

Of course, for Michelle in the ’80s it was all about having a good time. Showing hacks led to the centre of the universe, that is, royal shows, and that is what Michelle did so well! It was around this time that her interest started to head towards the dressage. A friend, Damon Barlow, had an unraced chestnut thoroughbred horse, Wayfarer, whom he needed to sell as he was going to college and didn’t have enough time for him. After much negotiating, Michelle purchased him and continued down the dressage trail and was going well.

“It was in the days when the dressage gang would get together and have a meal and sort out the dressage woes,” Michelle explains. “It was one of those nights… the group all decided ‘to hell with dressage and we should all go eventing’! At last, I thought, what a fantastic idea and my passion and dreams to go eventing were going to all come true. After a big night and sobering up the next morning, I thought I better see if Ray (Wayfarer) could jump! I erected some crazy five-foot jump of rails and tyres, as you do. I put him on the lunge and a few walk steps, two trot steps and he cleared it with effortless ease. I was set. It looked like he could jump a bit!”

So Michelle’s career in eventing started and she rode Ray up to Open Intermediate, which back in the day was about three or four-star level. He would always win the dressage phase up to one-star level but in his early days he was not so trained to be super forward. As the dressage got harder, his lack of forward desire and hence impulsion held the marks back. Needless to say, he was a great jumper and was a great ride for Michelle; uncomplicated and always super keen and forward on the cross country and loved every opportunity to jump. Unfortunately, Ray tried to bank a solid fence at a Melbourne three-day event and tipped up. Michelle broke her femur and then, not so long after that, became pregnant.


Michelle tells the story of how she and a few friends, including Shane Rose, were socialising. “Shane was one of the gang, and after a few drinks around the campfire Shane – being the joker he is – would come to me and say over and over again, ‘Give Ray to Shane… Give Ray to Shane’. Of course, I just laughed it off. It was not long after I had broken my leg that Shane caught up with me at an event and had a long and positive chat with me about remaining focused and taking time to heal and then assess the situation. It left a profound impression and Shane, well known for his gung-ho fun-filled approach to life, does have a very compassionate and understanding side. So, when I was pregnant with daughter Buster, I asked Shane if he wanted to take over the ride on Ray. ‘Give Ray to Shane’ then happened!”

It wasn’t long before Shane was being super successful on the horse and was third at Spray Farm 3DE and then third at Melbourne 3DE. Ray was a super reliable jumper who was brave and bold and careful, always focused and ready, and Shane had hopes of making the team for the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

It was at Adelaide 3DE when Ray was in a great position after the dressage and set out on cross country. Michelle was there holding Buster when she was just three months old. She just loved the sport and was always a great support team. Her partner Brett, who was a vet, was also there. Ray had been going super well under Shane until he encountered a huge brush jump with quite a wide and deep ditch in front of it. For whatever reason, Ray looked into the ditch and thought he was supposed to bounce into it and then jump the brush. It was a split-second decision that proved disastrous. As he jumped down, his head, neck and shoulders were thrust into the timber holding the brush together.

Shane escaped without injury despite being thrown through the brush. Michelle was only two fences away and, handing baby Buster to the nearest spectator, bolted to the fence. It was very obvious that Ray was not in a good way. After assessment by a top group of vets, and of course Brett, the decision was taken to euthanise him, a decision that was extremely hard but professionally and humanely considered. Michelle was shattered and it was a very, very sad time for all – but the good thing was that she was reunited with Buster and that was a relief.

Michelle was never one to ponder what might have been; she is pragmatic and never looks back. It was home and upwards and onwards. She proceeded to buy horses off the track and have a go and see what they were like at eventing. “I had two nice ones that I took to a clinic with Craig Barrett. He said, ‘Wow! That is a great couple of horses you have’ and I replied ‘yes, this is number 13 and that is number 14!’”

Michelle produced several good horses to one-star and was now situated on the NSW Central Coast where she and Brett bought a veterinary practice that was becoming extremely well respected. It was here that a four-year-old mare called North Pole was retiring from the track and Michelle, always after another project, purchased her. She was by Distinctly North from the mare Rose Gold.

North Pole was nothing special and seemed a little sore from her racing, so Michelle decided to give her three months off to readjust. It was one night “thinking mad thoughts” that Michelle thought “why not put her in foal”, so it was on the phone to the Chuggs as she thought that Conquistador may have suited well. She wanted to breed her own Olympic eventing hero. From mad dressage ladies one day to international super eventing heroes the next! Conquistador was young and not really proven as a sire at that stage, nor as a competitive jumper despite his innate ability. It was then decided to use the wonderful Vivant, as she loved him but he was a little more expensive. The next morning saw the mare in season and ready to inseminate. Friend and vet Derek Major made a collection that morning and Brett inseminated North Pole that evening and she was straight in foal.


“In hindsight I knew nothing of breeding, it was a rush of blood idea and had I had to wait a few weeks maybe I would have been more thoughtful and not put her in foal,” says Michelle. “Who knows? But anyway, Derek now wants to be known for being instrumental in being the first link in producing Virgil to Olympic fame!”

Michelle well remembers the day the foal was born. “It was around foaling time and I noticed one morning that the mare looked a bit agitated so I went to investigate. There on the opposite side of the fence was a tall and very leggy foal perched on the edge of the dam. He demanded attention from the day he was born. Trying to manoeuvre that leggy, strong foal back under the fence was a feat, I have to say!”

Michelle says she had used up a lot of “V” names on previous horses and now having to name this foal wasn’t easy. “I wanted Vern, and Virgil was second choice. Virgil Tracy is a character from the Thunderbirds Are Go! television series. He was the pilot of Thunderbird 2 and was dubbed ‘The Peacemaker’ of International Rescue. Virgil won the name over the Footrots cartoon character Vern.

Everyone who saw Virgil immediately commented on his presence. He never really went through the ugly times and was broken in at the age of three by Adam Sutton. It wasn’t long before Michelle was riding him with confidence and took to him to a one-day event simply to “show him around”. He was well-noticed and two students of Chris Burton apparently told him he needed to buy him. Burto let it go and so the continued schooling of Virgil went on.

“I took him to SIEC for again a look around and there was a tiny – and I mean tiny – step down from a grassed area to another area and he decided he could not step down it. I wasn’t giving up and Sam Lyle went past on his first horse to go cross country and commented on ‘what a wimp’ and was I having trouble. By the time he passed on the third horse of his to compete, I was still there. I eventually won the battle of the wills and continued on. When I started to jump him in 80cm classes he was jumping then as if they were 1.20m fences. It was pretty amazing and of course the showjumpers were interested.

“I took him around to Shane’s for an outing and, after I had ridden him all over the place (past Shane several times who was on the bobcat) I asked what he thought? In true Shane style, he said he never noticed him. When Shane is on a mission he is not distracted, not even by my great horse Virgil! I asked if he was interested in looking as I was needing to probably sell him as I needed some money to buy Buster a decent pony, so I took him over. The next day I called Shane and he said he liked him. The next day he called in the evening to say he really liked him, and then the next day he called as he stepped off and said I love him… big words indeed!”

And so Shane and wife Niki purchased Virgil, with Michelle retaining a share in him.

Michelle always believed in Virgil’s potential and she and Shane nurtured the dream as he continued to succeed. His first overseas jaunt was to the eight and nine-year-old Young Event Horse Championships in Blenheim and then on to the test event for the 2014 WEG in Caen. He had a minor injury playing the hero in the paddock and had a spell in Australia, which Michelle says was probably good for him, as he had done a lot in a short time.

It was at this time that Michelle realised life was not so easy and recalls two people who helped her along the way: great friend and mentor, Lucinda Green, and Helen Chugg of Diamond B Farm. Their help was humble and honest and she was forever grateful for their input during a trying time.


In 2015, Virgil competed at Adelaide 3DE and finished second on his dressage score where Shane won with CP Qualified. In 2016 he was the travelling reserve for the Rio Olympics (Shane made the team with CP Qualified) and Michelle flew with him and Shane’s other horse, Shanghai Joe, an experience that Michelle adored and will always remember. Virgil was not quite right from a virus before he left and was why he and Joe left a week later than Shane. On settling the horses into Heathrow, the ever-worldly traveller Michelle boarded the next plane to Germany and arrived at Aachen to watch CP Qualified do his dressage test – which was impressive indeed and really set tongues wagging. Shane, for sure, was going to get noticed ahead of Rio and he continued to be second overall at Aachen, with Australia taking out the Nations Cup teams event ahead of the Germans. Quite the most ‘Qualified’ ever performance.

Following Rio, Shane returned to England and with Virgil, CP Qualified and Shanghai Joe, he based at Sam Griffiths’. Shane and Virgil competed at Burghley where the going was spongy and for whatever reason, he started to over-jump fences again despite finishing a credible 16th there (after breaking a frangible pin and incurring 11 penalties on cross country). There was no real reason to bring him back home and so he stayed there and learnt about coping with the varying terrains that were on offer other than the drought-affected tracks in Australia where the ground was always rock hard. They stayed at Sam’s for 16 odd months and competed at Luhmühlen, where they finished on their dressage score and came seventh. They then competed at the Blair Castle leg of the Event Rider Masters series, gaining a good win under their belt. It was time to return home.

Shane’s children were about to start school and he was hoping to qualify for the 2018 WEG at Tryon, in the USA. He spent the time training Virgil and ticking him over. He knew his job well and just needed to stay in condition in preparation for Tryon. He was selected on the team and the trip to Tryon was tiring and long, having to go on a milk run, so to speak, and then end up in the UK then on to the USA. Virgil was a good traveller, but being tall and the trip long and somewhat cramped, he didn’t recover as quickly as he could have. Tryon was good for him except for a stupid tiny mistake at a skinny fence, where he just didn’t get focused and ran past it. This lapse was costly and had he not had that minor misjudgement he may have finished fourth overall. It was a bitter blow after all the work and effort that had been put into his preparation, but “that’s eventing”, says Michelle. “We knew it was a mistake but he was sound and healthy and that’s what matters at the end of the day and his dressage was right up there, and as always we know he is a careful and scopey jumper!”

It was back to Australia and time to regroup and work towards getting on the team for the Olympics in Tokyo. The thought was going to Aachen and to Luhmühlen and so Michelle packed another suitcase to follow her beloved Virgil. After Michelle booked plane tickets, Shane decided a trip to Pau CCI5* in France was the better option! And so off they went on a three-week quest to get a performance there for Tokyo team selection.


Getting to Pau in the Pyrenees in the south of France in October 2019 was a logistical nightmare and again a milk run, going all over the shop and having to wait while others competed at Le Lion d’Angers Young Event Horse Championships. It was all worth it and it was a great performance at Pau, with Shane and Virgil finishing third. It was a great qualifier and had to carry some weight in the eyes of the selectors.

Covid brought a stop to the world and eventing in Australia. The Tokyo Olympics seemed like an impossibility but Shane kept the fires burning and stayed positive with Virgil throughout the year. The determination by Japan to ensure the Olympics went ahead saw Shane and Virgil on the squad for the Olympics and training continued. With the unfortunate scratching of team-mate Stuart Tinney’s Celebration out of contention for selection, it was time for Virgil to step up and deliver. He certainly ticked all the boxes. He was a seasoned campaigner, he had the new test with four flying changes under good control, he was fit and healthy and sound, his cross country training and confidence were at an all-time high, and he was experienced on all terrains. He was always a great careful show jumper in 1.30m and 1.40m classes and was second in the Camden Grand Prix after Shane had a moment of a mistake in the Mini Prix, so entered the Grand Prix, as you do, and finished second. Virgil had not had a rail down in eventing for many competitions and was rated by Equiratings as the second-best showjumping horse in eventing at Tokyo behind Toledo de Kerser (the horse that gained team gold and individual silver with Great Britain’s Tom McEwen and, interestingly, was produced as a five-year-old by Sammi Birch).

Virgil was a competent traveller having flown around the world several times over, so his bags were packed and he was off to the Olympics. Michelle’s dream of an Olympics and maybe a gold medal for that foal that Derek claims he started and that was found at a few hours’ old on the wrong side of the fence, was now becoming a reality — but he going to have to do it alone. Thanks to Covid-19, the excitement associated with owner’s rights and all the fun of catching up with her eventing friends that were like family was not going to happen for Michelle; she was going to watch her wonderful horse from her house in lockdown with her dogs by her side and not even friends around to celebrate win or lose!

Asking Michelle her feelings being so far away, she replies: “Mixed feelings and thrilled that he could be there and excited and happy, but a shame I couldn’t be there. Watching the dressage test I had no idea of what the judges’ marks were as they were not coming up. I felt it was up there with some of his best and should be around a 28. When I saw the score go up as 41, I was sure it was a mistake (and it was, he scored 31.7) and was not concerned. When I was madly scrambling through the scores there were three marks missing from the M judge which later mysteriously appeared. Then the C judge was the one who had them the lowest and later it came up as the E judge was the lowest. I know from running huge competitions mistakes happen and that was the Olympics and mysterious things happen.

“I felt we were a few marks under where he should have been, and then when I saw the first few go cross country I was sure it was a dressage score that was going to be somewhat important. In his cross country I was glued to the scoreboard as that was less stressful. Shane always stirs me up at a fence somewhere and he had to continue in that vein and made me shake my head at fence 12 when he smirked! I was concerned that he was not looking fast and I did wonder if he had the time under control, but of course, as always, he did indeed and that’s what a good horse cross country should look like. I have ridden him and know that at 17.1 hands, he has a great stride.

“The course needed a manoeuvrable horse and he showed his training and control and ability, and that to be nippy for a big horse was possible. I think the course was soft enough and going early was a plus as the weather was less hot although Virgil was always good in the heat. After all, he was in touch with the winner but needed some luck. A rail in the teams jumping was a surprise but it was a fence that many had down and I guess you have to have a rail down, and his jumping record was so good but thank the lord it didn’t matter in the end as we held the silver medal. After the individual round, he was in the top 10 and that was pretty cool.

“My state at the end of the coverage was one of, firstly, relief and then exhaustion, as with a heart rate of 170 for hours is really tiring, believe me! I couldn’t sleep and then watched the F1 and my heart rate did not come down. I reckon I should really now be watching soap operas, not extreme sports. I am only doing extreme couch-surfing sports now! Well, until the next eventing escapade!”

Michelle remains down-to-earth and realistic to keep life’s goals in perspective. To have a horse that makes it to an Olympics is very special yet it comes along for Michelle one day at a time. I guess after reading her story with regards to horses’ lives and what tragedies can happen, it’s no wonder that she has learnt from experience to savour the moment and remain humble and modest, as you never know what is around the corner.

Thanks to Helen Chugg, a friend and mentor in difficult times, good karma came in breeding to the beautiful Vivant. What a trip so far and who knows now what is in store for Virgil. One thing for sure, I think his life will be ‘blessed by the Roses’ as all Shane’s good eventers retire at the property and live in the lap of luxury. Being an owner now for Michelle has brought her more fun than she could imagine. As she says, to be able to attend all the fabulous events as an owner with such international privileges at competitions is so much fun – and she used to think Sydney Royal was mixing with the cool kids. This is a whole new group of cool kids with the centre of her universe being Virgil, a horse she can discuss for hours.

Virgil is a star, as is Michelle for her dedication to the sport. Through her association with Shane she is the backbone of organising the huge Camden event where up to 700 eventers congregate for one competition. Michelle isn’t just a rider and an owner, she puts her money where her mouth is and keeps her feet on the ground at all times. EQ


Aussie Eventer’s Silver StreakEquestrian Life, August 2021


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