Hazel Shannon arrived at Ryans Horses in Heatherbrae in 2010 as a 17-year-old with aspirations of becoming an eventer — even though she’d never ridden at a one-day-event. Hailing from North Queensland, Hazel’s eventing dreams were inspired by her mother and her aunt, who had grown up in England surrounded by eventing greats. Hazel’s aunt told Hazel as a youngster that when she was old enough, she could go and train with Heath Ryan — so when she finished school, that’s what she did.
Since then, Hazel has won a record three CCI5* Australian International Three-Day Events (Adelaide) and a further eight events at FEI level. This year, she was named a non-travelling reserve for the Tokyo Olympics and spent a week in pre-export quarantine (PEQ); although she didn’t receive the call-up to compete, the experience gave her great insights into preparing for a major championship.
“I got a lot more from PEQ than what I was anticipating, information-wise,” says Hazel. “I spent a week around the best riders in Australia preparing for the Olympics, so it was awesome to be around them, watching them, and seeing how they do things. Shane Rose, Stuart Tinney and Sonja Johnson have been to previous Games, so there’s a lot of knowledge there, and I also learnt a lot from New Zealand’s travelling reserve rider, Bundy Philpott. They were all happy to share insights and pass advice on to someone like me who hasn’t done it before. So it was really good to watch them prepare… and then to watch Shane perform well and come home with a team medal topped it off!”
CHANGE OF SCENERY
After more than a decade at Ryans Horses and with the Tokyo Olympics over, it was time for a change of scenery for Hazel — and so in early September it was off to Willinga Park, further down the NSW coast at Bawley Point.
“It’s the most amazing facility I have ever seen, and maybe I’ll ever see!” says Hazel, who’s excited to make use of the ever-expanding facilities that are increasingly being designed to accommodate eventing. The venue was set to host its first horse trials, Eventing@Willinga, later this year, although this has now been postponed until 2022 due to Covid-19 restrictions.
“Willinga now has the biggest show jumping arena of its sort in the southern hemisphere. There’s a shed of cross country jumps being built, and they’ve also just put in a really amazing grass gallop track,” says Hazel. “It’s very, very lucky for all the eventers in Australia to have people like Terry (Snow) building a facility and planning events like this. I know myself and all the other eventers in Australia are hanging out to compete here and make the best of this amazing facility.
“Terry’s owned Clifford [Hazel’s three-time Adelaide winner] for about five years now, so I’ve had a connection to Terry and Ginette for a while and so it seemed the obvious move for me to come here,” says Hazel. “They’ve been really great supporters.”
In 2017, Hazel’s star off-the-track thoroughbred Clifford — who started life in Tasmania and was partnered with Hazel by chance when he was spotted as a relatively insignificant horse on the property next to the Ryans — was about to be sold due to his owner suffering financial hardship. At that time, Hazel and Clifford had been together for four years and had won their first of three Adelaide five-stars. Heath recalls drafting an email to Terry at the eleventh hour, and to their surprise Terry stepped in and purchased Clifford — now WillingaPark Clifford — allowing the exciting partnership to continue. Ginette is also a huge supporter of Hazel’s and has been behind her ever since.
Two further wins at Adelaide followed among many other successes, and although Hazel and WillingaPark Clifford missed out on selection for the Australian eventing team at Tokyo, their journey is far from over.