“It’s probably affected me in a better way than a bad way in some regards, and the timing has been good,” says James Arkins of the impact Covid-19 has had on his life in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales over the past 18 months. James has been one of the lucky ones who has benefited from a little more time at home, as it’s allowed him to develop the business at his family-owned Rosthwaite Farm.
“We started a riding school about four years ago, and that’s just gone crazy during Covid, as people weren’t able to travel internationally and instead travelled locally to places such as the Southern Highlands,” he says. James admits that originally the riding school wasn’t something he was as invested in, purely because his time was taken up with the show jumping side of his business. A lack of local competitions during the pandemic has changed that, allowing him to spend more time on the farm developing the riding school. He says their recent holiday program could have sold out threefold.
“[The riding school] has turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done. We’ve got a lot of young riders that are coming through who are riding well and starting to transition across to the show jumping side and going to shows with me. One of my clients that came through the riding school is now buying young jumping horses… and so it’s complementing the jumping side of the business really well.”
James says that pre-Covid, he used to ride a large number of horses for clients, many of which were sent to him to be sold. “Now I just have a small, quality team of horses, and I teach a lot in the riding school,” he says, adding that it’s a balance he’s enjoying.
James is well aware that luck has been on his side in terms of timing; had Covid hit three or four years ago when his previous top horses, Rosthwaite Vigilante II, Da Vinci’s Pride and Aveden Indigo, were competing, the break would have just about taken them to the end of their careers. With his current stars, Joevaro (owned by James’ family) and Eurostar 1 (Diarado x Chacco-Blue, owned by James’ family in conjunction with the Douglass family), being still so young, the break has been welcomed. “Eurostar was a seven-year-old just before Covid hit and he was already jumping 1.45-1.50m tracks… he’s had a couple of months break, which was probably good for him.”
While missing competitions was disappointing, James is thankful to have had the time to better establish his business – and in turn, it’s made his imminent trip to the USA possible. “It’s put me in a comfortable position where I can now do this trip and it’s not going to be as enormously financially draining as it could have been.”