Jodie Dunstan is no quitter. She deftly keeps her career and family lives in perspective, all the time using every opportunity to better herself in her dressage pursuits. She takes in her stride her thirst for improvement in training horses to Grand Prix, despite living far from the competitive action.
Based near Albury on the NSW-Victoria border, access to mainstream dressage was never a given for Jodie. But not one to play the “I’m in the country” card — thereby missing the big city opportunities to partake at the highest levels — she makes the most of what is.
Jodie always bought horses within her means, training and selling them to make ends meet. She has had her highs and lows in the sport and admits there were times when she struggled financially to keep her horses in work and still travel long distances to compete. For a “never say never” woman, she is now reaping what she sowed, as we saw with her on Hollands Bend Highlander at Dressage by the Sea at Willinga Park.
Born in Albury, her father was a builder, her mother a hard-working woman who kept the family united and comfortable. Jodie and her sister grew up with no acreage, no horses and no horse friends — but something drew her to horses. As a little girl on drives with her father, she would make him stop so she could feed horses in the paddocks with hand-picked grass over the fence. After much pestering, he let her attend the local riding school where she revelled in the trail rides with the school horses.
The riding school soon found a pony for Jodie to hire so she could attend the Border City Pony Club, where for two years she applied herself while her father later admitted he was “testing the water” as to whether she was fair dinkum. Finally convinced when Jodie was 11, he brought her a galloway from the Wodonga auctions, an all-rounder on which she competed in Pony Club events and shows.
Jodie left school after year 10 to become an apprentice carpenter under her father — but all she really wanted to do was ride. The local riding school was owned by Ted and Anne McMaugh, who, along with sons Marcus and John, were all involved in showjumping, Anne being a renowned high jump rider. Jodie tried all disciplines, and her second pony was an eventer called Rocky, which she trained all the way before selling him to fund her next project. She loved the challenge of training and learning equine behaviour, absorbing all she could from everyone around her. At 14, her father was so impressed that he bought a five-acre block about 12km from Albury and set about building their new home. There was now room for more horses so Jodie took in ex-racehorses and trained them up to sell. There was no stable or arena, the horses were simply ridden in a spare paddock.
Jodie struck up a relationship with next-door neighbour Peter Dunstan, a truck driver and fabricator whom she married in 1990; they have two sons, now 22 and 21 (neither of whom are interested in riding).