ISSUE 81
AUG 2022

GAME ON
IN HERNING
MEET THE AUSSIE TEAM
TORI STUCKEY
DOESN’T MISS A BEAT
KENYA WILSON
RISING STAR

PLUS: HEATH RYAN ON HIGH PERFORMANCE ISSUES, ROGER FITZHARDINGE & COMPETITIVE LONGEVITY IN YOUR HORSE, WORLD STAR – WHERE IS HE NOW?, NICOLE KIDMAN’S OTHER TALENT, SUBBIE & HIS MATE, SUZY JARRATT ON ‘EO’ THE DONKEY, & ACHIEVING BEST OUTCOMES WITH DR MAXINE BRAIN.

AUSTRALIA`S BEST EQUINE MAGAZINE
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ISSUE 81

CONTENTS

AUG 2022
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A Few Words

FROM THE CHAIRMAN

ROBERT MCKAY

Ryan's Rave

BIG HIGH PERFORMANCE ISSUES

BY HEATH RYAN

Dressage

MAKING THEIR MARK IN DENMARK

BY EQ LIFE

Showjumping

GAME ON AT THE CHAMPIONSHIPS

BY EQ LIFE

Vaulting

LEAPING FOR JOY AT THE WORLDS

BY EQ LIFE

Para Dressage

FROM HALF-HALT TO HERNING

BY EQ LIFE

Eventing

A STAR RISES IN THE WEST

BY ADELE SEVERS

Lifestyle

NICOLE KIDMAN’S OTHER GREAT TALENT

BY BERNARD BALE

Special feature

SUBBIE & HIS MATE

BY CORINNE FENTON

Dressage

WORLD STAR STILL RULES IN HIS WORLD

BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE

Health

WORKING TOGETHER FOR BEST OUTCOMES

BY DR MAXINE BRAIN

Lifestyle

THE LITTLE GREY DONKEY THAT COULD

BY SUZY JARRATT

Dressage

FREESTYLIST DOESN’T MISS A BEAT

BY AMANDA YOUNG

Training

TRAIN YOUR HORSE FOR LONGEVITY

BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE
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Tori Stuckey rode to Grand Prix level dressage with the stallion Mayfield Pzazz. © Geoff McLean/Gone Riding Media.
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Tory Stuckey rides three horses in the morning before her day job, two more at lunchtime, plays piano at night, competes in show jumping at the highest level, and has a growing TikTok following. Oh, and she is also highly sought after as a freestyle creator.

A great freestyle test tells a memorable story that elicits an emotional response from the audience, regardless of whether they are familiar with the sport of dressage. The harmonious, expressive and technically correct execution of required movements – and choreography that showcases the horse’s strengths – are critically important ingredients, yet it’s the artistry and music that gives these performances a unique personality and life of their own.

For Tori Stuckey, who is fast developing a reputation as one of the most talented Australian-based freestyle creators, with clients such as Jayden Brown and Emma Booth strutting their stuff to her creations, the making of a dressage freestyle test is an opportunity to combine her three greatest passions – horses, creativity and music. A highly successful rider who has competed at the Grand Prix level in both dressage and show jumping, Tori is also a gifted musician with both a creative and a competitive streak; it’s hard to imagine a more qualified person to bring riders’ freestyle visions to life.

“Music’s always been a big part of my life. I’ve played piano since I was about six years old, and still play now. I also played clarinet for four years and violin for three. When I was younger, I was also an avid singer; I did private singing lessons until year 12 and was always into doing things like the school musical,” Tori explains.

“My twin brother’s actually a professional musician, so we grew up doing duets together and things like that. I stopped playing the instruments through year 12, and I suppose since then, doing the freestyles almost took over, but more in a digital sense. I don’t have to practise doing this sort of music, I can just jump on my laptop wherever I am!” Tori laughs.

While a love of music and performance may fuel her ongoing involvement and commitment, Tori’s first foray into freestyle creation was brought about by personal need; as a young rider venturing into her first CDI-Y competitions, she required a freestyle test of her own and was determined to be the one to create it.

CLASSICAL BACKGROUND

“I was always independent and wanted to try to do it myself, and I’ve always been creative and really enjoyed the performance aspect, so that’s how it started,” Tori explains. “I found a group on YouTube who are now very popular for freestyles called The Piano Guys. At the time, they were very new; they do pop songs, but on string instruments, and I thought that was really awesome because I do have that classical background. I really enjoyed using their music and using classical renditions of pop songs, and being a teenager that was the sort of music I wanted at the time.

“I’ve always been cautious towards using music that sounds overly dramatic or busy. When I was younger, my mum, Kerry Mack, taught me the importance of choosing music that ensures the horse remains the focal point in the arena. Freestyle music should accentuate the horse, not the other way around. So I was always trying to do that well from the start rather than just choosing songs that I liked. I’ve always been very competitive at everything I do, so from the start I wanted to be taken seriously with the freestyles and do them well.”

Once she had successfully created and performed her own freestyles, Tori’s mother – the eminent Australian dressage star Dr Kerry Mack – gave her the opportunity to start creating freestyles for her too.

“When I got good enough and Mum let me do her Grand Prix freestyles, that was the next step up for me,” Tori explains. “I really enjoyed watching her perform those freestyles, especially at shows like Equitana in front of big crowds and seeing their reactions. That’s really what inspired me to try to do it for other people. I just love being a part of that journey.”

From humble beginnings, Tori’s business Sand Dancer Freestyles now has a solid client base, including seven at the Grand Prix level, and two milestones achieved in 2022: Abi Lyle from Ireland became Tori’s first international Grand Prix client, and three riders she works with – Jayden Brown, Emma Booth and Lisa Martin – have been selected to represent Australia at the FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark. All going to plan, they will have the opportunity to perform freestyles she has created on the global stage!

FIRST WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

“It’s really kicked off in the last 12 months, I suppose. This will be my first World Championships,” Tori enthuses as she reflects on a side gig that has brought much happiness and success to not only herself, but also those that she creates for. Hearing the enthusiasm and dedication with which she speaks about Sand Dancer Freestyles, it could easily be assumed that this is an all-consuming commitment for Tori. However, it’s something she makes time for alongside her sport of choice – show jumping – and her career as a management consultant.

“I work full-time in the corporate world, where I consult for large companies looking to reduce negative social and environmental impact across their supply chains. This is a path I chose after completing a Masters in International Development at Melbourne Uni,” Tori explains. “I also support the pro-bono arm of the company I’m employed by, Accenture, which involves me doing consulting work for not-for-profit organisations, and at home I’ve also got a team of five show jumping horses in work, from young horses to World Cup level, which I couldn’t do without the support of my mum, Kerry, and Mayfield Farm, her stud in Whittlesea.

“I’m fortunate to have someone to help with the horses, so I get up early and ride between three and five horses in the morning before work. I now work from home since COVID struck, which means that I can do three in the morning and two at lunchtime. My day is usually finished by 6pm which is nice, and if I’ve got time in the evenings I like to play a bit of piano,” Tori continues.

“I never say no to freestyle work, I normally don’t really have time but I just make time for them because that’s what I like to do and it supports my expensive lifestyle!” Tori laughs. “I’ve been saving to buy a house, which I’ve just done, and I wouldn’t have been able to save the money without having the freestyles on the side because most of my money goes into show jumping competition entry fees!”

While Tori is pragmatic about the financial boon her freestyle creation work presents, her love for the work is evident. “I’m really, really glad that I pursued doing the freestyles commercially, I really enjoy it. I love how freestyles bring another dimension to dressage. If you’re watching a dressage test, it’s a completely different experience as a spectator to if you’re watching a freestyle, because in a freestyle, you almost feel like you’re a part of the performance. You’re not just watching what’s going on, but you’re experiencing the music, as the rider and the horse are experiencing the music.

TIKTOK AUDIENCE

That’s what I have found with my TikTok channel; I set up a TikTok where I match popular songs to famous horses. And it does get a lot of views from people who aren’t familiar with horses. So when I have friends, and they say, ‘Oh, what’s dressage?’ I’ll show them one of my TikToks, and they say, ‘Oh, that’s really cool!’ Whereas if you just showed them normal dressage, they’d have a completely different response. I really like that about the freestyles.”

Asked whether she has been tempted to reach out to riders that she has featured on her TikTok channel to promote her work, Tori’s humble and unassuming nature shines through. “Not yet. I’ve always been tempted to tag the riders in them. I never have, I’ve always been a bit scared, but I think that’s the next step! I’d love to just put together a really fun freestyle for one of those big famous combinations and send it to them and say, ‘In case you’re interested, this is what I’ve done!’” Tori laughs.

It’s evident that the quality of Tori’s work is high enough to attract clients without outbound marketing activities of that kind; while she may not be reaching out to clients that she dreams of working with, they are finding their way to her.

“Jayden Brown is someone I was building up the courage to contact when he actually messaged me asking for a freestyle, which was awesome. I wanted to work for him because he looks so soft and in harmony with his horses, which makes for a great freestyle,” says Tori. “Watching him perform his Grand Prix Freestyle at Hartpury CDI recently with WillingaPark Sky Diamond was amazing, he was so on top of his music. There are so many different transitions in the Grand Prix, and to see him reaching that piaffe right on the start of the piaffe music, and starting the pirouette right on the pirouette music, it was really satisfying to watch, especially after I’ve lived those transitions a hundred times while putting the music together!”

As Tori explains the process she undertakes when designing a freestyle for a horse and rider, it’s clear that her intellect, creativity, equestrian know-how and musicality combine to become a professional force to be reckoned with.

“I ask riders to send me a video of them riding to their choreography; if they want me to do the choreography, then I do that first. I make sure we have a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses with their horse’s movements. And then once I have a video of them riding to the choreography, we’ll move on to the music. Usually they tell me if they have either songs or themes that they like, or an artist,” Tori explains.

LIGHT & DARK ELEMENTS

“Sometimes they won’t know what they want, and that’s the hardest when customers say, ‘I’m not sure, you have a look. See what you think!’, because obviously the world of music is huge, endless!” Tori continues. “A lot of people want pop songs, essentially the karaoke version of a pop song. They don’t often work well for freestyles because they don’t have enough light and dark elements in them, which is something that the judges always look for. So it’s much better to go down the path of a movie soundtrack because then you’ve got, for example, the love theme, or the action theme, and it all fits together really nicely and helps tell the story within a freestyle.”

Tori describes how creating a Grand Prix freestyle involves finding four songs or pieces of music – piaffe/passage, trot, canter and walk – and that finding all four can be the most challenging and time-consuming part of the process.

“I will often spend four or five hours looking for music. Sometimes I might find a really nice trot song for someone, and I’m trying to find everything else to suit that, so that can take a long time. Or someone might say they really want a particular song for the trot work, so then I’m looking for other music that all fits in. Every freestyle is unique, I rarely recycle songs,” Tori explains.

Once the right music has been found, it generally takes another four to five hours for Tori to put it all together. “I send the music to the client as a demo, then put it all together, then I’ll send that back and they’ll normally come back with a couple of edits. So we make those changes, and once they practise to it, they might decide they need three less seconds before the extended canter, for example, so I need to go back in and again to edit,” Tori explains.

“I love watching freestyles that I’ve made. Even now I go back and watch ones I made years ago,” Tori continues. “I’ll go back and watch Lindsay Ware and Aristede’s one from Dressage with the Stars two years ago, I just absolutely love watching them. I just love being part of the performance and knowing that the audience is appreciating something that I’ve been a part of creating.

“Sometimes I’m watching a freestyle that I haven’t done, and there are elements in there that I feel quite strongly have brought down the score, and they’ve just missed out on winning. And I just think, ‘If they could have just changed that element in the freestyle, then it would have been a completely different outcome!’”

VALUABLE POINTS

Tori explains this was part of the appeal of creating freestyles for herself as a young rider; a quality, well-crafted freestyle with the right music carried the potential to outscore others who were almost impossible to get close to on technical scores alone.

“There were always one or two in the class – probably more than that these days – that were on fancy imported horses and you couldn’t quite beat them on the technical mark. But in a freestyle, the artistic mark is 50% of the score. So there’s a lot of room there to bring your score up and potentially beat those horses that you wouldn’t ordinarily get a chance to beat.

“I think a lot of people underestimate how much the music mark can be worth; the technical mark is worth 200 points, which is all of the movements you’re doing, but the artistic mark is worth 200 points too!” Tori explains. “So, if you only get a five for your music, that has a times-four coefficient, which would be like scoring a five for four technical movements. So you can really make up a lot of points in your artistic mark! I enjoy thinking through the trade-offs in that artistic mark, when you’re balancing things like the degree of difficulty and your technical mark. The degree of difficulty is an interesting one; a lot of people might try to go a bit hard on the degree of difficulty, but if they overstep it, it might impact on their technical mark, or if they make a mistake in their technical mark that’s going to be reflected in the artistic mark. So it’s really about having a balance between degree of difficulty, technical execution, and music that’s suitable for the combination.”

Tori lists Jayden Brown and WillingaPark Sky Diamond’s current Grand Prix freestyle, and one she created for Lindsay Ware and Aristede, as being two of her favourites of the freestyles she’s created to date.

FUN WITH MUSIC

“Lindsay and Aristede’s was to the Hamilton soundtrack, which is a musical I really love, it’s just great music. When you get a horse with a really even, clear beat in the piaffe and passage, there’s so much potential for a great freestyle, because you can use music with a strong and catchy beat. You can have a bit of fun with that music,” Tori explains. “There’s also a lot of nice music out there that doesn’t have a strong beat, and it suits a certain type of horse. For example, my mum Kerry’s Grand Prix horse Mayfield Limelight is very sensitive, and we use very soft, subtle music for him; it’s really nice flowing music, because of how gentle it is, which gives a different vibe.”

When asked whether there are any combinations that she would love to work with, Tori pauses: There are so many great horses, riders and music options, it’s hard to pinpoint any in particular!

“When I was younger, watching combinations like Heath Ryan and Regardez Moi perform their freestyles really inspired me. It was such an amazing performance, every freestyle. The crowd, the atmosphere completely changed when he’d come into the ring. That’s something that always inspired me to want to do freestyles. If they were still a combination now, I’d love to design a freestyle for them!” Tori enthuses.

“Freestyles keep me connected to the dressage world now that I’m show jumping, since I don’t have enough time to compete in both dressage and show jumping any more. So they keep me connected and involved, and they’re also something I can share with my mum; we have a great relationship and doing the freestyles is a thing that we share. Mum is the biggest influence in my equestrian life and journey and I’ve gained a lot of knowledge from her in that regard.

“A little dream of mine is to be able to have enough freestyles to do that full-time. That would be fun! I can’t imagine freestyles supporting my expensive show jumping habit, but you never know!” EQ

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE TO READ:

Getting on the BitEquestrian Life, July 2022

Regardez Moi, Look at me Now!Equestrian Life, June 2021

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