EQ LIFE: Virgil has been competing at FEI level with you now for an incredible 11 years, what do you think is the secret to his longevity in the sport?
SHANE: We’ve looked after him, but when you’ve got a horse like him, he finds the jumping component of the sport very easy – so he’s not over-exerting himself. If you imagine you’ve got a race car and you’re just driving it around on the red line… well if you’re trying to compete horses all the time on the red line, they bust. If you’ve got a horse that you can manage to keep fit and healthy, and they’re not physically busting themselves all the time, then that certainly helps.
We obviously look after him; we’ve been pretty selective of where and how often he’s competed, to keep him ticking along. The thing about horses is the longer you have them, the more they learn and the better they become. He’s still improving and I’m hoping I can get a better dressage score at Pratoni; I’m really looking forward to trying to get that to happen, and then we’ll see how we go after that. I’m really happy with where he’s at physically and mentally, leading towards this trip.
EQ LIFE: You opted to campaign from Australia for these championships – what led you to that decision?
SHANE: I have been overseas in the past, but I guess what’s changed is I probably secured my position earlier in the team this time. Results over the last few years have been really good for us as a combination, so that enabled me to have this discussion with the selectors about whether they were comfortable with my plans preparing from Australia.
In the past, I think the selectors – especially after Tryon where I had a few issues with various different things – were keen for me to go overseas and prove that I could actually prepare the horse from home, go over, and do an event overseas with my own plan. I gave them that by doing Pau CCI5* with Virgil in 2019, and this gave them the confidence that I could then repeat it in Tokyo. So it’s not just a decision on my part; it’s also having the selectors comfortable that you are able to do what you say you can do.
I’m fairly experienced and Virgil is also, so I think that given the fact that we’ve done it in the past gives the selectors the confidence to think that we’re going be able to do it again. It’s my preference at this stage, both financially and for him as a horse… I didn’t think he needed to do anything over there beforehand.
The experience of competing over in Europe that some of the other riders on the squad are getting at the moment, like Hazel Shannon and (reserve) Jess Rae, it certainly gives them good experience going forward that they can build on.
EQ LIFE: The World Championships heads back to the four-combination team with a drop score, as opposed to the three-combination team at Tokyo – do you feel this changes the dynamics of the competition from what we saw last year at the Games?
SHANE: For us as Australians, we’ve certainly got a directive from Equestrian Australia High Performance that priority one is to qualify the team for the Paris Olympics so that we can really focus on our Paris preparations how we want.
Since the first priority is that we have a strong team that finishes and qualifies, I think that probably suggests that we’re going to have a fairly similar structure and thought process to what we did in Tokyo. The fact that we’ve got an extra rider to be able to do that is good, but I don’t think our plans will change. We’ll still aim to do the best dressage we can; our fastest, clear cross country in the safest possible manner that we can; and then four clear show jumping rounds is our goal. As a team, that’s what we’ll be doing.
When we all produce our best results, that’s the best way for the team to be strong and that’s what happened in Tokyo. So I think we’ll have a fairly similar approach.
EQ LIFE: Your former student Shenae has also made the team – that must be a proud moment as well?
SHANE: Absolutely, and one of the reserves on the squad, Jess Rae, worked for us for a couple of years as well not long ago. I’m really pleased for Shenae – and she obviously has a lot of association with the Barretts as well. She’s actually still based with me here at the moment. It’s fun, as preparing for a championship is quite often – I was going to say lonely but that’s not quite the right word – but it’s just there are not many other horses going to a World Championships! To be able to do our flatwork together and when we jump, we jump together and are bouncing ideas of each other, and that’s been great.
Shenae is in great form; she and the horse are an amazing combination. I’m really pleased for her, how she’s handled the pressure of selection and now the preparation going forward to Pratoni. I can’t wait to see how good a job she can do; I think she’s probably got a chance of being the best Australian score to finish. If she can do what she’s done in the past, she’s going to be a real asset!