Jumping@Willinga brought elite action to Willinga Park on the picturesque South Coast of New South Wales. It was the first time in three years the venue has hosted a jumping event – due to pandemic delays – and the first time the state-of-the-art show jumping stadium has been utilised for its intended purpose. It did not disappoint.
“What Terry Snow has accomplished here at Willinga Park is amazing. He has always said he wanted to provide world class facilities for Australian riders, and without a doubt here with our show jumping arena, he’s done that,” says event director Edwena Mitchell.
Jumping@Willinga over 15-18 September began with rain – a surprise to no one given recent weather patterns – but with the Ebb & Flow arena system and all-weather surfaces on both the Grandstand Arena and the second arena (which was resurfaced and resized in January), there was no cause for concern. “We had 75mm of rain in the three nights leading up to the event, and the arena drained incredibly well,” explains Edwena, who became a permanent part of the Willinga Park team last year as the venue’s equine event co-ordinator. “In fact, with the sun out for the remainder of the event, the Ebb & Flow water tables were lifted to add a little more moisture!”
The event welcomed 320+ horses to Willinga Park, and over four days of competition riders of all ages competed across a range of classes – getting a taste of what it’s like to compete at a world-class facility. Throughout the event, commentator Martin Gostelow’s voice rang out over the venue’s speakers, providing not only those in the grandstand with great insights but also ensuring those away from the action at the stables could keep track of each round. An in-demand young rider coach and avid breeder of jumpers, Martin is no stranger to big-time competition, having provided Channel 7 commentary for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
Despite vast international experience, Martin was still bowled over by what Willinga Park has to offer competitors and spectators. “I am beyond blown away by what Terry Snow and his family have built here,” he says, comparing it to the likes of famed venues such as Hickstead in England, Aachen in Germany, and Spruce Meadows in Canada. “I don’t think there’s been a centre like this conceptualised or ever built – Cox Architecture have done a marvellous job of taking what is a traditional sport and blending in some modern shapes and designs – it speaks of genius and real class. Many riders jumping around Europe would welcome the opportunity to be here one day.”
First-class facilities translated to first-class performances on the Grandstand Arena. The headline class on the final day was the 4CYTE™ Grand Prix Spectacular, which offered a $40,000 prize pool with $10,000 to the winner, making it one of the richest jumping classes in Australia.
After two rounds of jumping, two combinations managed to produce double clears: Josh Collins riding Cornel, and Phillip Steiner riding Cassina Dior. In the end, it was Josh who produced the quickest round, stopping the clock at 61.97 seconds — just ahead of Phillip’s 64.46. Cornel, an 11-year-old grey stallion (Corlensky G x Beethowen), is owned by Emma Smith (Josh’s fiancée) and Sarah Williams.
Third place went to Tom McDermott riding Cooley Gangster on a total of 4 faults, followed by Russell Johnstone and Daprice (4), Tom again with Cachassini II (4), Amanda Madigan and Diamond B Vivienne (4), Ally Lamb with Eagle Rock (4), Olivia Hamood and Knock Out 111 (8), Clem Smith and Oaks Conjuror (8), and Izabella Stone and Tulara Stolzette rounding out the top 10 (8).
Born in New Zealand, Josh moved to Australia back in 2012 and is currently based at Oaks Sport Horses in NSW. His partnership with Cornel began seven years ago when Sarah Williams approached him at Sydney Jump Club and asked if he could bring the stallion back into work. “Sarah had been living in Switzerland and was moving home to Australia. She found Cornel in the Czech Republic and brought him home with her,” explains Josh. “From the first time I rode him I knew he was really special.”
“I think he’s really matured the last 6 months; he’s the first horse I have been able to keep all the way to Grand Prix, so we’ve both been green at that level – I think it’s taken both of us a bit of time to get consistent in the bigger classes.” When asked what the stunning grey stallion is like to jump, Josh says he never feels like he’s trying – such is the ease. “On the flat he’s very elastic and flexible, he has a very good work ethic and he’s always been good to train.”
Looking ahead, Josh’s short-term goals with Cornel are the Australian Show Jumping Championships in November, the Summer Showjumping Classic in December and then the Magic Millions in January. “Longer term, we’re thinking about doing a stint overseas and trying to get on a team.”
Josh was thrilled to claim the win ahead of his former coach Phillip, who travelled from NZ to Australia to campaign for a string of events over the past month. “Phillip and I go way back,” explains Josh. “It’s been amazing having Phillip and (wife) Sally over here for a couple of weeks, and we picked up where we left off basically. It’s pretty special. A massive thanks to 4CYTE for sponsoring the Grand Prix, to Terry Snow for this amazing facility, and Edwena Mitchell for running such a fabulous event.”
Phillip began teaching Josh at age 10 in NZ, used to shoe his first pony for him, and also gave him his first pair of white competition breeches. “It’s a huge excitement to see Josh win,” says Phillip. “He was the only person I wanted to beat me in the class!”
Phillip’s mare, Cassina Dior – known at home as ‘Dolly’ – has been with the NZ rider since she was three-and-a-half. “We got her broken in by a friend and just brought her on really quietly. We’ve often had people wanting to buy her, but we’ve managed to keep her. She’s been a journey and it’s starting to get exciting.”
The Shepherds Electrical Mini Prix Spectacular, also on the final day, saw winner Tom McDermott claim the top three placings with Warraleigh Park Cortez, Alpha Activity and Gredstedgaards Number One. Having also taken out first and third in the 4CYTE™ Open 1.45m on the second day with Cooley Gangster and Cachassini II, it was safe to say that Tom had a very successful event. With the Mini Prix offering $5000 for first place alone, it was also a profitable outing.
“What we wanted to do here is put on a great show for the riders,” explains Edwena. “Terry wanted to make sure the riders were rewarded well enough for their effort in coming.” Willinga Park’s Gold Buckle Campdraft – next scheduled for 26-29 April, 2023 – features an even more lucrative purse. Terry’s objective with that event since its inception has always been to give the riders decent prizemoney, thereby allowing them to focus on the sport and not have to worry as much about making ends meet – with the overall aim being to make the sport of campdrafting more professional.
Similarly, by making good prizemoney available in the jumping arena it also helps to lift the sport. “For the young riders coming through who look at themselves and are thinking about how they can make a career out of show jumping and how they can make the job pay…. they can see that if you come here, you can walk away with good money,” notes Martin Gostelow. “It’s good for the sport.”
In other classes, Charlie Magnier riding Master Stevie G won the Construction Control Junior Grand Prix Spectacular; Amelia Tsilfidis and pint-sized Pride Of Gold won the Cox Architecture Children’s Grand Prix Spectacular; Sweden’s Frida Lindgren and Van Damme won the Hisway Futurity Spectacular; and Sally Simmonds riding Oaks Kingfisher took out round three of the Stal Tops Young Rider Series. Full results from Jumping@Willinga can be found here.
It was the first time the Grandstand Arena – the largest Ebb & Flow surface in the southern hemisphere – has been in competition use for show jumping at Willinga Park, and the feedback from riders could not have been more positive. It wasn’t just about the fact that the surface handled the rain, but more so that the horses performed well on it.
“The horses were really pinging off the ground and really enjoying their work,” observes Martin, noting that by the end of the four days the horses were actually jumping better rather than starting to look tired. “You could barely hear the horses,” chimes in Edwena, referring to the shock absorption qualities of the surface. “The riders were so happy.”
It takes many years to produce a jumping horse through to Grand Prix level, and therefore taking care of their joints is important. Training and competing on good surfaces is paramount, and also helps to bring out the best in their performances.
Kirsten Gillen – Southern Region manager for Interpath, the company behind 4CYTE™ – echoes the importance of good management in elite level performance horses. “The impact when these horses are landing after those huge fences, we just want to be protecting them and keeping them going,” she explains.
Alongside utilising quality surfaces, a joint care product such as 4CYTE™ – where the active ingredient, EPIITALIS®, is backed by multiple peer reviewed published papers – is an important part of good management. “The sooner you can implement a really great preventative, you can keep any inflammation or joint changes at bay and reduce the likelihood of damaged and diseased joints developing in the future,” explains Kirsten.
Enjoying her first trip to Willinga Park, Kirsten was not only thrilled to be there supporting the event as a sponsor but was of course blown away by the venue – as is every first-timer. “When I first drove up that beautiful driveway, I think I had to lift my jaw up off the ground! It’s absolutely horse heaven, it’s phenomenal.”
Following the success of Jumping@Willinga and seeing how well the horses performed on both arenas, jumping riders will no doubt be keen to return at the next opportunity. With the cross country course dampened by La Nina, ‘Arena Eventing@Willinga’ has just been announced for 8-9 October and will make use of the Grandstand Arena. Furthermore, the venue is also available to hire for those who want to run events using these world-class facilities. Following the success of Jumping@Willinga, no doubt everyone is hoping for more jumping events at this wonderful venue! EQ