As the name suggests, Avenel Horse Trials originated in the Victorian country town of Avenel 130km north of Melbourne – originally at Glen Appin, a property owned by Mr D.W.R Knox, and later at Grenada Park in Mangalore, a property owned by Mr and Mrs J.G. head. Following the sale of Grenada Park, the event moved to Oaklands Hunt Club at Oaklands Junction in 2005 – a venue that was home to not only the historic Hunt Club but also Oaklands Pony Club, and which also hosted the pentathlon at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and was the original home of the Melbourne Three-Day Event before its move to Werribee in 1980.
For almost a decade, Oaklands Hunt Club welcomed back top-level eventing to the edge of the northern suburbs before ever-encroaching land development resulted in its closure. Avenel Horse Trials once again upped roots following the 2014 event, but this time the move was only a short ride down the road to Greenvale Equestrian Reserve.
While the event is no longer run out of Avenel, it retains the name and traditions established over many years operating within the Avenel region – and it still has the hardworking GVHTA committee at its helm, all of whom have contributed towards the continuation of the event and making it what it is today.
OLYMPIC PROVING GROUND
When the inaugural Avenel Horse Trials took place on 5 March 1967, it saw the likes of Olympians Bill and Wayne Roycroft competing, although it was Susan Russell and Hi Fi who lifted the very first Avenel Trophy. Bill Roycroft came back and won in 1968, with sons Wayne and Clark also claiming wins in the years that followed. Eight-time Olympian Andrew Hoy still holds the record for the most wins in the top class at Avenel, with six victories throughout the 80s and 90s.
Many other current and future Olympic contestants have tested themselves over Avenel courses throughout the years. A glimpse at the start list for the Junior competition in 1990 reveals three future Olympians: Shane Rose, Sam Griffiths and Amanda Ross. Fellow Olympian Heath Ryan has also claimed victory in the headline class, alongside other well-known riders such as Michael Baker, David Middleton, Seamus Marwood, Robert Palm, Rohan Luxmoore, Emily Anker and Del Ogilvy, just to name a few.
HAPPY TO BE BACK
The 2022 event was originally due to run in October, however, like many events it fell victim to heavy rain and waterlogged grounds. Rescheduled to the penultimate weekend in January this year, the Avenel Horse Trials were finally back in action, with classes ranging from 65cm to two-star on offer. “It went really well,” says current GVHT vice president Michael McCarrey of the event’s return. “We had a stack of riders in all classes. Most people had a good ride, and everyone was just happy to get back out again after the past few years.”
Sophia Hill (née Landy), 25, added her name to the Avenel honour roll in taking out the headline Cavalor Equine CCN2*-S riding seven-year-old warmblood gelding Tulara Baltango, with the pair finishing on their dressage score of 31.4 penalties.
“I purchased him as a five-year-old competing at EvA80 level and have been producing him through the levels,” explains Sophia of the horse. “Avenel was his first two-star competition, so it was very exciting to achieve such a fantastic result in a big field. ‘Tango’ is fantastic in all three phases of eventing. He has great movement and is bred to jump, so that comes very easily to him. He is the most incredible horse to sit on, with so much power and athleticism. I definitely think he has what it takes to be competitive at the top of the sport.”
Sophia also finished fifth in the CCN2*S with nine-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred Seattle Park, who was also having his first start at the level. “Finishing fifth and being named Best Performed OTT was a fantastic result. I got him off the track around three years ago. He is a very cool little horse and is great fun to ride. He is definitely a favourite for everyone on the team, being incredibly gentle and sweet to handle on the ground. He stands at 16 hands and is a very compact type, and extremely quick on his feet. He isn’t quite as fancy to look at as Tulara Baltango, but he knows how to get the job done and is a brave and careful jumper, and very rideable in the dressage.”
Sophia also had a number of horses across the lower grades, including young Australian Stockhorse gelding Bundabulla Earl Grey, who won Division 1 of the EvA65. “I am competing him for his owner, Michelle Turner, to give him some experience before she competes him! We were thrilled with how he performed over the weekend. He was quite green on cross country but every time I put my leg on, he went forward, and the whole weekend was a great experience for him.”
As Sophia explains, having events such as Avenel that run the lower-level classes alongside the upper levels is important. “The EvA 65 classes make EA eventing much more accessible for a wider range of horses and riders, which is definitely a positive thing. Producing any horse – or rider – through the levels is a matter of slowly building confidence and skill, so offering a lower starting point can be fantastic for green horses or green riders to gain some experience before stepping up.”