PLUS: RYAN’S RAVE, MARY HANNA’S NEW CHARGES, GARY LUNG’S MASTERCLASS, ROGER FITZHARDINGE’S YOUNG HORSE EXERCISE TIPS, INK MAKES HIS MARK AT BARASTOC, WHY SUSIE HOEVENAARS LOVES THOROUGHBREDS, THE GLENHILL TEAM, WHAT MOTIVATES KERRY MACK, A VET’S LOOK AT SALIVARY GLANDS & ‘A KNIGHT’S TALE’.
“When we bought those two horses, almost eight years ago now, they were two- and three-year olds. I decided to invest in the best quality young horses that I could, and I knew it was going to be a long game,” says Australian show jumper James Arkins of stallions Eurostar 1 (Diarado x Chacco-Blue) and Joevaro (Elvaro x Equador).
It certainly has been a long game, but one that was well worth it. Last year, James took both horses over to campaign in North America ahead of the 2022 FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark – ultimately qualifying for the Australian team with Eurostar and enjoying plenty more success along the way with both horses.
“My initial goal was going to the World Championships,” says James of his overseas venture. “It had been a dream of mine since I was a little kid, and to actually achieve that and realise that was incredible.
“Going forward, I now know what to expect from a championship. It was such a big build-up… and then it all just happens. I went in a little with my eyes closed, because I haven’t been to one before and there was a lot more pressure than I’d anticipated. On the first day I got very nervous; I don’t normally get nervous! It certainly was an experience and it was great having quite a big contingent of Australians come over to support us, and I know everyone was watching at home as well.”
James says that having nearly six months of lead-up competitions to the World Championships was a great way to get Eurostar confident at the highest level and at shows with bigger atmosphere. “The Florida trip last winter was a great way to get started,” says James of his trip with a number of other Aussie riders to a series of shows at the World Equestrian Center (WEC) in Ocala. “It wasn’t too intimidating; it was just a really good way to blood yourself and get to know people. We were in the one spot for 12 weeks, so we could really settle, take it a little slowly, and get into the rhythm of the differences with the sport over there.”
James says competing in Canada was another highlight: “Spruce Meadows (Calgary) was incredible. We were there for five weeks and jumping three weeks at CSI5* level over some seriously impressive tracks. This was invaluable experience before the World Championships; I think had I not done that I would’ve felt very underprepared.
“I also loved Thunderbird Show Park (Vancouver). The show there was just incredibly friendly and welcoming, and it was probably one of my best results, jumping double clear in the CSI5* Nations Cup. There was only one other rider in the field that did that, and a double clear earned a $40,000 bonus!
“That was probably the result that really cemented my spot on the World Championship team and also really put faith in my owners to continue, because after that result there were a lot of people coming to me with big offers for Eurostar. At that point, we said no, as we wanted to push on for the World Championships, which was a big decision at the time.”
James says that competing on the Nations Cup teams for Australia in Vancouver and also Wellington were serious highlights. “It was such a great team environment and such a great experience on both occasions… (competing on a team) really is the pinnacle of the sport.”
James’ trip didn’t end with the World Championships – there was more success to come. “The last leg of my trip in California, which is where we were based… I had an incredible time there too. Eurostar got off the plane back from Europe and (fellow Australian) Katie Laurie rode him as he was quarantining with her in Canada… he won at the Canadian Championships with her and she’d only ridden him for three days!
“He then arrived down at Desert International Horse Park (Thermal, California) and at his first start there we won the $100,000 Hygain Grand Prix. We then did the World Cup in Vegas, which was an amazing experience, and then went on to do the World Cup in Fort Worth, Texas and finished fourth.”
Little did James know at the time, but that would be his last show with Eurostar. “I didn’t know at the time that it would be out last start in the ring, but to finish fourth in the World Cup was pretty exciting and a good way to end our journey together.”
When James left for North America, he knew there was a possibility that either horse might not return. Joevaro, owned by the Arkins family, and Eurostar, owned the Arkins family in conjunction with the Douglass and Ritchie families, were always potentially for sale if the price was right. Selling top horses is often a necessary step towards developing a sustainable future business – but that certainly doesn’t make the decision easy or without emotion.
“We had got to the point that we were very seriously considering not selling Eurostar and campaigning for Paris, which was looking like it was a really strong possibility. And then back in Australia, I got a call,” explains James. While initially the offer for his World Championship mount didn’t match what James and the owners felt he was worth, the interested buyers didn’t take long to agree on Eurostar’s value.
“It was going to be pretty hard to say no. I thought I’d just go through the process and see what eventuated, and it just happened incredibly smoothly,” explains James, adding that Eurostar was purchased by American amateur Callie Seaman. “She’s a really good amateur rider and plans to jump him up to 1.50m. She took him to a show the other day and rode him really well… I wouldn’t be surprised if she does bigger things than she might expect to do with him.”
Two days after the sale, the same agent called and asked James what he was doing with Joevaro. Again, there was another offer that was too good to refuse and Joevaro is now heading off to three-time Olympian for Canada, Mario Deslauriers – the youngest rider ever to win the World Cup Final when victorious at Gothenburg in 1984. “Joevaro has gone to a really serious top professional home. I think we’ll see some big, big things from them together.”
James says the sale of his two stars is bittersweet, but ultimately it was a step he and the owners had to take. “I just don’t think that you could write that happening, that you sell two horses for the price you wanted, two days apart. I feel like the universe was telling me something… everything from start to finish of our campaign last year went to plan. We had no major hiccups, it was just incredible.”
James says both horses grew and improved as they went over the course of the campaign, and although he perhaps didn’t get to see the best of them – Joevaro is only rising nine years old, and Eurostar a month shy of 11 – selling them was the right decision to set himself up going forward. “I knew that day was going to have to come at some stage. It’s everything that I promised my investors; it’s what we wanted to do, we wanted to have quality horses to take to a championship, and to produce and train and make a good return on. Hopefully we can do it again.”
While Eurostar and Joevaro were European bred – Eurostar was bred at Schockemöhle Stud in Germany and Joevaro is of KWPN breeding from the Netherlands – they were both produced here in Australia from day dot. “I think that’s a good sign for Australian sport that you can produce show jumpers to Grand Prix level here and then it’s seemingly a relatively small stepping stone to international level. It’s good to know that the sport at home is quality enough to get them ready before taking them over to compete at big events or try out for a championship.”
James says that travelling around North America for over 12 months gave him the opportunity to gain a strong understanding of how the sport is run throughout the continent and also meet many within the industry. Now back in Australia, he is keen to put his latest international experience to good use.
“I learned a hell of a lot. I now know exactly where to go with which horses and what to do, and I think I’m pretty well set up to make the right decisions in the future. I’ve made some incredible contacts and I’ve got a lot more knowledge now about how the sport and business work internationally. I feel like I’m respected amongst the top tier riders, especially in North America. Going forward, it’s put me in really good stead and there are lots of other opportunities that can come out of this.” It’s knowledge that James says he can now bring back to Australia, and he’s more than happy to share and help anyone who’s wanting to begin an international path either competition-wise or in a business capacity.
“There are some really nice horses in Australia and there are some great riders producing them… you just need to have that connection to do business. I now have a handful of people that have asked me to have a really good look around Australia and see if I can source any horses for them of similar quality; it could be a good way to open doors between Australia and North America.”
James enjoyed a well-earned break with family in Fiji at the end of February and is now back home and considering his next move. “I haven’t been in too much of a hurry to race home. I wanted to take a moment to just enjoy it, really digest it and reflect. It’s not often you have the time at my age (James turned 31 at the beginning of the year) where you don’t have any immediate responsibilities; usually you’re onto the next show. I’ve now got a bit of time to evaluate what I’ve done and how I want to do it going forward, and make sure I do it in the best possible way with a lot more knowledge and experience now under my belt.”
Part of James’ plans are definitely to embark on further trips to North America over the coming years. “It’s a good time to go home and downsize things a little bit, because I want to be spending more time overseas. I’ll probably end up going horse shopping and buy something that’s a little more established, so I can still be jumping the international Grand Prix classes in the States, but I don’t want to jump in and buy anything straight away until I have some time to reflect and work out exactly how and what I want to do going forward.”
Although his two top horses have been sold, James says Paris is not entirely out of the question. “You never know what might happen… there might be an owner that wants me to ride a horse for them. I’m certainly looking at some options there. I’ve also got some really nice young ones at home that I want to get my teeth stuck into. I’m keen to get everything going again and get some horses aiming for – if it’s not Paris – then to the next World Championship in 2026. I’m sure something will be ready to go for that.
“It’s been an amazing year; I don’t think it could have really gone better. And now onto the next chapter… we’ll see where that takes us.” EQ