PLUS: RYAN’S RAVE, KEEPING IT SIMPLE WITH CHRIS BARTLE, KERRY MACK TALKS SAFETY, SUZIN WELLS’ PARA TRIUMPH, LONG-DISTANCE DRESSAGE, GLENHILL SPORTHORSES, BELLA MOWBRAY’S CALIFORNIAN VENTURE, THE HORSES BEHIND ‘THE HARDER THEY FALL’ & A VET’S LOOK AT JAW FRACTURES.
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A Few Words
FROM THE PUBLISHERS
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BY HEATH RYAN
ANDREW & TOSCA: THE CREAM RISES TO THE TOP
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DAVE & ROBBIE’S DYNAMIC FORMULA
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LONG-DISTANCE LOVE AFFAIR
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CHRIS BARTLE’S LESSONS IN SIMPLICITY
BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE
PLAY IT SAFE FROM THE GROUND UP
BY DR KERRY MACK
YOU CAN’T KEEP A GOOD WOMAN DOWN
BY KATRINA LODGE
THE HARDER THEY FALL
BY SUZY JARRATT
BELLA FULFILS HER AMERICAN DREAM
BY SUZY JARRATT
NO REST FOR THE AMBITIOUS AT GLENHILL SPORTHORSES
BY ADELE SEVERS
BY DR MAXINE BRAIN
Bella Mowbray of Mowbray Sporthorses competing Sepey Du Gatsby, owned by Skylar Runswick. Image by Kelly Lees.
She felt stagnant and needed to push herself – so she and her horse left Sydney for America. That was about 10 years ago and Bella Mowbray is still there.
Bella Mowbray has been a rider most of her life. It runs in the family. Her grandmother, Mary, was a dressage coach, and her mother, Camilla, a riding teacher, competitor and an Equine Assisted Therapy practitioner.
Bella’s father, Chris Godfrey, is not horsey, his expertise lies in digital animation. Back in the ’90s he co-founded Animal Logic which went on to international success. It was responsible for the innovative effects on scores of movies such as Happy Feet, Babe and The Lego Movie – but, as fascinating as it all sounds, Bella wasn’t really attracted to it. “I was only interested when Hugh Jackman was on set!” she admits. “After leaving school I worked in a few retail odd jobs but, primarily, I focused on riding.
Bella Mowbray and Thoroughbred Star Vision, aka ‘Sheppy’. Image by Shannon Brinkman.
“As a kid I’d gone to the local pony club and rode about at home. Under my mother’s guidance I developed a strong dressage foundation over the years and competed up to Prix St Georges. Then I decided to give eventing a try.”
Her coaches were mainly Ryan Wood and Sam Lyle. “And also Clarke Johnstone when I relocated to New Zealand at 18,” she added. “After returning to Australia I underwent specific training in each discipline and I really enjoyed my time riding with Dave Cameron.”
Clearly these teachers did a good job. Bella progressed through the eventing ranks winning major championships in NSW and Queensland. The horse who had often taken her to the winning podium was Star Vision, a Thoroughbred aka ‘Sheppy’.
“I’d watched Ryan Wood, Boyd Martin and others move to the USA and find incredible success and opportunities and decided in 2014 Sheppy and I would also fly there. It was definitely expensive, and could be considered hard on the horses. Sheppy spent 56 hours on the plane before a layover on the east coast, then flew another five hours to Oakland.”
After the gruelling journey the 16-year-old Australian Thoroughbred thrived in California. “He vastly improved under the tutelage of prominent trainer, Yves Sauvignon,” said Bella, “and had some great success which included a fifth place at Rebecca Farm CCI4*, before sustaining a career-ending injury at Galway Downs in our lead up to Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*.” The horse is now enjoying retirement amid the mountains of Idaho.
Bella’s time in America has seen some significant changes to both her personal and equestrian life. She moved from three-day-eventing to working as an equitation, hunter and jumper trainer. “I’d dabbled in the hunters when I had some nice ones for prospective sale in California,” she says on the phone from her home in Sun Valley, Idaho. “I made the full transition when I moved here to Idaho where I connected with my now business partner Megan Gruver. I’d met her four years ago when she’d just imported a horse and was looking for coaching. I was very pregnant and needed some persuading, but we eventually partnered. She and her husband, Ross, purchased Silver Bell and we were off and running. Mowbray Sporthorses is incredibly fortunate to be based at this equestrian centre, which is a quality facility in the heart of the Wood River Valley.”
“A quality hunter is smart, athletic and automatic – riding one’s an amazing feeling.”
Silver Bell Equestrian Centre is now the home of Mowbray Sporthorses. Image supplied.
It boasts a heated barn, indoor and outdoor arenas, world-class footing, irrigated pasture, nearby trails and around-the-clock management.
“Nowadays I rarely work with Thoroughbreds – mainly European Warmbloods, ponies and the occasional Quarter Horse.” She explains that the hunters in America are modelled from the original fox hunters. “Desirable traits are automatic lead changes, excellent rideability and a flat jumping technique with tight, square ‘box’ knees. A long, ground-covering gait is preferred with very little knee action. A quality hunter is smart, athletic and automatic – riding one’s an amazing feeling,” she adds.
“The other discipline here that’s almost non-existent in Australia is equitation, which is judged on the riders; those who are quietly effective, accurate and perfectly correct in their position and aids are rewarded. Equitation flat classes can also include basic lateral work including shoulder-in, haunches-in and counter canter.
Bella, pictured here in the competition arena with Accento owned by Kelly Lees, explains that Equitation classes are judged on the riders; those who are quietly effective, accurate and perfectly correct in their position. Image by McCool Photos.
“Our program here at Silver Bell focuses on equitation as the foundation before moving into the hunters or jumpers, and has produced some very quiet and fundamentally correct riders. Emphasising correct dressage work, and very accurate riding over fences, creates riders who are safer, more effective and able to successfully progress up the levels.”
When asked whether she had seen changes in the types doing well in the show ring, she points out that in eventing many more purpose-bred Warmbloods have come through and become the majority. “They’re also incredible movers, jumpers and gallopers. I had the privilege of riding some very lovely horses when I was based with Ruth Bley in California. The horses were exceptional in every phase – they have to be quick if you want to win.” (Bley, who mentors new and young female riders, is a champion eventer and owner of Cull Canyon Ranch, a sport horse breeding and training centre in Castro Valley.) “With the jumpers now, they have to be much more modern – light, manoeuvrable and quick.”
And how does she and Megan program the horses and riders at Silver Bell? “We manage everything,” she says. “The feeding, the vet, the farrier, the care. Everyone is dealt with accordingly. We give the horses training rides to benefit the rider and their goals; we show the horses before the client shows that same week – it’s so different from Australia.
A happy Mowbray Sporthorses pupil. Image supplied.
“In our program no one can jump outside a lesson,” continues Bella. “We know what the horses do every single day because we schedule it. We know their grain, supplements and medications, their tack, fitness levels and preparation before showing. It’s so unlike my riding experiences back home but it makes a lot of sense to me. It’s so much safer than riding and jumping alone – like I used to do as a teenager over 44-gallon drums! It sets riders up for success and horses up for positive experiences.
“Horse management runs very smoothly and our clients are kept safe and happy. We also utilise grooms at shows. This is controversial for some, but having the riders fresh, focused and clean makes a huge difference. It also ensures the horses are all cared for at the highest calibre, while Megan and I can focus on riding and coaching.”
At events she occasionally sees other Australians. In Thermal, California, she ran into international jumper James Arkins at the Desert International Horse Park. “It was super fun, my pony kids couldn’t believe such a nice guy had just won the Grand Prix the night before.” (He and Eurostar had received $100,000).
One of Bella's students enjoying a quiet moment in between classes while competing at Desert International Horse Park. Image supplied.
As well as all the young people training with Bella there are a couple of others who are a major part of her private life – her children Roo and Oskar who she had with her real estate husband, Matt Stevenson.
“He’s supportive of the equestrian venture but he couldn’t put a halter on a horse. He spends his days selling houses and climbing mountains,” explains Bella. “And our children enjoy skiing, biking and watching Bluey. They’re thriving in our small-town community. The winters are incredibly long and cold, but with crisp, blue skies. We’re surrounded by the mountains and spend lots of time skiing, hiking and exploring. We regularly have elk in our backyard and always keep an eye out for cougars, moose, bears, wolves and coyotes! Sun Valley’s a gorgeous resort town.”
Despite the cold winters, Bella has learned that horses don’t need to be rugged up at the drop of a hat. “Australians over-rug their horses,” she says. “All summer our horses are naked with some maybe in a fly sheet. When it cools down they wear a light sheet, and when it’s in the negatives – think 5 feet [1.5m] snow and minus 20C – they have on 400 or 500 gram blankets. No woollens, no cotton sheets, no doonas, no face hoods, no tail bags. Our horses are very warm in a single heavyweight blanket. I cannot believe how much horses wear in Australia – layer upon layer – and I was guilty of doing it too.”
Bella has built a successful business with Mowbray Sporthorses. Image supplied.
Bella sees her Australian family a couple of times and year and they all do a lot of Facetiming. “And I do miss warm beaches, my girlfriends and the fashion – down jackets and snow boots are not very exciting!” EQ