DEC 2023


Go the distance in Sydney
Stuart Jenkins & ‘Josie’


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DEC 2023
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A Few Words



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Robbie and David McKinnon have slowly, continuously and conscientiously developed a dressage stable that is now full of talent and expertise and one of the most successful in Australia.

Sayings like “leave no stone unturned”, “you only get out what do you put in”, “a rolling stone gathers no moss”, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, “unless you have something good to say, don’t say anything at all” and “always remain humble” all come to mind when you get to know Robbie and Dave McKinnon.

“The neighbour got a great cow,
while Dave got the short straw
with a not-so-good a horse…”

Robbie McKinnon (née Soster) was a successful young rider in the show ring at national level, winning many championships in hunters, hacks and rider classes. She turned to dressage with a super little Cremello pony, ably guided by her mother, Alison, a talented rider, trainer and coach who was always her complete rock and a delight to all who know her. Ali is more a best friend and mentor than simply a mother guiding the demure yet talented Robbie through her learning stages of life and riding. Never with high expectations, but always making the most of every day and all that life offered. There was never any pressure, it was “think of the horses first then try to be patient and kind and understand the skills required to train to the best you can.”

Robbie’s next horse, Razzamatazz, was not so easy but very talented and successful. With Robbie in the saddle, the chestnut gelding by Rotspon was not only a National Champion in hunter classes and a Royal Show and Horse of the Year Rider Champion, but also a seriously grand Grand Prix horse who competed and placed highly at many CDIs. Robbie took him through to Grand Prix under the guidance of Miguel Tavora, who has had a huge influence on her riding and, of course, Ali was the stabilising influence when the going got tough.

Dave McKinnon was born in Mittagong, NSW, and has never really moved out of the area. From his earliest memories he always wanted a horse and drove his parents crazy until they paid $500 for a pony when he was seven. It was totally unsuitable, but Dave got on with it like a house on fire and is very chuffed to say that they sold it for $1000, doubling their money. His second horse was acquired by swapping a cow for it with their next-door neighbour. The neighbour got a great cow, says Dave, while he got the short straw with a not-so-good a horse. All the same, he rode and learnt every day.


Ask Dave why he was so crazy about horses, and he laughs and says he has no idea other than he believes he was born with a defective gene! “What could I do? The gene is there and there’s no use going against the tide or ignoring the urge!” As he finished his school years, he started to work for Mark Dowling, who had a huge interest in dressage horses and was breeding them on a beautiful property, Centennial Vineyards, at Bowral. Mark gave Dave riding lessons and saw a great talent in him. It was this connection that brought Robbie and Dave together in 2007, and not only would they become soulmates, but they would become a formidable team with an innate ability to ride and produce horses and inspire each other’s appetite for success.

They married in 2017 and it’s been a solid relationship built on respect for each other and their common love of horses. They now lease and live on the property at Centennial Vineyards where they have established McKinnon Sporthorses and train their own and clients’ horses, and teach and help Mark Dowling with his horses. They have both lived in the area and have no desire to move. They love the cool (some may say windy, cold and wet!) atmosphere and the wonderful countryside.

McKinnon Sporthorses at Centennial is in a good central position with easy access to the region’s competition clubs and grounds. They have an indoor and an outdoor arena, fabulous walks for the horses through the vines and the tracks, and 15 stables with sheds and wash bays and a solarium. There are plenty of turn-out yards and paddocks, providing comfort for horses, all set among the stunning winery and beautiful gardens.

Robbie and Dave are both passionate about improving the sport for all in the district and surrounds, particularly at Bowral Dressage Club where they work tirelessly on raising the bar at its beautiful grounds at the famous Bong Bong racecourse near Bowral, home of cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman. They are always putting back into the sport they love and encouraging people to enjoy it, as was shown there with their initiative at the last championships to invite the likes of Gai Waterhouse and many of her racing owners to a luncheon whilst watching the higher levels of dressage and a pas de deux with Dave (riding his wife’s Rococo as she was pregnant at the time) and Rodney Martin riding top Small Tour horse, Vellvit. Innovative and professional and nothing’s too much trouble. It’s a class act!

What is remarkable is that both Robbie and Dave started at the bottom and slowly but surely worked their way up through dedicated plain hard work. Not only towards competing at the highest level but with an innate ability to communicate with horses in a friendly and submissive way. They have made huge headways in raising the standard and the profile of dressage and would have to be one of the most competitive and successful couples in the sport in Australia at present.


There have been many great success stories with horses and people that have come into their lives, but none more inspiring and enthusiastic than the association with Forlan and his owners, Carol and Sandy Oatley. The Oatleys have always been passionate about equestrian sports in their family, especially with daughter Lyndal having won many championships in showing horses at Royals and National Horse of the Year shows. When Lyndal showed a real talent in dressage, it was down that path they all went. Lyndal was lucky enough to take a horse to Europe and train there for a while. It was then that the family decided to look at a horse in Germany; that horse was Feramo and he was with was with Patrik Kittel. Of course, the rest is history and Lyndal and Patrik became great friends and married in 2010.

Lyndal has gone on to represent Australia in dressage at Olympics and World Equestrian Games. She and Patrik have a delightful daughter, Emilia. Lyndal and Patrik’s story and lifestyle can be very much likened to Robbie and Dave’s… a love of family and horses, horses, horses! The bottom line to their incredible successes is that they truly love their horses in every way.

Carol had always wanted a horse of her own that could be competed in Australia while Lyndal was overseas. Carol fell in love with a lovable, elegant and impressive chestnut gelding named Forlan that was in Lyndal and Patrik’s stables. ‘Alan’ as he is known, is by Jazz, with an intriguing and fun nature with natural athleticism and looks to burn. He was purchased and imported to Australia where Gina Montgomery started riding him, taking him to Small Tour with some good wins at big competitions.

Dave McKinnon, who had been over and trained with Patrik and Lyndal in Germany, had returned and was helping Gina with Alan’s training. Gina’s work was very much appreciated and rewarded with good progress. It was decided that Dave, who had been watching and helping with the training as well as Patrik and Lyndal, would continue with Alan’s training and the horse was moved to McKinnon Sporthorses at Centennial in the Southern Highlands. It took some time for Alan to relax and gain confidence in his new environment, so Dave established a precise daily routine to help him settle.


Dave explains that he, Robbie and grooms Zoe and Emily, spent as much time as possible around Alan in the barn in those early times. “Not to fuss with him,” says Dave, “but to be there to sort of comfort him and gain his confidence. He is a sensitive horse but comes over with bravado. He really is a softie inside and needs to gain security within himself, and all we did was treat him with understanding, and I guess you might say spoiling his ego a little,” he laughs.

“The primary and most important thinking with the entire team was to always take the pressure away when Alan attempted to do anything in the right direction. It wasn’t about being soft… he needed confidence and then positivity and reward, which was given by taking away any pressure, be it mental or through aids. All of us worked together on this principle. In the stables, wash bay, tacking up, leading and riding… it was the same thought no matter who handled the actually gentle giant. Slowly but surely, he changed and I have to say he is now a relaxed and wonderful friendly horse that really takes pleasure in his day-to-day life and training. l knew that if he wasn’t at ease with us on the ground, what chance was there when I was on top?”

Dave soon began regular online sessions with Patrik and Lyndal to help in the training. “Having the indoor arena made him feel more secure. There were good boundaries for him,” says Dave. “In the beginning when it came to the piaffe and passage, all we did was trot and basically come back to a jog; and when he wanted to jog there was no pressure from my seat, leg or rein. We will just do trot to jog, trot to jog, and trot around the arena on diagonal lines and serpentine circles when we felt like it. Slowly he became more confident at short steps. Patrik and Lyndal reiterated that the most important thing was ‘no power’ and to always relieve him of any pressure when he attempted to take short steps. At no stage was Alan pressured into this work every day. His routine was work in the arena, indoors and outdoors, stretching, always in the beginning over the back and long in the frame, helping him to relax when he was collected in all his paces.

“He was then encouraged to remain sharp to my leg. He had all the Grand Prix movements and a talent for piaffe and passage, but he just got his head muddled in regards to this. All we needed to do was to just be persistent the same way whenever we went down that path, and keep the pressure off and encourage him to do it for himself and never feel that he was being pushed into a corner. In fact, Alan was too higher achiever, and it was full on or nothing and he got so excited that he couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. We always told him less is more!” laughs Dave.

“With the availability of the beautiful tracks, an outdoor arena and vineyards to walk through, Alan became more and more relaxed – even though I have to admit the first few times I did take my life in my hands in the vineyards! After all, he’s a son of Jazz who is renowned for being an athletic, talented, emotional and expressive horse, and that he absolutely is. He needs understanding and I understand him.

“In the beginning he was not settled in the stable or in the cross ties, his whole life was a little bit upside down. Robbie and the grooms adored Alan and spent many hours just being with him and making him feel special. It was also so fabulous to have Carol and Sandy on our side and of course Lyndal and Patrik helping from Germany. I never felt any pressure from anyone to get things done within a time constraint, and that was so fantastic. It took time but every step has been worthwhile and educational for me.


“I did ask Patrik one day, ‘Will he ever make Grand Prix?’ and Patrik’s sharp and quick reply was, ‘Every horse can do Grand Prix!’ It looked like there was no out, and we were just going to push on and take everything day by day and never ever expect Alan to be anything than what he wanted to be. Carol and Sandy loved watching him and loved the journey.

“The passage was no problem for Alan. He had all the energy in the world. It was about making him wait and do a little less,” Dave continues. “Slowly but surely the piaffe and passage had come together, and I decided after 12 months that we were pretty confident about riding through an Inter II test. Robbie and I worked tirelessly with this horse and always kept him in the best possible mindset. He is now totally confident and we love him dearly. I was so sure that we were going to make a great first showing at Inter II… but lo and behold, horses are horses and great levellers, and he certainly made me feel like I knew nothing about dressage after that Inter II! There were mistakes in changes and in the pirouettes… he did piaffe and passage, but again I was a little zealous and little quick to make him react in the piaffe and paid the consequence… I never did that again! I learnt a lot from that test. It brought me down a peg or two, and it was back to training and putting everything together again. Alan certainly was a great leveller.

“From that test on we seemed to just get better each time. We decided to simply take him for the first 12 months at this level so he could become confident and familiar with that test. We weren’t trying to get big scores – we just wanted to get around the test and for the horse to gain confidence in his own capabilities; not feeling he’s been pressured into doing more than he can. It has all paid off and now we’ve done some Grand Prix tests, and we are very excited with his progress. I have learnt so much about riding this wonderfully sensitive and talented horse.

“Our last competition, the CDI at the National Championships at Boneo Park, was a thrill and especially for Carol and Sandy to see how their understanding and belief had all come together. He continues to get stronger both physically and mentally and I feel there are no weak links now, but for me I have focused so much on the piaffe and passage that I have not paid enough attention to the rest of the test. I know there is plenty of gas in the tank, but we are not going to put pedal to metal, not for a moment. It’s still steady, steady and no pressure allowing Alan to develop more now.

“We have no higher
expectations than
what he is offering…”

“It was not so long ago that at one training session with Lyndal and Patrik I simply felt this inner relaxation and him saying, ‘I know now that I can do Grand Prix and it’s time to polish all this up’. It was a really special moment and that’s now what we are doing. It is back to the basics of improving the paces and the confidence in collection and uphill balance, and again the transitions over and over. It’s feeling still better and better, but we have no higher expectations than what he is offering, and as long as he continues this way, we (and Alan) will be very pleased.

“Of course, everyone wants to ask whether we will aim for Paris Olympic team selection. Good question. Will we get to Paris? That’s not for any of us to overthink. It’s up to the correct training and progress with no pressure and see what happens. We will take it as it comes, and all continue to appreciate this wonderful horse.” Forlan isn’t the only FEI horse at the property. Dave and Robbie work 15 horses a day.


Estupendo, by Glock’s Ziësto x Scandic, was imported and is owned by Vivien Lipshut. He has been competing very successfully at Medium Tour and will step up to Grand Prix at Willinga Park early next year. He scores in the 70% range and is quite exciting with wonderful attitude and presence and is especially great in piaffe and passage. This horse is exceedingly expressive and very beautiful.

D’Esperanza, by Desperados and imported for her owner, Alinta Veenvliet, who lives in Perth and travels back and forth for training. Alinta and D’Esperanza are getting better at every start at Grand Prix, with wonderful one tempi changes and expressive passage and trot work.

Boulevard, by Bordeaux, owned by Kylie Riddell from Victoria and competing at Small Tour with scores constantly in the 70% range and with expression and presence to burn. While there are no favourites in the barn, everyone falls for this big softie who is an exciting up-and-coming prospect. Amazing trot work and now established in all the Grand Prix work, he will have an Inter II start in the new year. Dave enjoys working with young horses and has been extremely successful with them at CDIs and Dressage with the Stars (DWTS).

Ellanbrae Tia Veida, by Vitalis x Fürst Heinrich.

Fine Design MSH by For Romance x Danone. Bred by Robbie and Dave, ‘Flossy’ is competing at Elementary at six years old and training easily the Medium work.

Somerset Furst Diamond by Fürstenball x Welfenadel, owned by Bridget Scherek. ‘Fonzie’ is a young horse that’s working Elementary successfully.

Hollands Bend Fleur Dy Lys, owned by Courtney Smith, who he is training for her at Medium level while she is on maternity leave.


SPH Fortino, by Bluefields Floreno out of the mare Donner Carina, who was a super talented mare that was campaigned by Judy Dierks, was a champion at DWTS and went to Germany to represent Australia at the World Young Horses Championships. Fortino, aka ‘Frankie’, has been seriously successful being the seven-year-old winner at last year’s DWTS and was Champion of Champions there as a six-year-old. He also won the six-year-old class at the Sydney CDI but wasn’t campaigned the next year there as Robbie was pregnant. He is competing with big scores now at Small Tour. Frankie is owned by Robbie, Dave and Robbie’s mother, Ali, and was purchased as a yearling from Andrea Beatty.

SQS Sierra, owned by Robbie, Dave and Archie McKinnon, is by Stedinger x Florestan and competing at Medium and training Small Tour.

Hollands Bend Rococo is sweeping most Small Tour classes before her and is a bit of a favourite in her own way with Robbie. She is owned by Jane and Peter Bartram and at 11 years old is also training now most of the Grand Prix movements. Rococo is by Royal Classic from a Rubinero mare.

“From early morning
until late evening,
it is full-on horses…”

Bello Gallico by Bellissimo M is at Small Tour, imported and owned by Helena and Klara Denny. Klara is in Germany training with Patrik.

Felicity as a super exciting young six-year-old mare by Fürst Belissaro x Quasar with plenty of spice and great attitude. She is scoring 74% at Elementary and training most of the Advanced work and recently was Champion Elementary horse at the Canberra Classic.

Ellanbrae Serazin Gold, by Sezuan x Rohdiamant, is owned by Lucy Dodd, was bred by Ellanbrae Park, and is competing Medium with Lucy. Robbie is training him with Lucy for the next six months.

BP Matrix is a Medium level horse by Shiraz Black x Alabaster and owned by Robbie and Dave. They have high hopes for him and are taking time to get up the grades.

Woodside Lady Loxley, by Lord Loxley x Don Schufro, owned and bred by Mark Dowling, is the longest member of the team. A chestnut mare with plenty of flare, ‘Betty’ takes everyone’s eye when she competes and is steadily working on Grand Prix and will be strutting her stuff in Big Tour early next year.

With the arrival of Robbie and Dave’s beautiful son, Archie, who is now at the entertaining age of “blah-blah-blah”, their lives have changed somewhat. Archie has a nanny, which allows Robbie and Dave to ride and give lessons during the day. Of course, Ali is also a great carer and Archie is a little character already and copes with the day-to-day equestrian happenings. Archie is so doted on by Robbie and Dave, but the truth of the matter is that horses rule their lives.

From early morning until late evening, it is full-on horses. The horses want for nothing, with regular physiotherapy, constant veterinary care and attention, their own bit fitter and saddle fitter as well as an osteopath, masseuse and nutritionist. They are really more like family rather than horses, just in training. The banter in the stables is always around the characters in the boxes. There is laughter aplenty, and when you see the attitudes on all and sundry it’s no wonder the horses are happy and compliant in their training.

Emily has been a groom with the team for more than six years and Zoe for four, which tells you how wonderful the McKinnon training establishment is. Dave helps muck out and feed and is always around to lend a hand and share a laugh, while Robbie always helps when she has a moment. The attitude amongst everyone is always on a high; that’s what comes with positive training that is well planned and initiated. Robbie and Dave also have trainers out to watch, and it was British Olympian Spencer Wilton a few weeks ago.

Robbie and Dave bounce ideas off each other and keep an eye on each other’s horses. It’s not unusual to have a group discussion and ride the other’s horses when any problems arise. These glitches are nipped in the bud and with great methodology and tact.


Dave has been seen to roll the eyes occasionally when Robbie disagrees with a comment or two, but it is only in jest, and they really respect each other’s opinions and attitudes. At competitions it’s a well-oiled operation where the horses are always presented immaculately as can be recognised from the hacking background. There’s always time for discussion and a coffee with owners to share the excitement of the competition with them. When they aren’t riding at competitions, Robbie and Dave are always at the side of the arena with headsets donned warming up their students and clients with attention to them alone. Their results are proof of the quality advice and background these two have gathered over their years and now impart and implement to all. It’s full-on, passionate devotion to the horses, the riding and to each of their clients and students. Win or not win they always simply focus on getting better and training more diligently. They never get caught up in the politics or being overly analytical – they don’t have time, as any spare time is put into producing better horses. Winners train and losers complain, so the saying goes!

“I love the foals and
watching them grow,
it’s so much fun!”

To cap off a stellar year at the NSW awards night, amongst many silver and bronze awards Dave gathered three gold medals (gold for three tests at a level over 70% in the year): Boulevard at Small Tour, Estupendo at Medium Tour, and Forlan at Big Tour. Robbie gained two gold medals and two silver medals.

Just another side to their involvement in dressage is their interest in breeding. Asking Dave why the breeding, he replies with a grin, “Well, we simply can’t afford to buy the good ones… so we have to try and breed them. And I love the foals and watching them grow, it’s so much fun!” They have bred two fillies through surrogate mares, by Damaschino out of SQS Sierra. They also bred a filly (by Skyline to B out of Denora, who is by Danone x Princeton) and have competed her to Medium, and of course also Fine Design MSH.


2023 NSW State Dressage Championships
Dave and Forlan: Champion Big Tour
Dave and Estupendo: Champion Medium Tour
Robbie and Hollands Bend Rococo: Champion Small Tour
Robbie and SPH Fortino: Reserve Champion Advanced

2023 Australian Dressage Championships
Dave and Estupendo: Champion Medium Tour
Robbie and Hollands Bend Rococo: Champion Small Tour
Robbie and SPH Fortino: Reserve Champion Advanced
Dave and Forlan scored over 70.804% in the Grand Prix CDI to be fourth, and third in the Freestyle with a whopping 76.485%.

McKinnon Sporthorses has to be one of the most successful dressage barns in Australia and this has come to fruition not by fluke nor luck. It is easy to realise when meeting Robbie and David (and Archie!) that it is their dedication to all things dressage, and their constant attention to their horses from sunrise to sunset. It’s their passion and the desire to make the most of every day. It’s their humble and unassuming attitudes. It’s their thirst to soak up as much information as possible. It’s their willingness to impart their knowledge to their students and staff and, above all, run their own race. They are achievers of the highest level who never sit back and accept second best. Their success hasn’t been a stroke of luck. It’s been earnt and deserved.

Dave will tell you it’s that damn “defective gene”; Robbie will just beam with that infectious smile and say no more. It’s their life. They are dedicated and love it! That’s the difference. They truly LOVE it. EQ


Top Marks All Round at the NationalsEquestrian Life, November 2023


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