MAR 2024

& ED

On a new high
Maddy Vallender,
Charlotte Dujardin's
Masterclass Charm


click here to start reading



MAR 2024
click on left side to read the previous article
click on right side to read the next article
scroll down or click icon to read article

A Few Words



Ryan's Rave



Para Equestrian
































content placeholder
Keira Byrnes and the late Fox Hill. Image by Jenelle Christopher.

Early in 2024, Keira Byrnes farewelled her beloved Thoroughbred Fox Hill at the grand age of 28. A remarkable horse by every definition, his resume included four CCI5* completions and over 100 eventing starts, a Grand Prix showjumping debut aged 20, and 65 starts in his first career as a racehorse. His athletic prowess, unwavering commitment to any jump he was pointed at, and incredible soundness will never be forgotten, least of all by Keira. More than a horse, he was her “everything”.

Keira was a 17-year-old schoolgirl when she first met Fox Hill. The handsome black gelding, who raced as ‘Trust No One’, had retired from a long and successful racing career a year earlier, during which he amassed $112,265 in prize money over 65 starts and 10 wins. Now nine years old and renamed Fox Hill, he had commenced his second career as an eventer under the expert guidance of Nicky Turner (now Lyle), and competed in just one event at EvA95 level.

“It was established that Darcy, my eventer at the time, was never going to go past one-star level,” Keira reminisces. “My coach Gendy (Parry-Okeden, nee Turner), said she thought I should have a look at her sister Nicky’s Thoroughbred, Fox. I didn’t have much money to spend, but Gendy said ‘It doesn’t matter, just go and see this horse, then you’ll know what you’re looking for. Your next horse is going to make or break you!’

“He was bendy and
like trying to ride
a rubber band.”

“So I went to see him, and I didn’t think that much of him on the ground. But then I saw him trot! I used to have this thing – and I still can’t explain what it was – that my teenage brain came up with. There were these three FEI eventers competing at the time and there was something in the way that all three trotted, it was what I called ‘The Thing.’ Mum and I were sitting on the hill, watching Nicky as she picked up trot, and I said, ‘Oh my God, he’s got The Thing!’ Mum didn’t agree, but I was sure he had ‘The Thing’ and I was very excited!”

“So then I rode him; I rode him atrociously, he was bendy and like trying to ride a rubber band, I couldn’t steer and I could barely rise to the trot because I’d been riding Darcy, who had been described as like an ironing board on legs, and Fox was more like trying to rise to the trot standing on a waterbed with someone jumping up and down on the other side!” Keira laughs. “I rode spectacularly badly. Nicky was very kind and didn’t say anything about how badly I was doing. I trotted into a cross rail and nearly fell off because he jumped so big, I needed to grab mane and Nicky had to get me a neck strap, but I absolutely loved him!”

The love never ceased; however, it did need to temporarily make space for heartbreak. Keira’s modest budget wasn’t enough to buy Fox Hill, and he was soon sold to a lady in Victoria. Certain that he was the horse she needed to have, Keira cried for a week yet soldiered on in her search for her next horse.

“I ended up with another horse on trial, and then one day Gendy let me know that Fox was coming back! The person in Victoria tried to keep him on his own, and Fox did not do anything on his own. He had showed off his brilliant weaving technique, had broken down some fences, and refused to eat for the month that he was down there. He had come back to Nicky but she was moving to the US, so we were lucky to get him at a price that we could afford,” Keira explains.


It did not take long for a strong and competitive partnership to form. While Keira modestly claims – with a laugh – that the need to grab Fox’s mane over a jump in order to stay on him never waned, the pair found their groove and reached CCI1* level (now CCI2* level) within 12 months. Not bad for a green horse and a young rider who wasn’t quite sure that upper-level eventing was for her!

“As a kid I walked the course at the Sydney Olympics, and I remember looking at jumps like the hammock and the snake jump and thinking, ‘Well, eventing is not for me!’ That was the conclusion I came home with,” Keira explains. “I really didn’t think I was brave enough, but with Fox I suppose there was a tiny, tiny part of me that thought maybe I could ride at the higher levels because he was such an amazing horse. I just always had this belief that everything was going to be awesome with Fox. I always trusted him, even at moments such as when I couldn’t steer him; he was my horse, and I just knew that one day we’d be able to turn!

“My aim was to maybe one day do ‘green numbers’ (CCI3*) if we were really nailing ‘yellow numbers’. By the time we were competing at ‘yellow numbers’ our steering got better, and at ‘green numbers’ he stopped launching off drops, which was fabulous,” Keira laughs. “I thought at some point I’d learn how to sit his jump – I was wrong! And he always used to hit me in the chest with his withers when he jumped big, hard enough to dint me. That never stopped! But I never really thought we’d end up at five-star level, it just happened over time and with the encouragement of coaches.

“Sandy Lucas, who coached me for many years, had a huge influence on my decision to move up the levels, but I think more than anything I really wanted everyone to see how special he was and I didn’t want to be the reason that people didn’t see how special he was. So I had to take half a cup of toughen-up and try to become someone who could do the things that he should be able to do,” Keira explains.

“He’d be very angry at me if I did
not take him cross country…”

The ascent to CCI5* level eventing is rarely a smooth one. Whether it’s an injury to horse or rider forcing time out, or a confidence knock slowing progress, an eventer’s competition history is not often linear or consistent. Fox Hill was an exception. Having retired sound from the track after racing for five years, his soundness continued throughout his 12-season eventing career, with Fox never missing an event due to injury.

“He had a stone bruise at Sydney 3-Day Event once, which I only discovered on arrival when I rode him on the sand. At home, I always rode on grass, and stone bruises show up on sand,” Keira explains. “My brilliant farrier came out at 9pm to put pads under his shoes, and he was fine to compete.

“Fox always had something minor happen before a three-day event! He never had a soundness issue, but as I was due to head off, I’d find myself at the vets with him. It would be something like a boot rub that just got a little bit infected, little things that needed attention. But in his career, the only time he ever went lame, he had a hoof abscess for two weeks before my last ever one-day event on him at Tamworth in 2016 when he was nearly 21 years old.

“I remember it so well because he was out of work for two weeks, and he was back in for four days before the event. And I thought, ‘Oh well, I’ll just take him and do the dressage and the show jumping.’ And then I realised when I got there that if he heard other horses going cross country, he’d be very angry at me if I did not take him cross country, and he felt great, so I planned to just jump to fence 9, which was a convenient spot to walk home from,” Keira continues. “That was my logic; ‘He’s fit enough to jump nine fences.’ And it was the only time my darling, polite, wonderful horse ran off with me! I tried to pull him up and he ripped the reins right out of my hands and took off. So we ended up finishing, we even placed, despite all the time penalties from me trying to pull him up. And that was the total time he spent injured in his career; two weeks with a hoof abscess and three hours with a stone bruise.”


While soundness was never an issue, Fox Hill did come with his own set of management requirements that presented a unique set of challenges! While Keira can now laugh about his quirks, there’s little doubt that they were the cause of many stressful days and sleepless nights.

Fox simply could not tolerate life without a friend – a friend that he could touch, not merely see. This was a major problem at Sydney 3DE in 2010, when Fox decided he did not like the stables as they prevented him from touching another horse, and refused to enter his stable unless Keira came too.

“He did not like the SIEC stables. He actually broke one of the doors, and later in his career he broke another door just to make sure that they really hated him there. I ended up sleeping in the stable with him, and after the cross country phase the ground jury stepped in to let me know that I was not allowed to sleep in his stable,” Keira explains.

In a stressful turn of events, the ground jury suggested that another horse could be allowed to cohabit the stable to placate Fox. While fellow competitors supervised Fox in the stable aisle, Keira headed off to collect another horse from home and returned around midnight with Fox’s friend of choice. With Fox placated, and Keira exhausted, the pair somehow managed to show jump clear with just a few time penalties the following morning, securing the win and leading the CCI2* (now 3*) from start to finish!

After unsuccessfully trialling a companion goat named Pancake for Fox, Keira decided he needed a companion horse of his own rather than relying on her other competition horses to keep him happy at events.

“He did indeed like
the ugly pony more…”

“I called the nearest Horse Rescue and said, ‘Can I ask a really weird question? I’m looking for a companion horse.’ And they said, ‘That’s great! We have all these horses that can’t be ridden, that’s not a weird question.’ I said, ‘Hmm, hang on a second. He didn’t like any of the friends that I’ve found for him so far, he likes my competition horses more, so can I bring him, and my other competition horse over, and let him choose a friend, and then take my other competition horse away to make sure that he likes his new friend more than my other competition horse?’ At that point, they agreed it was a weird question, but happily obliged,” Keira laughs.

Off they went for a meet and greet, only for Fox to turn his nose up at all the cute ponies he was presented with. “Finally at the last paddock we got to, the ugliest pony I have ever seen in my life moseyed up. And Fox was like, ‘That one.’  We ran the test, and he did indeed like the ugly pony more than my other competition horse Romeo, so that was all good. And then it took two-and-a-half hours to load Boggles, the ugly pony Fox had chosen, on the truck!”

After the grand effort of allowing Fox to choose his own new friend, Boggles never became the travelling buddy he was intended to be, instead becoming Fox’s “at home friend” and living out his days with him. Boggles didn’t like travelling very much, ending up in a puddle of sweat every time they tried, so it did not seem fair to take him along to events.

“It meant I had to take an extra horse to competitions as a friend for Fox, and make sure that he didn’t get a chance to bond with any others. He always had to be at the back of the truck so that only his friend was next to him, because as far as he was concerned, if you share the journey with a horse, you are then besties,” Keira explains. “Then he had to be tied on the side of the truck where he was only with that one, and couldn’t become friends with the others.”


For a horse that was so particular about how he was managed on the ground, Fox was always a complete gentleman under saddle and an exceptionally honest horse to jump. By 2011, with their partnership firmly cemented, the pair were on track for their Adelaide CCI5* debut. It was to be the first of four consecutive Adelaide completions for Fox Hill and Keira Byrnes, from 2011 to 2014 inclusive.

“We went clear
at our first 5-star!”

“Looking back, it was a huge deal – we went clear at our first five-star! I don’t think I realised how big of a deal that was at the time. I think it’s because with Fox, it was always the case that if I just rode even at only moderate numpty level, unless I really properly stuffed it up, he was always going to jump the fence in front of him,” Keira explains. “I knew all I had to do was have some sort of canter – or in some cases at four-star level, an energetic trot – and I had to have him pointing well enough in the vague direction of the fence that he identified it as something he should jump, and he was always going to jump it. It didn’t occur to me that he wouldn’t. However, I was always terrified I’d get jumped off, because the only times I fell off him bar once were when I got jumped off.

“So we went clear at Adelaide the first time, then in 2012 and 2013 we had one run out, because I rode like a proper numpty and it never occurred to him that the thing we were cantering past was something he was supposed to be jumping. I don’t think he even saw it in his periphery. And then the last time, when he was 19 years old in 2014, we went clear, which was very exciting.”

As Fox approached 20 years of age, his retirement from eventing was never far from Keira’s mind; however, with Fox continuing to feel sound and happy in his work, the pair continued to compete. “After Adelaide in 2013, I thought I would like to go back one more time and I kind of had a deal with Fox whereby if at any point in the preparation for Adelaide 2014, even if I’d entered, even if we got there and were doing our dressage test, if he let me know he wasn’t keen, I would just take him home,” Keira explains. “But he was keen! Then in 2015, he still felt great after his fourth Adelaide, however we just did Lakes and Craters CCI4* as our final three-day event, when he was 20, and finished second there.

“I entered our first
Grand Prix by accident!”

“The reason I ended up retiring him – because honestly, he was still so keen, as his final event in Tamworth clearly showed – was that I got to the point where I was so scared of injuring him. I was just terrified I was going to hurt him, and I didn’t want his career to end on an injury, or because he didn’t want to do it anymore. I was happy that his career ended – his eventing career, that is – because he continued on show jumping. He was still dragging me around cross country right up till his last start, his eventing career just ended because I got a bit too paranoid about the risk.”


Moving from a successful racing career to an illustrious eventing career, before retiring sound a few months shy of 21 years old at the top of the sport is quite remarkable in itself. That Fox Hill then went on to make his debut as a Grand Prix show jumper after that point is truly astonishing – yet not surprising to those who knew Fox Hill and just how amazing he was.

“I never planned to do Grand Prix classes with him, in fact I entered our first Grand Prix by accident!” Keira laughs. “I started straight show jumping because I wanted to get better at it. Fox wasn’t the most careful horse in the world, and I was more scared of show jumping than I was of cross country. My show jumping coach Dave Cameron convinced me to go to three and four day shows so I could get into the rhythm of jumping lots of rounds.

“I was on a run of southern NSW shows where you do Bega and then Jindabyne, so it’s really like a nine-day show. We’d been jumping 1.30s and 1.35s, and then on the last day there was a class that was 1.40m. I never read the names of the classes with show jumping, I just look at the height. But it turns out it was the Country Cup, and it was a Grand Prix. They kept talking about this Grand Prix class, Tim Dreverman was on the mic. I walked up finally on my third last day and said, ‘What’s this Grand Prix you keep talking about?’ He said, ‘The one that you’re in!’

“We had five rails in the first round, it was the biggest course I’ve ever jumped in my life, it turned out it was starting at 1.40m. But then in the jump-off we only had two down so that was exciting. And then in our next Grand Prix – which I entered on purpose – we only had one down!” Keira enthuses.

Fox Hill was 21 years old at his final official show jumping competition, and was still ridden for several years after his retirement from competition, until the point when he unceremoniously announced that he no longer wished to be ridden.

“He ran away from me!” Keira explains. “The horse that never, ever ran away – the horse that would usually run up to me – suddenly was running away when I went to catch him,” Keira explains. “So I said ‘Ohhhhh, you don’t want to be ridden anymore’. And that was that, but it would have been nice if he told me earlier, so I could have known when our last ride was coming and enjoyed it, knowing it was our last ride!”

“He really just taught me everything,” Keira explains, reflecting on her 19 years with Fox Hill and the enduring impact he has had on her life. “One of the things he left me with is a really, really strong want to improve the chances of success for racehorses when they come off the track. I think he was the classic opposite of where people say, ‘Ohhh, well, he raced till he was eight and he had 65 starts and so therefore he must not be sound or he must not be this, that or the other, and pass a horse up because of that. And he was the soundest horse I’ve ever had and probably ever will have!

“Then there are those that think Thoroughbreds aren’t talented enough to be up there with the others, and I think he really proved just how awesome racehorses can be,” Keira explains. “The last few years I’ve been more and more passionate about that, about teaching people that rather than needing to ‘fix’ the racehorses, it’s more important to work with the people who end up with them, so they have the skills and knowledge to give them a great life after racing.”

“It’s also due to Fox that I chose to go to uni – I wanted to be an equine chiropractor, which meant I needed to become a qualified human chiropractor first. Throughout his career Fox needed a lot of body work; he saw his bodyworker before and after every three-day event, and my bodyworker Jeff could be quite hard to get hold of, so I cracked it and thought, ‘Well I’m going to learn how to do this myself!’” Keira laughs.

“Fox made me want to be someone who could keep performance horses performing at their best, just as Jeff had done with him. In the meantime, it has translated into a whole lot of other qualifications and love of equine rehab too,” Keira – who holds a Bachelor of Chiropractic science B(Chir)Sc, Master of chiropractic MChir and Master of Research MRes – continues.

For Keira, now adjusting to life without Fox Hill – her friend and the focal point of her existence for 19 years – is akin to learning to live without a limb, as her heartfelt tribute on her business page Synergy and Freedom so beautifully articulates.

“Fox showed me parts of myself I had never met. He supported me in my lowest of lows, and carried me to my highest of highs. He was my constant, my confidant, my everything. There’s a line from the movie National Velvet that always comes up when I think of Fox: ‘If you could only see what he did for me… he burst himself for me, and when I asked he burst himself more, and when I asked again, he doubled it.’ Finally, I got to repay the favour. I feel like I burst apart honouring his request to be done in this life. Not in sickness, or an emergency, just when he said it was time. When he wanted to leave, with grace and pride. Life, and now death, on his terms.” EQ


Sam Overton & Ed on a New HighEquestrian Life, March 2024


Enter your name and email to view the content.

* By providing your email via this form, you agree to receiving emails from Equestrian Life. You can unsubscribe at any time.