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Heath and Rozzie: A force of nature

This article first appeared in a previous edition of Equestrian Life magazine. To see what is in the current issue, please click here.

Rozzie and Heath Ryan - Photo Roger Fitzhardinge/Derek O'Leary

Rozzie and Heath Ryan are a force to be reckoned with.

© Derek O'Leary/Roger Fitzhardinge


Here, we travel back to 2015 when Roger Fitzhardinge penned a fabulous article about the incredible life of Aussie equestrian icons, Heath and Rozzie Ryan...


By Roger Fitzhardinge

Heath and Rozzie Ryan have each represented Australia at World Equestrian Games, World Cup and Olympic Games, and run one of the country's foremost training and breeding business. Together, they are force to be reckoned with.

Heath'n'Rozzie – the very phrase rolls of the tongue as one word, invoking a singular, inseparable unit. It is because Heath and Rozzie Ryan together have become a singular force in equestrian sport in this country. Yet they are very much individuals, both with the exceptional talent and fortitude necessary to make it in the sport. Combined those powers and you have the powerhouse that is the Ryans.

After meeting in the UK more than 30 years ago, they quickly discovered they were both driven by love of the horse. The challenges that passion has thrown at them since could only be compared to a bronco ride that you never get off: from the riding, coaching and training to making a living in a sport fraught with frailty. Their partnership has navigated them through maelstrom that is the all-consuming world of competitive equestrian life. It is the carriage that gets them through the long hours and stress of managing staff and stallions, running breeding programs and maintaining their property. It has allowed them to compete at international level, travel Australia-wide and take horses overseas to represent their country as well as keep owners informed and happy. Think of what Heath and Rozzie bite off every day and, as much as it's in huge mouthfuls, they are well practiced in chewing and swallowing and moving on to the next bite.

The Ryan family is a strong and adventurous team of diverse individuals. Heath's father, Rod, was a lecturer in veterinary science at the University of Sydney. He was a very structured man who married Sue, who was not from a horsey background but who had grown up in India where her father was with the British army. Rod was born into an English family involved with horses at many levels. His father had a famous trotter, I Wonder, that won many races in the 1930s when horses were a part of everyday life. After Sue and Rod were married for some 12 years, they moved to the NSW Central Coast, where Rod worked as a vet for pioneering chicken king, Bruce Steggles, on the prevention of the diseases that plague mass chicken production. Both sons, Matt and Heath, were seriously crazy in their equestrian endeavours during this time. When Heath was 12, for Christmas he was given his first pony, Trigger, whom Heath says had a mouth of cast iron, but he rode and drove him everywhere and anywhere he could.


Heath Ryan and Regardez Moi second on 67.7%

Heath riding Regardez Moi.

© Roger Fitzhardinge


Rozzie's parents, John and Jean Penfold, were not born into the equestrian world. Jean, who was born in Colchester, England, dreamt about owning and riding horses, but was brought up in the Mediterranean and never had the chance. Her father, who was a bit of an academic and went to university and became a doctor, believed riding was an expensive way of hurting yourself. Rozzie was brought up in Essex and was the middle child between older brother Blake and younger sister Charlotte. Jean took an interest in riding at a local riding school when she married, and Blake rode as well, but all broke loose when Rozzie, all of three years old, began riding Blake's pony. It was the beginning of the end for Rozzie and the end of the beginning for Blake, who instead took up boating. Charlotte also rode but after being pelted off Rozzie's ponies a few times became wary for a few years – but resumed and still competes. Years later, when Rozzie moved to Australia, there was an amazing coincidence leading up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics: Rozzie and Charlotte were both in Olympic dressage squads for Australia and Great Britain respectively – remarkably, Rozzie was on Exellent (yes, spelt that way) and Charlotte was on Excellence!

As a girl, Rozzie rode all disciplines, including gallop, around the orchard and jumped anything jumpable. Her heart was in eventing and she competed at her first ODE at the age of six, where she admits she was so chuffed. She was wearing new jodhpurs she had received for her birthday, but just before the bell went to enter for the dressage test her pony rolled in mud with her on board! Rozzie remembers that was when she learnt the meaning of FURIOUS!

After completing her O and A levels at school, Rozzie started in arts at university but hated it after one term and did not continue. Her father was against her making a living from horses, so she studied nursing while continuing to ride and compete with success. She was offered a training job at the stables of Jan Houghton Brown (later Goldsmith) and it was there she met the love of her life, the Aussie Heath Ryan. Rozzie took him to a ODE competition as a strapper and says he was so helpful – she also says it was the only time he ever strapped for her! She came to Australia after Heath persuaded her to have a look at eventing here. She stayed six months then returned to England, followed by Heath, where they we married and returned to Australia having sold her best horse before leaving. They moved in with the Ryans on the NSW Central Coast and Rozzie worked as a waitress while Heath became a "chicken chaser" for Bruce Steggles. Rozzie recalls the pride and joy of their lives was a turquoise VW Beetle they bought – which at that stage was all they owned! It was while working for Steggles that the Ryans imported an Andalusian stallion, Animoso V11, and started a breeding program. As Heath says: "He had no idea what he was doing and nor did we." However, he produced some great horses in eventing, such as Benwerrin of Coolalee, who won the Sydney three-day event, and Southland of Coolalee, the travelling reserve for Matt Ryan at the Seoul Olympics.

Heath also was not keen on university after leaving school, and went to England and Germany where he trained and qualified as an instructor. It was on returning to Wiseland Stables to showjump that he met and strapped for Rozzie. The rest is history. After they returned married, Heath proved such a good chicken catcher at Steggles that he organised the best team and got done in two hours what others would take eight to do, allowing time to ride. His parents, Rod and Sue, took up driving and went from singles to training a four-in-hand team and got the taste for international competition. They were looking at qualifying for WEG in Stockholm. Bob Oatley already had a four-in-hand team in Europe so Sue and Rod went and trained them for six months and competed at WEG for Australia. Rod drove, Sue navigated and Matt was on the back. Heath had the great chestnut Stirling Goshawk on the eventing team there and Rozzie had Stirling Wilton (a Thoroughbred eventer-turned-grand prix international dressage representative) while the grey Statford Sigusmund was a reserve horse. What a feat that was for one family, yet they took it in their stride. None could say they really knew much about international competitions and were flying by the seat of their pants. They also had to contend with a young Wilton unwell with colic and travel sickness and the passing of Rozzie's father the week before WEG. In those days, just flying horses for 52 hours to get to the other side of the world was daunting, but not for the Ryans.

There is no doubt Heath is a talent and never leads a dull life. He is always challenging himself and looking outside the square at innovative ways to better himself and his horses and take all around him on the journey. Rozzie says the momentum he creates is impossible to stop. "I originally encouraged this, I then tried to quell it, but that needed me to stand in his way, arms waving threatening to stop him – but unfortunately I would have to jump aside or I would have been run over. It's best now to let him go rather than take the risk of being run over.''


Rozzie Ryan and Jarrah R. Photo Credit - Roger Fitzhardinge

Rozzie Ryan and Jarrah R.

© Roger Fitzhardinge


There does not seem any hurdle too high for these two to jump, and if they can't jump it in one bound they will find another way to get over it. Heath is fiercely passionate about all equestrian disciplines. He is an Olympian in dressage and has represented Australia in eventing at WEG while Rozzie has been the travelling reserve twice in dressage for the Olympics. Between them the list of horses they have produced to international status is phenomenal. They moved from Heath's parents when an opportunity to manage the NSW Equestrian Centre arose and so a huge new chapter in their lives unfolded. The centre was owned by Bob and Judy Mitchell and was not only a property where Heath and Rozzie coached and produced horses, they also stood stallions at stud.

Rozzie has no real idea why she took to equestrian sports she wouldn't swap it for the world. An absolute lady, she is ever the friendly and unassuming, passionate horsewoman who loves reading,  the arts and travel. Living with Heath in an endless avalanche of industry and enthusiasm, but it has given thousands of adventures together in breeding, at auctions, in producing Olympic horses and generating ideas to better equestrian performance and promote Australian equestrianism. Among their horses that have achieved  international standing and success are Stirling Wilton and Stirling Stilton, Exellent, Stirling Goshawk, GV Bullwinkle, Weltmeister, Christopher, Daylight, Stirling Tower, Stirling Lyric, Ludendorf, Salute, Mystery Whisper, Regardez Moi, Jive Magic, Donna Carerra, Greenoaks Dundee, Greenoaks Legend, Arglen Kaleb, Barrington Ock Teddy, Looking Good, Scribble, Promise, Stirling Shade, Cool McCool, McLauchlan, Country Lights, Abduel, Moselklute, Dom Eden, Andybow, Flash Fred, Diablo Heart, Kestral and Talahasee Blue, Cool Renegade and Belange Advantage. The riders they have produced and influenced are as endless as the number of horses they have bred, horses they have produced and sold, competitions they have won, horses they have had on elite squads, horse sales they have organised, competitions they have run, committees they have been on  –  and the number of friends they have.

Heath'n'Rozzie are a very special pair. Words cannot portray the passion, excitement, elation and life they have had thus far or begin to conjure up the times that lay ahead. The story of the Ryans is exciting, exhilarating and boundless. They are EXCEPTIONAL, RESPECTED and WONDERFUL horse people with a love of life. They ignite a never-ending passion for improvement, whether for their own horses or others, their own riding or others, their own breeding program and all that goes hand in hand with equestrian sports. They are encouraging and inspiring to all around them and are a catalyst for change and positivity. Life continues at an exciting rate at their home property. Times have changed since their Turquoise VW Beetle, but their young-at-heart and gung-ho attitude has not.




Issue 38

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