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New dressage series for off the track horses demonstrates the versatility of the thoroughbred

Tegan Huitson was all smiles at Boneo Park © Tegan Huitson 

Tegan Huitson was all smiles at Boneo Park, riding the thoroughbred Kozminksy

© Tegan Huitson

 

By Equestrian Life

The first official dressage series for off the track horses at official Equestrian Australia (EA) dressage competitions has attracted a diverse field of entrants, from seasoned competitors in the showring, to eventers, ex polo ponies, and those enjoying their first competitive outing – showing that while thoroughbreds may be bred to race, their versatility and aptitude for equestrian sport knows no bounds!

A partnership between Racing Victoria (RV) and Boneo Park, the series offers EA Preliminary and Novice level classes for off the track horses at all Boneo Park dressage competitions from January to June 2021, with competitors having the chance to share in $7,000 worth of prizemoney!

With the January (run as part of the Homes & Acreage Summer Dressage Championships) and February legs of the series now complete, we caught up with some of the participants to hear about their lovely off the track thoroughbreds, how they came to be competing in the dressage arena, and their plans for the future.  

Paula Heffernan riding La Debonaire

Paula and La Debonaire are a much-admired pair in the show ring, having competed in the Garryowen in 2019 and more recently, placing second at the Show Horse Council HOTY in January 2021. For Paula, who has spent her life surrounded by thoroughbreds in both the racing and showing worlds, the new series for dressage horses is an exciting opportunity to expand her horse’s horizons, opportunities and training.

 

Paula Hefferan and La Debonaire © Lisa Gordon Photography

Paula Heffernan and La Debonaire competing in the showring

© LMG Photography

 

“La Debonaire has been competing in the show ring for three years, and I decided to do some dressage with him when I set my sights on the Garryowen,” Paula explains. The strategy paid off; while the plan was simply to campaign in dressage in order to prepare the gelding for the extra pressure of a Garryowen workout, La Debonaire exceeded expectations, easily qualifying for the 2019 and 2020 Victorian Dressage Festival with 70%+ scores.

Paula describes La Debonaire as being built like a warmblood, with the movement and presence to be seriously competitive in the dressage arena. Now nine years of age, Paula originally found him on Facebook when he was five years old; as a two year old, he was sacked for being too slow before even making it to the track. With Sadler’s Wells in his bloodlines, indicating that he should be a stayer, Paula was surprised that he wasn’t given another chance on the track when he was a little older, however she’s certainly not complaining that he wasn’t! He’s been a wonderful partner for her over the four years she’s owned him (his early years off the track were spent with Queensland based show rider Abby Lovell) and she’s looking forward to seeing what they can achieve in 2021.

Paula and La Debonaire won a Preliminary division at the January leg of the OTT series, and while they were unable to attend the February competition they are looking forward to returning to Boneo Park in March to compete at Novice level. La Debonaire will also continue his showing career; Paula is quick to explain how dressage training, under the watchful eyes of Glenda and Faye Hinchliffe of Wyronga Park, has helped their show ring workouts. Another crack at the Garryowen is certainly on the cards!

Tegan Huitson riding Kozminsky  

“Kozzi”, who is owned by show rider Christy Pollock, excelled at the Summer Dressage Championships at Boneo Park in January, placing in both Preliminary OTT classes; it was the horse’s first ever competition in any discipline. As Christy and Kozzi’s trainer, rider Tegan Huitson could not have been happier with the young gelding’s attitude and aptitude on debut.  

 

Tegan Huitson riding Kozminsky

Tegan Huitson riding Kozminsky

© Tegan Huitson

 

“He’s just so trainable – it was a big atmosphere at Boneo Park and he was definitely taking it all in, but he stayed with me and trusted me and was just super!” Tegan enthuses, adding that she does find trainability and willingness to please to be a common trait among thoroughbreds she works with.

With Kozminsky’s owner Christy being a keen show rider, a showring debut is just around the corner (the pair will compete at the rescheduled Barastoc Horse of the Year show this weekend) however Tegan believes that Christy may well be spending a lot more time in 20m x 60m arenas after having a wonderful, fun time watching her horse compete at Boneo Park in January.

“I think she’s coming over to the dark side!” Tegan laughs, before adding “seriously, there should be more thoroughbreds doing dressage and this series really encourages that to happen.”

After his show ring debut at Barastoc HOTY, the plan is for Kozzi to return to Boneo Park in March for his second dressage competition. Once Tegan has guided the young gelding through his first competitive dressage outings, it’s likely that owner Christy will take the reins thereafter. “I think she’s hooked!” Tegan says, “Christy has taken it really slowly with Kozzi, giving him a long spell after he retired from the track, and now he’s ready to get out and about. He has such a great attitude and with dressage there’s always something to work towards; it’s a chance to see how far he can go.” 

Lucy Kolomanski riding Another Option and Peppermint

Campaigning two horses in the OTT classes at Boneo Park, eventer Lucy Kolomanski was delighted by the opportunity to showcase her horses’ talents in the dressage arena.

 

Peppermint  ridden by Lucy Kolomanski trot. © Michelle Terlato Photography_Racing Victoria

Peppermint, ridden by Lucy Kolomanski 

© Michelle Terlato Photography

 

“Another Option has done a fair bit of eventing and has won at two-star level; he is ninth on the Preliminary leaderboard and coming second in the Novice (after two events),” Lucy explains. “My second ride Peppermint, or Minty as we call her, is much greener, having spent most of her time off the track competing as a polo pony!”

Minty came straight off the track to her owner Clem Mann from Bakers Bridge Polo, as she was a good size for the sport, however whilst being very athletic and capable, the pretty mare did not love being a polo pony. As Lucy explains, Minty was in quite a unique and fortunate position, whereby despite Bakers Bridge being polo focused, Clem is a very good eventing rider and RV Acknowledged Retrainer who assesses each horse’s talents and aptitude for various disciplines. When it became clear that polo wasn’t Minty’s discipline of choice, Clem’s assessment of the mare ultimately led her to Lucy.

“She’s a really nice horse. She was thrown in the deep end at Boneo Park’s January event on the first day of competiton, competing in the Novice classes, but she tried really hard and went on to score really well in the Preliminary classes the second day,” Lucy explains. “She was amazing in the atmosphere, even better than we thought she’d be. Racing and polo have given her a good grounding; she was great in the yards, and didn’t worry about the other horses in the warm up. It’s nice to have these shows at a venue like Boneo Park where the surfaces are really good and there is lots of space to warm up; it really gives these off the track horses a chance to do their best.” Minty has since competed at the February event, and is currently sixth on the Preliminary leaderboard and eighth on the Novice leaderboard.

From polo to dressage, Minty will now turn her hoof to eventing. She’s entered in the EvA80 class at Geelong Horse Trials (20-21 February), with Lucy describing her as being quite a fancy jumper with a great attitude. Lucy hopes to bring her back to Boneo Park for more Off the Track dressage classes. “She’s just lovely to do everything with. Thoroughbreds are always willing to try and that’s what makes them special.”

Francesca Chettle riding December Pines After Eight

Francesca Chettle and her 17.2hh gelding, December Pines After Eight (also known as Mintie), have had a great time competing in the OTT divisions at both the January and February Boneo Park dressage competitions. “We didn’t get spectacular results but he was well behaved, a pleasure to take out, and he didn’t scare me or disgrace me!” Francesca laughs. The pair are currently fourth on the Preliminary leaderboard and fifth on the Novice leaderboard after the February event.

 

December Pines After Eight (OTT) ridden by Francesca Chettle (1) © Michelle Terlato Photography_Racing Victoria

December Pines After Eight ridden by Francesca Chettle

© Michelle Terlato Photography

 

Despite being a relatively new partnership – Francesca found Mintie through RV Acknowledged Retrainer Nikki Cook at around the time that Covid-19 reached Australia last year; since then Francesca and Mintie have progressed in leaps and bounds. Ultimately, the plan is to compete in eventing, however at present Francesca is enjoying the dressage series and is hopeful that the concept will develop further in the future to include Elementary classes for thoroughbreds, believing this will encourage participants to continue progressing up the grades.

Having evented competitively on thoroughbreds previously, Francesca had a 16 year break from horses in order to focus on both her career as a lawyer and motherhood, and is now enjoying a return to horse ownership with Mintie and another thoroughbred named Grand Idea. With guidance from her dressage coach Sara McDonald, she’s enjoying delving further into her dressage training with her delightful gentle giant, who she describes as having a great brain and brilliant attitude towards learning. 

Next up, Francesca and Mintie will compete in some small classes at Boneo Park’s showjumping event later this month, before continuing with the OTT classes at the venue’s monthly dressage competitions. All going to plan, Mintie will start eventing later in the season, and there’s no doubt that his dressage outings in the OTT series will stand him in good stead for the dressage phase!

We look forward to following the progress of these thoroughbreds and their dedicated riders as the Boneo Park series continues!

To enter upcoming OTT classes at Boneo Park or for more event information, please visit: boneopark.com.au

This article was written in conjunction with Racing Victoria.

 

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