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Secrets behind a Supreme Champion

This article first appeared in a previous issue of Equestrian Life magazine. For more information or to subscribe, visit our home page here.

 Chanele Hunter's 'Crewe' highlights the elegance expected in a modern Show Hack

Chanele Hunter's 'Crewe' highlights the elegance expected in a modern show hack.

© Equestrian Life Magazine / Jamie Carson


By Stephanie Halligan

Chanele Hunter Cooke needs no introduction to the show horse scene, with countless royal, Horse of The Year and national wins to her name in both her rider and ridden classes. Chanele has campaigned her own and her clients’ horses and ponies to the highest level, rarely coming home without a broad sash.

Chanele lives with her horses and husband on a boutique property near Melbourne. She also has a passion for soccer and most sports, but she loves and has been involved in showing horses for as long as she can remember. Here Chanele tells us about some of the secrets to her success.

EQ Life: How long you have been riding for?

CHANELE: I was always underneath my brother and sister’s feet from the age of two wanting to ride. I got my first Shetland pony, Macaroni, and never looked back. I started out at pony club and attended local shows when I was five. My family wasn’t show-orientated at all but that soon changed when all three kids caught the showing bug! I was very fortunate to ride some beautiful ponies early on. 

EQ Life: What is a day in the life of Chanele Hunter Cooke like?

CHANELE: I always get asked if I ever stop. It's a known fact I never stop talking but I also lead quite a busy life. I get up at 6:30am; my stables are on timed lights, which help maintain the horses’ coats. I check rugs, legs and paint my horses’ feet before they go out, particularly in summer, with NRG Stride, which I have used for years. Paddock boots are put on and they all go out to their paddocks. Stables are mucked out and all the paddock horses are checked. I try to have things done the night before so my mornings are fairly easy. I then tend to the rest of the animals, such as dogs and chickens. On weekdays I work as a manager at a family based company called Sunliner Motorhomes, which is a busy but rewarding day. I work 9am-5pm then head home to work my horses in show preparation.

Depending on which horses I have in work, determines whom I work. For my seasoned horses I'll normally ride for 20 to 30 minutes. This may be arena work focusing on strengthening exercises, manners, or any other issues I'm encountering. If not, I'll take them to the paddocks where I let them enjoy a different space and work on forward movements. Each horse is hosed off, feet are painted and light rugs are put on until they are dry enough to rug completely. After I've ridden I normally drive, lunge or handle another horse for about 30 minutes. I like my horses to be familiar with having sprays and make-up applied, so when I work them I apply a body spray and a light baby oil or petroleum jelly on their eyes and muzzle; this isn't for looks, it's so that when I'm at a show on my own I don't encounter my horses not knowing what I'm doing and creating an issue. 

Weather is never an issue as we attend shows in all types of weather, so my horses need to be used to rain, hail or shine! After I've worked the horses I may groom another, depending on time, then I feed up all the stabled and paddocked horses. I sweep up, get rugs ready for the next day and finally get to the house to have dinner with my husband any time from 8:30pm to 10pm. I'm very lucky to have a wonderful family and a fantastic husband.

EQ Life: How many horses do you have in work at a time?

CHANELE: I don't have any more than four in at a time. With work, other activities and a husband, I don't think I could produce more to the level I'd like. Of the four, I normally have at least one seasoned horse and the others at different stages of their training.

EQ Life: When searching for your next supreme champion, what do you look for in a horse or pony?  

CHANELE: I cannot go past a pretty face, of course, but it's far more complex than that. In a hack I like a compact horse that's refined and holds its Thoroughbred qualities. Ideally I look for good limbs, a horse that is clean out of the shoulder, holding a nice spot for a saddle and a good tail set. Finding a horse to tick those boxes is hard, and then I also look for a horse with a reasonably nice temperament and good movement. Once you find a horse that may tick most of these boxes, it then has to follow through under saddle. All may seem cool, calm and collected at home but you never know until you have the horse out what you're really in for! This is my favourite part of showing. It's a great challenge -- some might say obsession -- finding and producing that next Supreme Champion.

When I look for a pony I follow the same checklist, but a good moving pony is hard to pass up if it shows the characteristics I like, such as well conformed, and a great way of going.  Above all, when I look for my next Supreme Champion, the horse or pony needs to possess a hint of star quality or wow factor. It's what attracts you to them in the first place.

EQ Life: Where do you look to buy your ponies and hacks?

CHANELE: For my hacks I look everywhere, from classified ads, online, speaking with trainers, jockeys or strappers who I've kept in contact with. I found my most recent hack on Facebook! It's about persistence and being ready when you least expect it. When looking to buy a pony, I have been lucky to know some wonderful breeders, however, again word of mouth, and looking online have proved successful. I prefer to find youngstock or a green horse or pony that I can start from the beginning.                  

EQ Life: With so many supreme champion wins to your name, who would you consider to be your most successful campaigned saddle horse or pony and what were the main steps you took to get them there?

CHANELE: I have been incredibly lucky to ride and produce some beautiful and successful horses. The one horse that I've had a great deal of success with would be Rosedale Songster. My client Lyn Warburton and I have had her since she was a yearling. Songster, aka Bella, was in the champions’ circle from the moment she stepped in the ring as a filly. I continued her led career where she was Champion Led Riding Pony at five major royal shows. I then broke Bella in myself and planned her saddle career carefully so as to not over-show her. It's a fine line bringing on a pony so young, but with the right work and rest Songster has continued to improve, and has kept her cheeky attitude and show-ring presence. Maintaining a balance between schooling and fun rides, like going to the beach, has helped keep Songster in the right mindset. A regular feed regime and stabling schedule is followed. Regular grooming, washing and pampering keep Songster in show condition. I follow a set work regime to lead into a large show followed by a rest period as soon as possible. 

EQ Life: What has been the most memorable moment in your show career?

CHANELE: I had the most incredible 2014 Sydney Royal, winning Champion Large Pony with Songster to match her brilliant season claiming Barastoc Open and International challenge large pony championships, EV Medium Pony qualifying for the nationals for the third year.  That was a dream to have a pony I've broken and worked on my own to win such a prestigious event. The only moment that superseded that was riding my difficult but incredibly unforgettable hack Crewe for the final time at the EA Nationals last year, claiming the Runner-Up Small Hack title. It was a very emotional ride and one I will always remember. There wasn't a dry eye about that day! 

 EQ Life: Do you have a particular instructor or mentor who has helped you? What was the most valuable advice you were given?

CHANELE: I have been so lucky to have been mentored by so many true horsemen and women over the years. I've also been lucky to learn a lot by trial and error. Horses can be similar but never the same.  The information and knowledge never leaves you and it builds up to help work the next horse. From my first lessons to now, I've grown to respect and learn from everyone. I'm never one to think my way is the only way. Taking little pieces from show horse as well as dressage creates a great balance. I was taught by a talented friend how to work my horses correctly, which has saved me on a number of occasions. The best advice I was given by my No. 1 strapper, my beautiful mum, was, “Love many, trust a few, but always paddle your own canoe!’’. In showing, one day you’re the peacock and the next day you're the feather duster! This could not be truer. 

EQ Life: What advice can you offer for people wanting to work towards the higher levels of showing in terms of preparation for the horse and rider?

CHANELE: Find a horse you connect with and a mentor who you can relate to. Set realistic goals and prepare accordingly. Watch the professionals -- they are at the top for a reason -- and don't be afraid to ask. Practice, practice, PRACTICE! Showing is such a wonderful sport where lifelong friends are made. There's always drama in every sport but it only becomes a problem when you make it one. Focus on your goals and why you ride. For me that is for the love of the horses, friends and the success you can reach when you aim high. Giving up is just not an option for something you love.

EQ Life: What are your event plans for the remainder of the 2014-15 show season?

CHANELE: Rosedale Songster and I are representing Victoria at the EA Nationals. After the nationals and a quick Christmas break, it's all systems go in 2015 with my team attending all major royals, HOTYs and Grand Nationals. I am also very excited about the newcomers I have coming out this year; I have a hack, Galloway and a pony. My newcomer team consists of a hack called Donatello, a five-year-old 15.1hh Thoroughbred that only finished racing in July. He has qualified for all royal shows and will be attending all newcomer events. His mannerisms and temperament for a young horse make him a dream to do everything with. My newcomer Galloway is called Daisy Patch Soul Star who is a lovely black Riding Pony X TB Galloway who was shown successfully in hand. He is a very special boy who will step out soon. My newcomer pony is called Rosedale Pop Princess; she is a bay four-year-old riding pony that I'm showing with Rosedale Stud. I've recently broken her in and she will be making her debut in the near future. I'm extremely excited about all of these newcomers. They have so far proved to be wonderful horses to work with. I have a few other rides booked as well. It's going to be a busy year. 

EQ Life: What preparation is involved with the major events compared to the smaller shows?

CHANELE: The major events carry a lot more pressure than the smaller shows, of course, so everything needs to be as perfect as possible. This starts from rider outfits, a horse’s condition, gear, work, and perfect presentation. The horse’s health and wellbeing is of upmost importance. I like to use my agricultural shows as training days to work out the kinks in workout, mannerisms, and gear changes. I still believe in presenting to the best of my ability at any event, however, sometimes I focus on different aspects of training. As long as the performances are gained for each horse at the agricultural shows, all is well. 

EQ Life: Is there something that you keep on you when you compete, such as a lucky charm?

CHANELE: I used to have a lucky tie but after a few bad shows that one was thrown out! My lucky charms are the horses I'm so lucky to be sitting on … though I do like to use my own stirrups.





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