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The Long Road to the Garryowen - A Standardbred's Story


The Long Road to the Garryowen - A Standardbred's Story

 Equestrian Life


Kathleen Mullan, has never let anything hold her back. Born into a harness racing family, she received her first pony at 4, a cheeky Shetland known as Conrad. Then just a year into riding at 5 years of age was the youngest driver to race at Moonee Valley (VIC) in the pony trots.


Surrounded by her father's Standardbred’s, Kathleen broke and educated her first horse in her mid teens, then spent years competing in horse trials, mounted games and dressage, until she finally found herself in the show ring. 


No small feat, she was able to produce a Thoroughbred to a Top Ten Newcomer Hack placing at the prestigious Barastoc Horse of the Year Show. But it was a Standardbred stallion named Titan Thunder who dominated not only his breed classes, as well as the open breed rings, that gave her her status as a force to be reckoned with.



Titan Thunder

Titan Thunder ©Melinda King


It so then happened that a beautiful yearling colt, known as “James” (MF Hollywood) caught Kathleen’s eye. One of her Dad’s up and comers, the 14.3hh rich chestnut with a lot of bling, immediately made Kathleen think of the show ring. But with this young man pegged for the racing circuit, she knew she would have to wait and see where his path would lead him. Luckily for her, his racing career was short lived and only 9 weeks after his last race a Supreme Led Standardbred at Whittlesea Show meant the story of a Standardbred’s road to the Garryowen had begun.


Now it was never Kathleen’s sole intention to aim for the Garryowen. Initially she just wanted to show how the Standardbred is like any other horse, if properly presented. Already successful with Titan Thunder, she now wanted to take another of the breed into the Open rings, and thought James was the perfect horse to do this. However she was initially met with bias, when judges couldn’t see past the neck brand. “We experienced prejudice at certain times, which was very disheartening, especially when it was blatantly obvious” she told Equestrian Life. “But having been involved in showing for close to 15 years, I can say that it is nowhere near as bad as in the past.” Funnily enough Kathleen now finds that James can occasionally be put down in his breed ring for being “too pretty”. She lets this one slide though, as her focus is on the Open rings and knows that other breeds, such as the Warmblood have also experienced the same fate. “Warmblood’s used to be heavier, but over time have been bred to the lighter types we see now and as a result are finding significant success in the Open Hack rings.”


MF Hollywood

MF Hollywood at the Summer Royal 2013 ©Kathleen Mullan


She now dreams of the day when the Standardbred is as popular and competitive in the Open ring as the Thoroughbreds and Riding Ponies. “It’s what my journey is all about, gaining acceptance of the Standardbred as a performance horse at the highest level. And encouraging other owners to get out there and compete.”


An offhand comment about what would be the pinnacle for a Standardbred in the show ring, brought the Garryowen to her mind. Having never thought she would have a horse (or the funds) of the calibre that is required for the most prestigious class at the Royal Melbourne Show, she referred to it as “one of those things you would do if you won the lotto”.



MF Hollywood

“People have slowly started to realise that the old style Standardbred is fading, and influence from US stallions have given us a horse that is of a lighter, more athletic build.” Says Kathleen ©Kathleen Mullan


But the idea grew, with plenty of support from Harness Racing Australia, Harness Racing Victoria and the Standardbred Pleasure and Performance Horse Association of Victoria. “I am so humbled that I am in the position to hopefully bring a breed I have grown up with, and dedicated a good portion of my life to, to the biggest possible stage and prove that these horses do have a place in the Equestrian world, outside the race track.”


Kathleen knows that she could not make this journey without the help and support of her wonderful sponsors Harness Racing Australia (Standardbreds Unharnessed), Harness Racing Victoria, SPPHAV, Harness Breeders NSW, VHRSC, Equine Performance, Aylesbury Lodge, Patrician Park, Willowhip NZ and Equine Opulence Browbands.


If you would like to help Kathleen and James make it to the Garryowen, then please click here and enter a raffle, with proceeds going to the pair.


©Equestrian Life

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