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The Pioneer of Penny Hill Park

The 6YO Young Dressage Horse Champion at DJWTS, Penny Hill Park Sophia - © Amy-Sue Alston

The 6YO Young Dressage Horse Champion at DJWTS, Penny Hill Park Sophia, with (L-R) PSI’s Francois Kasselmann, Steve James, owner Michelle James and rider Emma Hayward.

© Amy-Sue Alston


A colt and mare classifier for the AWHA, Michelle James knows a thing or two about selecting good breeding stock and has been involved in Warmblood breeding, judging and classifying since 1991.

During the early '90s, the mention of frozen semen would have been met with blank stares in many Australian equestrian circles. But not with Michelle; her Warmblood stud, Penny Hill Park, did one of the first frozen semen breeds in Western Australia back in 1996.

“It was Weltmeyer semen that I used and I had a horse that I competed over here (in WA) to Advanced level that we bred. So, we’ve been breeding with frozen semen forever,” says Michelle. That first use of frozen semen in the mid-'90s was via International Horse Breeders (IHB), a supplier that is still going strong today. Although Michelle has used a number of suppliers over the years, IHB have certainly been her primary breeding partner.

Michelle has bred some very successful horses at Penny Hill Park, with her most recent dressage star being Penny Hill Park Sophia – the 6YO Young Dressage Horse Champion at this year’s Dressage & Jumping With The Stars (DJWTS). Penny Hill Park Sophia was bred via IHB and is by Sir Donnerhall out of a Weltruhm mare by the name of Carrington Park Wenona. A striking black/brown mare, Sophia wowed the crowds and clearly impressed the guest judge and rider, Frederic Wandres of Germany.

So when it comes to breeding a mare like Sophia, what does Michelle consider? “I assess the genotype and the phenotype, so I’m looking at the pedigree, and I’m looking at the type of the horse and the mechanics of the paces,” she explains. “Then what I’ll be inclined to do is to try and double up on the strengths but also try and address any weaknesses in the dam or sire, and I always breed for rideability. I always use the highest rideability stallions in the world because I’ve ridden to Grand Prix myself and trained with Harry Boldt, and I know that the horses really need to have that rideability to really dig in to do the work you need them to do; they need to be happy partners with their riders and the rideability is paramount.”


Penny Hill Park Sophia’s victory lap with Emma Hayward - © Amy-Sue Alston

Penny Hill Park Sophia’s victory lap with Emma Hayward.

© Amy-Sue Alston


Sophia’s rideability certainly shone through at DJWTS, an event where this attribute is tantamount to success. Sophia handled the big atmosphere incredibly well for a young horse, with Michelle explaining that she “actually got better every day”. “On the Monday, at the judges’ clinic she was extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary, and we had the most amazing feedback on her,” beams Michelle.

Michelle had confidence in the mare’s ability, however, with young horses you can never be 100% sure how they will go on the day.

“We have had Stephen Clarke judge her and she got over 80% with him in the six-year-old class in Western Australia, and so we knew that she would do well. It’s very exciting that she won and by such a huge margin.”

What makes Sophia’s win even more remarkable is the fact that she had to make the trip across the Nullarbor from WA. Being a young horse, it was the first time she’d ever been on a big interstate trip. “It’s a huge exercise to bring horses to the east. It requires a lot of detailed planning in relation to their health and wellbeing in particular,” explains Michelle. She says that Combined Horse Transport and Wayne Kiely made the trip as smooth as it could be and were a huge support. “Their service was over and above." 

Sophia shared the three-day trip with stablemate Penny Hill Park Sahara (Sir Donnerhall, out of the Anamour mare Kalimna Andromeda), another mare bred with IHB semen who competed at DJWTS in the 5YO Young Dressage Horse class. Unfortunately Sahara was — like many — a little bit affected by the thunderstorm in the indoor on the Saturday; however, she managed to win the Consolation Final with a very good score on the outdoor arenas the next day.


Emma Hayward and Penny Hill Park Sahara - © Amy-Sue Alston

Emma Hayward and Penny Hill Park Sahara.

© Amy-Sue Alston


When it comes to training and competing young horses, there’s always a number of people who contribute to a horse’s success. “I’m so grateful to all the people that helped us – especially Adam Reiss, who is fantastic. He’s also a dressage and young horse judge who helps Emma (Emma Hayward, Sophia’s rider) and warmed her up for all the competitions at DJWTS,” explains Michelle.

Michelle is no stranger to success with her Warmbloods. She has three State Champions in WA from three entries. Sophia is also Dressage Horse of the Year for Western Australia and Penny Hill Park Sahara is the current State Young Dressage Horse Champion with scores well over 80% from renowned judge, Stephen Clarke.

Over the next few years, Michelle has some big plans for the lovely Sophia. As a qualified Artificial Insemination Technician, Michelle plans to flush embryos from her and keep her as a working girl. “She loves her work and we’ll continue to breed from her via ET (embryo transfer),” says Michelle.

A big congratulations to Michelle and the team at Penny Hill Park on their success at this year’s Dressage and Jumping With The Stars. We look forward to seeing Sophia and Sahara out and about competing in the future!





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