The curtain came down on the 20th anniversary of EQUITANA Melbourne in the most fitting of ways . . . with the crowning of the IRT All Star The Way Of The Horse champ of champs.
Bruce O’Dell edged out a true all-star field to take the supreme award but it was a hard-fought battle to the end between him, Ken Faulkner, Adam Sutton and Kiwi Tui Teka.
Bruce had first choice of the unhandled youngsters on the opening day of the competition and quickly snapped up the only gelding amongst them, leaving the three others with mares...
“I did wonder after that first day whether I should have chosen him though,” said Bruce of MCM Kubla Khan. “He had zero attention span, but the second day things improved and we made some good progress. These are young horses – they switch on and off.”
He thanked his fellow competitors and his wife Jane. “This is a cracking little horse,” he said of the liver chestnut. “He will have a good future.”
Bruce did nothing special to prepare for TWOTH – aside from working everyday as he does with horse of all shapes and sizes.
“It is such an honour to win this,” he said. “Everyone did a fantastic job out there – they are all very good horsemen.”
The trainers spent just four hours over the four days with their young horses and all of it in front of an audience hanging on to their every word and watching every movement.
Judges horsemanship star presenter Stacy Westfall, eventing Olympian Chris Burton and dressage star Pedro Torres faced a tough task with each of the handlers showing exceptional skill.
All three highlighted how special TWOTH was for showcasing just how special horses are and what can be achieved using the right methods. Through the final, the horsemen introduced their young horses to the fullness of the big arena and took them through various obstacles.
TWOTH organiser Sandi Simons was thankful she wasn’t a judge. “I couldn’t call it, it was just neck and neck all the way,” she said. “They really highlighted why they are professional trainers and how far they got with these horses was just outstanding. It showed how good the Morgan horses are as a breed.”
And she is promising much for next year’s EQUITANA Auckland and the following year’s Melbourne event.
The McDowells Australian Brumby Challenge proved a rather moving and emotional reminder of both the fragility of Australia’s wild horses and their exceptional nature, kindness and trainability. Flinders Greentree, who at 15 was the youngest in the ridden section, headed home a hotly-contested field, winning all three rounds.
Twenty-three trainers spent 150 days with their Brumbies, transforming them and then showcasing those talents at EQUITANA. The challenge was split into two sections – youth for yearling aged Brumbies and trainers from 10-14 who present their horses in hand only and the ridden class.
“It is amazing,” said Flinders, “especially being the youngest.” He was so dedicated was he to ensuring he gave VBA Brandy the best chance of winning, he opted to home school, allowing him to work full time with the Brumby.
“She is a beautiful girl and very special,” he said. “She has a lovely nature.”
While many of the Brumbies were auctioned at the end of the challenge, Flinders will be keeping Brandy.
Judge Vicki Wilson said the Brumby Challenge was a completely different ballgame to working with any horse born on a property.
“This is a wild animal and everyone has made such progress with their horses,” she said.
Organiser Colleen O’Brien was rapt with the challenge. “It is an emotional time for many,” she said. “There is something so special about this.”
The challenge included a number of family groups of horses, including one of three generations.
Things had come a long way since the challenge was launched in 2014 when Colleen had written to 68 trainers and received just one reply which was no. Now she gets applications from twice as many trainers as can be involved.
The last freestyle of the challenge featured costumes to props, flags and whips and more. No effort was spared as the trainers did their best to impress before judges Vicki and David Simons.
Charlie’s Angel reigned supreme in the Wintech Sporting Horse Championship, with Rodney Peachy and Gunner Reload winning the EQUITANA Australian Open Reining Champion crown, just ahead of Scott Burnett aboard Smokin’ Sherriff.
Nearly 40,000 people have poured through the gates at the Melbourne Showgrounds for the 20th anniversary of EQUITANA Melbourne. Plans are already well underway for the next one to be held in Auckland in 2019, followed by Melbourne in 2020.
Breed Showcase Finale: Champion Southern Cross Caledonian Dragon owned by Misty Park Clydesdale Stud and bred by Southern Cross Shires. Reserve: Tyranook Steelydan – HSH owned by Cassidy Fry and bred by KA McMaster. Australian Stock Horse Society.
Wintec Sporting Horse Champion: Charlie’s Angel. Reserve: Devil in Disguise and Shazam.