As orange as her own hair and with the same bright personality, the striking and elegant Monsoon stormed into Aukje van Vark’s life to prove that with horses - as in life - it never rains, it pours. Originally from the Netherlands, Aukje moved to Australia with her husband and three daughters in search of opportunities to reconnect with nature; in the way others born in this astounding continent take for granted. Space, lifestyle and better weather to enjoy them were top of their list.
At 17, most young women are completing their final years at high school; filled with big ideas and grand plans for their careers, and the start of their adult lives. But, for Agnes, at just 17 years of age, she was coming to terms with the possibility she would never be able to stand up or walk again. The result of three diseases that had progressively affected her body since birth, leading to Agnes having to adapt her life to reliance on a wheelchair and a manual hand-controlled motor vehicle for mobility.
Endurance riding has long been one of my ambitions, so when I saw there was a 10km training ride on offer a short float ride away from the paddock, I decided it was too good an opportunity to let pass. Ten kilometres would be no big deal for Dante as far as distance went, so the event would provide an opportunity to expose him to an occasion with dozens of other horses, the vet ring and all the attendant excitement. I convinced my daughter to come along as well and ride old Floss, who we knew would be calm and steady - a good support for Dante on his first big outing.
Featured on our front cover this month is a beautiful photo of Laura Mitton and her horse ‘Graphic Design’ - aka Nelson - taken by Averil Crebbin of Picture the Moment Photography. Laura is an up-and-coming showjumper - eager to find her way and carve her name into the horse industry; keen for a taste of the big jumps and for the chance to compete at international level in Europe.
I woke up and looked out the back of the float on a misty morning, with Dante looking at me over the fence of his yard a few metres away. It was the first day of the Carlos Tabernaberri clinic and we’d travelled down to Denmark, on Western Australia’s south coast, for it the day before. I went about my morning tasks full of nervous anticipation. It would be the first time I’d had Dante under saddle in a setting like this, with multiple other unknown horses and riders.
Featured on our cover this month are Tanya McDermott and her Standardbred trotter Kyvalley Mac (better known as Noddy), photographed by Louise Sedgman. A long and passionate defender of Standardbred welfare, Tanya is manager of Harness Racing Victoria’s Harness Education and Re-homing Opportunities (HERO) program which, since 2015, has been creating positive pathways for Standardbreds exiting the racing environment.
I snuggled down into my sleeping bag in my swag, lying on the floor of the float, with the tail gate down so I could look out and see Dante in his yard, munching hay in the moonlight. It had been quite a journey to get here, not just the five and a half hour trip we’d made that day, but the week leading up to the day as well.
Featured on our cover this month is a beautiful photograph by Olya Tutova of Marlene Holohan and her Appaloosa mare, Moonshine Jinxy Minx. A mare who is better known as ‘The Dragon’ for her larger-than-life personality and for having “an opinion about everything”, according to her owner.
It has been nearly ten years since Kari Fulmek and Carolyn Charles first set up their equine assisted learning business, Equine Connection. “It was three years at least of crying and overspending, and really bashing our heads against brick walls,” Carolyn says. “But, you don’t really bash your head against walls unless you know: this is a goer,” interjects Jane. Both women are speaking to me from Willowwood Stables, the home of Jane Hemingway-Mohr and the base of her equestrian business in the northern suburbs of Sydney.
Honestly, I didn’t mean to. I had no intention of buying a young horse. Having come to horse ownership in middle age, I was happy with my 18 year old mare, Floss. But, when my riding buddy Helen asked me to go with her on a six hour return journey to look at a yearling she was vaguely thinking of buying, I didn’t hesitate. Helen and I had spent many hours out riding our mares, both in their late teens (unlike us) and both with some issues (possibly like us), talking about what sort of horse would appeal to us when our mares really were too old.