Hayley’s Crusade A Family Affair

They say blood is thicker than water but when Hayley Robl and her mum Elaine saddle up for the One Star event at Denman Horse Trials this weekend, family ties will be left in the float.

“Of course I’m going to try and beat her,” Hayley said with a cheeky smile.

At just 14 years of age Hayley has already shown great talent for riding. Born to jockey parents Peter and Elaine Robl, Hayley was on the back of a horse before she could walk.

Hayley and her Mum Elaine on their off the track thoroughbreds.

“One day when she was a toddler I turned my back for a second and she was off to the thoroughbred paddock,” Elaine said. “There was no stopping her back then and nothing has changed since!”

At age 8 Hayley followed her mum into eventing.

“I was doing a one day event at Christine Bates’ property at Wilberforce and Hayley was walking the course with me,” Elaine said. “She was looking around then turned to me and said Mum I think I can do this. I want to have a go.”

Hayley started doing clinics with Christine and became a member of the Hills District Pony Club. It wasn’t long before she was jumping 45cm courses and falling more in love with the sport with every ride. As Hayley’s skills increased so too did her need for a horse which she could take through the grades. Elaine was retraining an off the track thoroughbred named Jade Crusader which had been given to her by Warwick Farm trainer Bruce Cross. She’d put the horse over some jumps during his racing career in an effort to get the best out of him but after five starts and nothing better than 6th it was clear he wasn’t going to make it as a racehorse. Elaine made sure he was safe before letting Hayley have her first ride of him. At the time he was aged 4 and Hayley aged 10.

Hayley and her friend Scarlett competing in the OTTB Pairs event in Canberra this month.

“I was a little bit unsure at first but I got on and that was it,” Hayley said. “First we walked then trotted then cantered and he was great. I yelled out Mum I love him!”

From that moment Jade Crusader was Hayley’s. She renamed him Lucky Decision for competition and Elvis for around the stables and worked him at every opportunity. They won their first event together at Berrima Horse Trials and the ribbons kept coming.

“It’s been so much fun learning together and Elvis tries his heart out, even on the days when he thinks it’s all too hard,” Hayley said.

Last month Hayley and Elvis won their first One Star event at Gundagai. They finished second in the dressage and first in both the showjumping and cross country, coming out on top of the overall rankings. Mum Elaine, who also rides an off the track thoroughbred named Pirellone, finished 4th overall in the same class but she didn’t mind.

“If anyone was going to beat me I’m glad it was her,” Elaine said. “It was her shout for dinner on the way home that night!”

Hayley and retired racehorse Jade Crusader have formed a solid team.

While Elaine and Hayley will be up against each other again at Denman Horse Trials this weekend, the challenge of the course is what Hayley is focused on.

“The cross country will be especially hard as it’s very open and windy,” Hayley said. “I’m hoping for a top 5 finish. Top 3 would be even better. It’s a really fun event to go though and I am looking forward to a fun weekend away from any school work!

“I do feel lucky to have a horse and be able to go out and do so much with him. Living near the city, not many of my friends have horses. It’s great to have parents I can turn to when I need some direction and advice with the horses. I’m really grateful.”

After Denman Hayley will give Elvis a break before beginning preparations for the Australian Interschool Championships in October.

“My aim is to be schooling Two Star by the end of the year.”

Elaine’s Tower Of Strength Worth Waiting For

Whether they admit it or not trackwork riders always have a favourite horse and for Elaine Robl in late 2017 it was Pirellone. The then three-year-old gelding was a sweetheart, a nice mover and did everything with ease, but with a record of ten starts and not a single place Elaine knew his days as a racehorse were numbered. He’d already been moved from Gabby Englebrecht’s Sydney stables down to Robert and Luke Price’s establishment on the South Coast when owner Shane Duff from Mad About Racing asked Elaine if she wanted him in retirement.

Kathy O’Hara pilots Pirellone to his one and only win. Credit: Bradley Photos.

“I didn’t’ have to think about it,” Elaine said. “I thought he’d be suitable for eventing and I missed riding him. Shane told me that Pirellone was going to have one more start at Nowra so I offered to go down and pick him up straight from the track.”

On Monday 15th January 2018 Elaine hitched the float onto her car and set off for Shoalhaven City Turf Club. She watched as Pirellone was sent out a $14 chance in the 2200m BM55 Handicap on a heavy track and couldn’t believe her eyes when he bolted in by more than three lengths.

“I called Shane again and he said we can’t sack him now so I had to go home without him,” Elaine said with a laugh.

She didn’t have to wait too long to bring him home though. He put in another three lacklustre runs and was formally retired less than two months later after pulling up with cardiac arrhythmia at Kembla Grange.

Elaine and Pirellone are already competing in One Star eventing.

“I gave him a little break before I started training him,” Elaine said. “My friend Kathy (O’Hara) helped me set up some grids and little jumps. He’s very trainable and always tries his hardest once he understands what you’re asking him to do.”

Elaine and Pirellone’s first outing together was a dressage competition at Camden. They placed 5th in one of their tests but it was the way Pirellone handled himself that impressed Elaine the most.

“The weather was horrendous that day,” she said. “It was blowing a gale but he was so well behaved and he just handled it all. Shane came to watch him that day too.”

Since then Elaine and Pirellone have attended dozens of competitions and continued to improve each time. They’re already competing at One Star eventing and over the weekend they placed 3rd in the Young Horse 1.10m category at the Camden Winter Showjumping Festival.

Shane’s daughters Tahlia and Ashley have become Pirellone & Elaine’s cheer squad.

“He’s a super jumper,” Elaine said. “He jumps out of his skin.”

As a former jockey herself and the wife of jockey-turned-trainer Peter Robl, Elaine is committed to equine welfare and is proud to have been giving retired racehorses a new career for more than 20 years.

“I’ve always had horses off the track,” she said. “I love playing around with them and re-educating them. The Thoroughbred is naturally athletic and such a versatile breed. If you find the right one for the right person you can do anything.”

Finding a suitable home for each retired racehorse is a priority for Shane Duff too.

“We only buy one or two horses each year and they’re raced by close friends and family so they’re almost like a pet to us,” he said. “It’s great to know Pirellone is loved and stimulated in his new home. We get out to watch him whenever we can. My girls love him.”


Crafty Vixen Conquers Coona

Only a few months after driving more than 600kms to watch Winx’s fairy tale final race, 16-year-old Holly Turnbull wrote her own fairy tale when competing in the prestigious six-bar event at the North West Equestrian Expo otherwise known as ‘Coona’!

Holly & Crafty Vixen soaring at Coona. Photo credit: Lisa Gordon.

‘Coona’ is the largest interschool event in Australia and has been running for 25 years. The expo attracts an average of 600 riders and 700 horses each June to compete in various disciplines including showjumping, dressage, polocrosse, hacking and sporting. The competitors take on other school teams over the five days which concludes with a closing ceremony and overall points tally.

An accomplished polocrosse rider, Turnbull had no expectations of success when she entered the six-bar at Coona with her off-the-track thoroughbred Crafty Vixen – a 13-year-old mare bought for just $300 by her mother Rosie who’d seen her run last in a three-horse race at Coonamble years previously. While Rosie bought the mare as her own project and never intended for her daughter to take the mount, that changed a few years after they purchased her.

“After about three years in the paddock, I told mum I wanted to ride her and we just started from there,” Holly said. “Mum worked on her and I took her to Pony Camp and took her other places and she was good. I was about 11 when I started riding her. I love horses and they are my passion, so put me on anything and I’ll ride it.”

As a boarder at Calrossy Anglican School in Tamworth, Holly’s riding time with Crafty Vixen was limited leading into Coona and she relied on her mother doing flatwork with the mare back home in Quambone. While they knew she was a good jumper, they had no idea just how successful she would be when they entered the class.

Holly is all smiles after her impressive win.

“I haven’t jumped her since last year,” Holly said. “She’s only been in for about three weeks’ work; my mum did flat work while I was away at school and that was it. I had no expectations at all. I thought I was going to be out at 1m because that was all I’ve ever done on her and then all of a sudden we were at 1.25m and then 1.35m. I thought we’d knock at 1.35m so I thought I’d just ride it and see what we’d do. I just tried to do the best for my horse and when I went over the fence, everyone was cheering. It was crazy, it was an incredible feeling. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.”

Competing against more than 100 other riders, Holly and Crafty Vixen were the only pair to go clear through all five rounds with the fence in the final round set at 1.35m. Their victory came just a month and a half after Holly found plenty of inspiration watching Winx run in her final race, a victory she won’t soon forget.

“We drove nearly seven hours from Quambone to Sydney to watch Winx,” she said. “I was with my mum and dad and one of my sisters flew down from the Gold Coast; it was my first time at Randwick and the atmosphere was crazy. It is an amazing complex and it was an experience I will never forget. I used to always want to be a jockey when I was younger and I’m even more motivated after watching that.”

While Holly plans on studying Psychology at university, she is currently toying with the thought of spending her gap year in the racing industry.