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’!
‘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.
“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.