The sleepy coastal village of Bawley Point is set to become an international equestrian mecca.
Rider Brett Parbery said the Australian dressage scene was not strong enough – yet.
“I believe in our riders. I believe in our coaches. I believe in the horses we have here,” he said.
“We don’t have that very top level (of competition) to strive for, but we can create that. We just need to bring the intensity.”
Parbery has relocated his team of horses to Willinga Park, the award winning equestrian centre developed by Terry Snow on the NSW south coast.
Snow said Parbery helped develop the centre “from the beginning”.
“I was talking to Brett about stock horses, and we started talking about the situation here at Willinga Park, the things I should be addressing," Snow said.
“Brett’s held my hand all the way through.”
Parbery wasn’t always a dressage rider. He grew up with stockhorses and competed in campdrafting and rodeo.
“I was happy being a cowboy but I couldn't win a medal doing that,” he said.
Only three equestrian sports are included in the Olympics: dressage, showjumping and eventing.
“I did also look at showjumping and eventing,” Parbery said.
“I guess the dressage work came a bit easier to me: I was brought up with the idea that dressage is the key to all training – when you open a gate, you are using dressage principles.”
Parbery said the precision required in the dressage arena was far removed from the adrenaline of the rodeo chute, but there were similarities.
“In campdrafting or showjumping the prompt is external; a good horse responds to the cow or the jump rail,” he said.
“In dressage, like buckjumpers, the only prompt is the rider.
“That is the challenge.”
Parbery is better placed than ever to rise to that challenge.
“Up until now, most my time has been spent running a business – making dollars – and only then spent on improving,” he said.
“Now, with the facilities here and a wage from Terry, all my focus is on getting better.”
Getting better means having other riders visit to train and compete, and international judges hold clinics at the facility.
“We have to make this the place where people come to find excellence,” Parbery said.
Getting better also means having another pair of eyes on the ground.
“Two minds are better than one, and I need another rider in the arena,” Parbery said.
“David McKinnon is an old employee of mine – we’ll bring him back into the fold.”
Parbery will also assist with Snow’s Willinga Park stockhorse stud.
“I grew up on a stockhorse stud ... I have spent as much time with stockhorses as I have with dressage,” Parbery said
“I am looking forward to reconnecting with that.”
Parbery said stockhorses were no longer competitive at the highest levels of ‘straight’ dressage, but Australia could look to it’s equine heritage for the sport of eventing – which includes three phases; dressage, cross-country jumping, and stadium jumping.
“What you get with the stockhorse is a great brain – very trainable,” he said.
Parbery said the dressage component of eventing was increasingly technical.
“The fancier moving warmbloods can score well, but technical correctness is where the stockhorse can gain extra points; accurate and no mistakes,” he said.
“Across country, a good nimble horse bred out of a stockhorse mare – one with a bit more thoroughbred – by a jumping stallion should not be ruled out.
“That could be a strength for Australia.”
Parbery said Australia’s elite riders needed to keep looking at different ways to get a competitive edge, but Willinga Park wasn’t only about the top ten per cent.
“We’ll have different ways to involve the local community – things like night-time masterclasses, rider retreats, visiting judges, and clinics,” he said.
“The area has been a little bit starved of this kind of stuff.”
Parbery ruled out giving one-on-one lessons: “that just isn’t time efficient for me, although we will certainly staff here to do that.”
Snow said he hoped to attract top-class riders from showjumping and eventing to make their base at Willinga Park in the near future.
“Dressage, showjumping, eventing, yes. And campdrafting, endurance riding, maybe even barrel racing – I developed this facility for everybody,” Snow said.
“I’ll do what’s necessary to attract high-performance riders to train here and use these fabulous facilities.
“The Australian Sports Commission scrubbed dressage from funding because they said there was no prospect of a gold medal.
“I think there is.”
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.