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Never ask why did it happen to me

Dressage rider David Shoobridge talks to CANDIDA BAKER, HORSE VIBES MAGAZINE, about surviving the most difficult year of his life, his Pony Club dad role, and his new young superstar of the future.

It’s possibly a little unfair to remind David Shoobridge, who is busy telling me that his greatest desire is to breed horses with a good temperament - as well as talent of course - that he once thought that temperament wasn’t even a factor to consider.

He laughs. “I suppose you would call it the evolution of oneself,” he says. “Yes, I was that person. I was that person who wanted to breed that horse, with legs that could reach the sky. Now I want to breed a horse that’s so easy it makes it look as if I ride brilliantly.”

Not that he needs much help in the riding brilliantly department to be honest. This 6’3” son of Tasmanian farming parents makes dressage riding look oh so elegant and graceful. David, the owner of the international stallion agency, Waterview Park and now his own brand, David Shoobridge Pty Ltd, shot to prominence with the imported KWPN stallion, 00 Seven, winning a number of prestigious Grand Prix Competitions, with the pair establishing themselves as one of Australia’s most successful combinations in the world of FEI dressage. In 2013 he was ranked 85 in the FEI World Ranking top 100, placing him ahead of all other Australian-based combinations.

Agent de Jeu, 00 Seven’s son, is now making headlines himself. As well as competing and running his breeding programme David is in high demand as a trainer and coach, and after five minutes conversation with him it’s not hard to understand why he’s so popular. He’s friendly, easy-going and informative, qualities which make him remarkably easy to interview.

At the moment David is setting up his relatively new 40-acre property at Lancefield, near Hanging Rock in Victoria. “It’s a property in development,” he says. “But I’ve put in an amazing arena, with ten post and rail paddocks, with 1.60m high posts, three rails fitted and two stand-offs with equirope on the inside, truly super fencing. Not much chance a dressage horse will jump out of those. I grow my own hay, I have 20 acres with horses on it, and 20 acres for hay. It’s a lot of feeding, but I manage the diets well. All the young horses and broodmares live in herds, and I currently have five broodmares and five young/ growing horses, then the stallions and riding horses separately, of course, and

I have three stables, which I’m currently extending, for my horses that are in work.”

But there’s another thing, on top of his busy life of competing, coaching and running his business – and that’s being a full-time Dad to his daughter

Annabel, and it’s what brings us into the background of what David describes as: "The most difficult year of my life.”

He’d been separated from his wife, Annabel’s mother, the noted rider and veterinarian, Amanda Shoobridge, for a while when she suddenly died of bacterial meningitis while she was on a visit to London mid last July, and the tragedy was hard to deal with.

“David Mckinnon was staying at my place the night it happened,” he says. “David, Annabel and I travelled to Mount Buller with some wonderful friends for a day trip on Sunday 22nd July. We’d had a great trip, had skied hard, arrived home exhausted, put Annabel to bed before following suit soon after. At about 10pm my phone rang… but I was asleep…

so it didn’t register or wake me the first time… but it rang again, and then again.

David with his nine-year- old daughter


I woke and answered it. It was Amanda’s mother telling me the devastating and life changing news. I couldn’t believe it at first, it just wouldn’t sink in. I broke down in total disbelief. Dealing with tragedy is hard enough, but then having to tell your daughter that her mum had died was excruciating. We were dealing with our separation, and on top of that my mum had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and I’d been travelling backwards and forwards to Tasmania as a matter of priority. It was a really tough time, in the space of six months I lost my mother, my ex-wife and mother of my child, I had to start again with my business, and it’s been a huge struggle to remain positive and focussed.”... a lot of people have bad parents for a long time, and she was lucky enough to have a great mum for a short amount of time.


It was his mother’s parting words to him that have helped him stay strong. “She said to me, ‘never say why did this happen to us, or that it’s not fair. I don’t want you to have any self-pity.’ I think her attitude really helped me. A lot of people would ask, ‘why me?’ But these important lessons resonate. Having an inflated sense of entitlement will always hold you back. You have to grab life, don’t be ungrateful, be strong enough to deal with these terrible things when they happen. You have to accept that you might have a crash every now and then, but the sun gets up in the morning, and every day is a new day.”

But there’s been a lot of grief to process during the year, particularly nurturing Annabel through the loss of her mother. “I’ve said to Annabel that a lot of people have bad parents for a long time, and she was lucky enough to have a great mum for a short amount of time,” he says. “I tell her what my mum said to me, never ask why did it happen to me… just work hard to reflect on all the wonderful things our life has given us. She’s nine, and she’s into horses and attends Pony Club… so that makes me a Pony Club dad! She has a lesson once a week from her ‘proper’ instructor Claire Thomas, is busy with swimming training, running club, piano lessons, and netball. Of course on top of this, there’s the fairly hectic social life of a nine year old to keep up with too! We are both really, really busy!!”

Logistics, David says, are the key to making it all work. “On days when my Dad is with us, he’ll feed up and I’ll clean the stables. I then go inside and get Annabel up and ready for school. I come back and ride until late morning and teach in the afternoon. Luckily I have

a wonderful assistant, Emma Beaton, who started working for me this year.

On Monday afternoon I don’t teach so I can do swimming training with Annabel, Tuesday is her lesson at home, Wednesday I’m coaching at Boneo Park, so generally ‘Papa’ (Tony, my father) does the school pick-up. You just have to be efficient,” he says with what I’ve already come to recognize as a fierce determination to make it all work.

That fierce determination was already in evidence when he was 14, and taking his first competition horse to his first professional lesson away from home. The horse simply refused to get on the float, but never one to be put off, he rode him the 20-kilometres to the session with Sue Chandler, who was then Tasmanian based and a big influence on David’s early education.

That first clinic though, had a very strong emphasis on float training – a skill and lesson that still resonates today.

It wasn’t until he was a late teenager that dressage began to be of interest to him, until then it was definitely not on the radar. “I enjoyed hooning around the farm on the family horses,” he says cheerfully. “From that I really got into Hunter Trials, which I loved. I couldn’t fathom how on earth anybody could remember a dressage test, or why they would even want to!”

He was fortunate that the ‘farm’ was a 2,225 hectare property in the beautiful Derwent Valley that gave him plenty of chance to exercise his ‘hooning’ skills, and his background as an all-rounder is part, perhaps, of his easy look on a horse.

He’s one of those riders who seems to be so at one with his horse, that they flow effortlessly into each other. Not that there were any special facilities, or special help in the early days. “My big envy was of anybody who had an arena,” he says. “I just couldn’t believe how lucky people were to have one. I had a riding area that I now envy in hindsight. It was a wonderful flood irrigated grass arena surrounded with old established Poplar trees, a year-round running creek and English oaks. As a teenager I took it all for granted, but now, having spent years developing properties, it’s retrospectively appreciated!!”

Part, of course, of his ‘making it’, is the extraordinary breeding programme started by he and Amanda, and their decision to import quality stallions, in order to use mainly live semen (although he does import frozen semen as well). I ask the inevitable question about how to breed a quality horse, and I’m given an intensive course in how to think about breeding.

“Let’s start with the obvious,” he says. “In our minds, we all want to manifest this ‘ideal’ foal, this ‘ideal’ riding horse for our discipline. But what are our ingredients? Look closely at your foundation ingredients. You don’t want to knock down a fibro shack, and put a million dollar house on old foundations – it might look great until the cracks start showing. The same applies with breeding performance horses. If you’re going to breed, or you’re buying a horse, look at the mare line, have the manifestation of the horse you want in your mind, focus on the end goal. As cute as foals are, there’s no point breeding foals you can’t ride.”

David believes social media has a lot to answer for in Australia’s current over-breeding craze. “People want that instant dopamine hit of satisfaction.

They fall in love with a foal on social media, and the foal sells from the photo. But dressage isn’t about fads, or having the latest and greatest. You might breed a great looking horse, but will it be forgiving if you work it only three days a week, and will it be sound if you work it six days a week? Define the fit and style of horse for the person you are, or the person you are breeding for.”

His stallion partnership with 00 Seven began somewhat unconventionally when he and Amanda did exactly what he tells everybody not to do, and bought him in 2012 sight unseen. “I sourced him from his breeder, Isabel Van Gisbergen through Emmy de Jeu, he says, “and until he landed in quarantine I hadn’t set eyes on him. Not something I recommend! But it worked. The rest, as it’s been said, is history”


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