THE BARRETT FAMILY CIRCLE

THE BARRETT FAMILY CIRCLE

Regulars on the eventing circuit since the early ‘90s, Prue and Craig Barrett have made their mark in the competition arena, as well as coaching, training and breeding. With sons Oliver and Jesper now picking up the reins, heading out to competitions is a family affair.

Prue Barrett, nee Cribb, grew up in a horsey family in Bundaberg and was in the saddle before she could walk; her equestrian history would require a book to cover in adequate detail! Her mother, Jennifer Cribb, was an exceptional horsewoman who gave Prue and her sisters, Felicity and Margery, a grounding that would hold them in good stead for a life in the saddle. “I was pretty fortunate growing up in that environment,” says Prue. Horse management and stable management were skills learnt very early on, balanced with Sunday afternoons spent swimming the ponies at the local beach. “We had a pretty good horsey lifestyle, growing up in Queensland!”

Jennifer Cribb was introduced to horses through her father, Charles Young, who established Barolin Pony Stud and was heavily involved in the early beginnings of the Australian Pony breed. A keen showjumper who travelled the east coast competing in the 1950s and 60s, Jennifer bred Connemara ponies when Prue and her sisters were growing up, with the view to developing performance types. “Apart from the Connemara ponies, she started with a station bred thoroughbred stallion, Harry Lime, who was bred by the well known showjumper Alan Williams from Nebo. Harry was a beautiful horse who we all rode and he sired Felicity’s Carmody St, who competed at Badminton, Burghley and the World Games in 1994. She was a little bit ahead of her time… she bred to the original warmblood stallions that came out, like Monopol, Wesuw and Lander,” says Prue. In addition to the success of Carmody St, another of Jennifer’s homebred horses went on to compete at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney.

Prue and Navarone competing at The Hague, 1994.

“I’ve always
liked to be the
dark horse.”

Craig on Sandhills Brillaire at Adelaide, 2014.

Craig on Staccato at Melbourne, 2011. © Roz Neave

Prue’s introduction to eventing came about as her mother’s way of getting the girls to take an interest in dressage. “She (Jennifer) was always really keen on the jumping because of her background, but she saw it was a weakness not having a good dressage grounding… she was very interested in the training and philosophy of it.” Prue and her sisters competed in eventing through the Pony Club where their mother was chief instructor, and for Prue and Felicity in particular, it eventually became their discipline of choice.

Following high school and via a stint in the local bank and as a nanny, Prue made her way to Heath and Rozzie Ryan’s centre at Lochinvar where horses quickly became her career. “I went to Heath and Rozzie’s and I was as happy as a pig in mud. I just couldn’t believe that you could do that full-time!” says Prue.

Craig’s story is a little different, as he grew up in a non-horsey family. He explains that it all started when his family moved from Sydney to Coffs Harbour for his father’s work. “They bought 10 acres just north of Coffs Harbour, and bought a pony off racehorse trainer and Welsh Mountain Pony breeder Ken Campbell,” recalls Craig. “I’m not sure how we managed, but we used to just get a horse float, get the horse on the float, and get to Pony Club. I don’t know why we kept doing it, just quietly, because I was fairly useless!” he laughs. “I’d be the one on the outside of the riding class lapping everybody, because I couldn’t canter slowly… so there weren’t a lot of times where I was called in!”

Luckily for Craig, his Pony Club was into eventing. When the World Championships were at Gawler in 1986, a couple of the Pony Club families flew over to watch; on their return they subsequently started the Nana Glen One-Day Event. A stint of work experience during high school with the Ryans in Lochinvar was a pivotal moment for Craig, and once school was over he moved there. During his first year at Lochinvar Craig bought an ex-racehorse. “I managed to train and sell that horse… it went to America for a fair bit of money in those days, and I thought I was rich! That allowed me to have a bit of independence and so that’s what I wanted to do; I just kept riding, competing and trying to earn a living. And here we are today.”

It was at Ryans where Prue and Craig’s paths crossed. “We worked there for over two years together,” says Craig, “and then went overseas in ’91.” Craig missed Australia and was quick to head home, however, Prue continued her overseas adventure with sister Felicity.

“Craig and I believe that you’re only as good as the horse you’re riding.”

Oliver on Sandhills Special at Sydney, 2017.

“WEG gave me confidence that I must have been doing something right.”

DEFINING MOMENTS

The World Equestrian Games were held at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1994. In what was to become a turning point in her career, Prue made the team alongside Felicity and finished 9th aboard Navarone. “I’ve always liked to be the dark horse,” says Prue of her performance that took many by surprise. “I wouldn’t have put myself out there and said I was going to do that, but if you really pinned me to the ground, I would have told you that’s what was going to happen. WEG gave me confidence that I must have been doing something right and really gave me assurance of my competitive spirit.”

Returning home for a family wedding, Prue joined Craig at his new job, before the pair decided to go into business themselves. Heading to the Hunter Region of NSW, they rented a place near Singleton, before moving into Rockdene Park. The latter was a big old thoroughbred agistment facility that housed many of the top eventers who emerged from that era: Kevin McNab, Chris Burton, Boyd Martin, Lydia Laurence, Claudia Graham and Christine Bates just to name a few.

In 1999, a property down the road by the name of Sandhills came up for sale and this became the base from which the Barretts trained, competed and coached for the next 20 years. Aware that they weren’t going to be able to afford to buy the really good horses they wanted, breeding became part of the parcel at Sandhills.

“We saw the sport changing back in those days… the dressage was always going to become more and more important. So we did try to breed a little bit of dressage and jumping blood into the thoroughbred,” says Craig. Even before settling at Sandhills, Craig was involved in breeding, and it was the second foal from his first ever broodmare that set the tone for the years to come and heavily influenced the eventual Sandhills progeny.

That foal grew up to be the stallion Staccato, a name that is well known amongst the Australian eventing fraternity. Craig says the now-27-year-old was always genuinely really quiet. “He was probably a bit of a fluke; he got the rough end of the draw because we probably weren’t good enough to ride him because he was a better jumper than we were ever used to!” laughs Craig. That said, with Craig in the saddle, Staccato was rated the world’s No. 1 eventing stallion for about three years in a row based on FEI points. Staccato is still going strong and even managed to serve a mare with a positive pregnancy test last season!

It was Staccato who helped give Craig his career-highlight win; his daughter, Sandhills Brillaire — by Staccato out of Sandhills Glimmer, who was by Galverston (Sir Ivor) — was a super horse for Craig and together they won Adelaide four-star (now five-star) in 2014. “She probably should have won Adelaide two years in a row, but I had the last fence down the second year to lose it!” recalls Craig. Staccato has sired plenty of other successful eventers over the years, particularly mares, including Stuart Tinney’s Adelaide winner Panamera and Emma Bishop’s current star Issey Miyake.

“We’re pretty passionate about our breeding program here and producing four or five nice horses per year,” says Prue. “We’ve probably bred the nicest horses we’ve ever bred in the last few years; it might be a bit of shame, as we might be getting too old to ride them at the top level! But they’re pretty amazing. I do all the groundwork now and all our breakers, and I really enjoy that a whole lot more now than I did 20 years ago.”

In addition to elite-level competition careers and a strong interest in breeding, Prue and Craig have both gone on to forge hugely successful coaching careers. Prue was the EA High Performance Director of Eventing for a number of years and coached the Australian team to a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016, while Craig has coached many riders to 4* level. While both teach riders of all levels, they are drawn to and focus on the pre-elite cohort.

“It’s really interesting, the coaching side of it. I think as Australians we don’t culturally value coaches. It’s a bit like we don’t value school teachers sometimes… although I think a few people are valuing them right now!” laughs Prue.

“It’s actually quite a big transition to go from being an elite rider to a coach, because obviously there’s a little bit of kudos with the former and you get quite a lot of recognition. I was the Australian coach for eventing at an Olympic Games, but you’re really very much in the background in that role.” That being said, Prue’s contribution to the sport as a coach has not gone unrecognised; she was awarded Equestrian Australia Coach of the Year in 2016.

“The single biggest difference is, when you’re an elite rider it’s all about you and your horse,” says Prue. “As a coach, it is actually nothing about you; it’s all about the person you’re coaching. I think that’s why it’s sometimes difficult for people to transition from one to the other. We’re really fortunate because Craig and I have each other to bounce things off. We’ve been able to be each other’s mentors along the coaching journey.”

Coaching has delivered many highlights over the years, as both Prue and Craig love to see their students succeed. “The highlight is when someone understands what you’re saying, and they get results and they are as passionate about this as you are. That’s my ethos at the moment; getting riders to learn on the job and understand what they’re doing, and getting the absolute best out of their horse… and getting that horse to enjoy his job,” says Prue.

Prue on Sandhills Stella, 2020. © Diane Ranzenbacher

Jesper on Rory at Denman, 2019. © Diane Ranzenbacher

“Craig and I believe
that you’re only as good
as the horse you’re riding.”

THE NEXT GENERATION

A natural talent, 16-year-old Oliver Barrett is at the forefront of the next generation of young Australian event riders, and with 11-year-old brother Jesper, he’s ensuring the family name remains synonymous with the sport.

Prue and Craig still both coach and run clinics and are committed to supporting the next generation. Heading out to competitions with the boys is one activity that’s at the top of their list!

When their two-year lease on a lovely old thoroughbred ended, Sandhills Special was the horse that “just happened to be there” for Oliver. “She’s special by name, special by nature,” says Prue Barrett of the homebred mare. The 13-year-old wasn’t supposed to be the schoolmaster for the kids; Prue had her pinned as more of a professional’s horse after riding her to four-star level herself.

Being a mare, it took a little while for them to click, however, it has proven to be a good learning curve for Oliver and they now have a solid partnership. The pair stepped up to two-star level together last year with success, placing seventh at Sydney CCI2*S, winning the CCIJ2*L classes at Melbourne and Wallaby Hill, and finishing fifth this year in the CCI2*S at Tamworth.

Shortly after Oliver began riding Special, another quality horse came along by the name of Ballyhoo. “We had the opportunity to get a horse Shenae Lowings had produced from EvA105 through to four-star level,” explains Prue. “She really wanted to do a five-star and he wasn’t very helpful in the show jumping for what she needed him to be able to do. However, he was really good on the flat and great cross country… he is one of the best cross-country horses I’ve ever ridden. Craig and I believe that you’re only as good as the horse you’re riding, and we’ve ridden a lot of not-so-good horses over the years… horses are challenging creatures, even the good ones! So Oliver’s been very fortunate to have that horse.”

The 14-year-old bay gelding is now part of the team at Sandhills, and although very different to Special, he is proving to be a good match for Oliver as well. At Tamworth, they were top 10 in their first CCI3*-S together, and at events last year Ballyhoo was often only a place behind Special; in the CCIJ2*L at Wallaby Hill, Oliver took first and second place. The next step, once competitions start back, is a long format three-star!

Jesper also has the eventing bug and is currently riding ‘Rory the Wonder Pony’ aka Kerulen Midori, a Welsh pony that was previously ridden by Oliver. “Craig had taught Rory at clinics in Perth over the space of two years, with three members of the same family on him… basically he said, ‘when you want to sell the pony, call me first!’” The call was made, and Rory settled into life at Sandhills.

This year, Jesper is taking the big step up from pony to horse after Prue and Craig acquired the lease of a 13-year-old thoroughbred. However, prospective buyers must know that even with Jesper moving up, Rory is not in search of a new home: “He’ll never leave, good old Rory!”

These days Prue and Craig aren’t competing at elite level and have a smaller team, but it doesn’t mean they are any less busy on competition day. When they made their way to Tamworth, the truck was pretty full with the family team. “Admittedly, only one was mine… one was Jesper’s, two were Oliver’s, and Craig had three. So we probably do need a bigger truck!” laughs Prue.

Oliver on Ballyhoo. © Brittany Bates

Jesper on Rory, 2020. © Diane Ranzenbacher

Craig on Sandhills Cristiano (by Christian), 2020. © Diane Ranzenbacher

FROM ONE FAMILY
TO ANOTHER

A family-run business, Bates Saddles has a habit of forming long partnerships with its sponsored riders. “We’ve been with Bates Saddles longer than we’ve been married,” explains Prue. “I think it was probably around ‘95 when they originally began supporting us, with a dressage saddle…. and then we were supported with their jumping saddles as well.”

The couple have been with Bates Saddles ever since, and to Prue it’s almost as though they’ve grown up together. “It feels like a great relationship. We’re on the next generation with our children and so are Bates Saddles… Emily Bates has her children… it feels like we’ve been around together for a long time.”

In terms of the saddles, Prue explains that they’d been long-time advocates of the Bates Innova dressage saddle, and when it comes to jumping, they love the new Bates Victrix. “We literally flicked all the other jump saddles when the Bates Victrix came out; we don’t ride in anything else now and they’ve come on board with Oliver as well.

“We’ve all got our own colours: Craig is red, mine is tan (I’m the boring member of the family), and Oliver’s got one for each horse as well. They’ve been and fitted the horses. We really love the Bates Victrix saddles!” EQ

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