H&H interview: Australian eventer Shane Rose *H&H Plus*

  • The Australian event rider talks about returning from multiple injuries, being based down under and the build-up to Tokyo

    Here are some facts you may know about Australian event rider Shane Rose. He has collected Olympic team silver and bronze medals. He has won Adelaide five-star twice. He was third at Pau last autumn with Virgil, with whom he hopes to be selected for the Tokyo Olympics.

    Here are some facts you may not know about Shane. He breaks in 250 to 300 racehorses every year. He is event director of one of the biggest horse trials in the southern hemisphere, Equestriad. In 2005, he had eight metal plates inserted into his face while in an induced coma after a horse kicked him.


    “I can win most competitions over how many bones people have broken,” he says. “I’ve broken most of my ribs, both my legs, both my arms. It’s not all through horses though — boys being boys, they break things growing up.”

    The 46-year-old has had two serious injuries in competition — a smashed shoulder and six broken ribs in 2018 and a broken leg in 2003 caused when a horse tried to run out — as well as a host of accidents working with horses at home. But Shane isn’t one to turn these incidents into a drama.

    “By working with horses and a lot of them, I put myself in harm’s way more than people who aren’t around them as often,” he says in his laid-back way. “The more I do, the less I have to pay someone to do.

    “Horses are great animals. More than 90% of them want to help you and work with you. Occasionally you get one who’s not so pleasant to work with. I try to avoid those ones, but it’s not always possible in my job, but it’s just what we do. I love my job and there isn’t much I’d prefer to do, so I’m pretty lucky.”

    All event riders have to be mentally tough, but Shane must be one of the most resilient.

    “I’m a pretty positive person,” he says, shrugging off any admiration. “Once something bad has happened, you need to forget about it, learn from it if you can and move on. If you dwell on it, it’s not going to get better.

    “Most people have more downs than ups in this sport and the stronger you are, the better chance you have of being successful going forward. In the next competition, I have a chance of doing better if I didn’t do well in the last one. If I get beaten, I try to figure out a way to beat the people who are beating me. If something has gone wrong, I certainly learn from it, but then I come up with a new plan and try to execute that.”

    Shane has also bounced back from a split liver, a punctured lung, a dose of golden staph infection and thyroid cancer when he was 28.

    “It’s not ideal if you get cancer, but fortunately we found it early enough and got rid of that. The doctors did a good job and, touch wood, since then it’s all been good. I don’t really think about that or the accidents much — it’s something that’s happened, but so be it, it’s happened, move on.”

    A racehorse business

    If Shane makes it to Tokyo, it will be his third Olympics — not bad for a man who describes eventing as his “sideline”.

    Shane’s real business is racehorses. At his busiest time of the year and backed up by “great staff”, he has around 80 thoroughbreds in work at his New South Wales yard for breaking and pre-training. His base has 75 stables and he can house another 35 horses or so in yards with shelters.

    Shane’s operation is on a huge scale and he is also a father of four: Olivia, seven, Harry, five, and three-year-old twins Lachlan and Zara.

    “I get into trouble if I don’t stay busy, so it’s best I stay busy,” he laughs. “We have really good structures in place — I look after the external running of the business and my wife Niki looks after the financial side, paying bills and chasing money.

    “And she’s amazing with the kids. I help out where I can, but I’m out of the house at 6.30am and not inside until 7pm or later.”

    On the eventing side, Shane breeds “a few” and buys and sells, “trying to find a great horse”. His current top mount, the 15-year-old Virgil, by Vivant, was bred by Michelle Hasibar, who still co-owns him.

    Shane explains: “Michelle sent him to me as a four-year-old to see what I thought of him as he was a bit too much horse for her — he wasn’t naughty, but he’d go wherever he wanted and jump a bit big. The first day I rode him, I jumped two fences, rang Michelle and said I wanted to buy into him.”

    Virgil has travelled “more than most people”, having made four return trips to Europe in his career, most recently for Pau last autumn. Against a background of Australian selectors juggling a desire to give those based down under a fair crack at championships, but also needing to see those horses perform against the best in the world, Shane made a tactical decision in taking the horse to France.

    “I’ve experienced all the advantages and disadvantages of travelling, and our high-performance programme officials were keen for me to do something abroad,” explains Shane.

    “My plan was to do enough last year hopefully to get selected, so I don’t have to do too much this year. Of course I’ll have to do things in the build-up to Tokyo — probably three short-format events and some dressage and showjumping shows — but I can prepare Virgil the way I want to, from home, while also using video link to access the great dressage coaches in Europe.

    “We have an advantage in Australia, for the first time since the 2000 Olympics. The travel from Sydney to Tokyo will be about 10 hours, whereas to go to Europe and back would be 50 hours, so I felt not having to do that in 2020 would give me my best chance of being among the medals.”

    The first part of Shane’s plan came off with his podium finish at Pau — but it was nearly a different story. Having travelled well, Virgil tied up after galloping at Le Lion d’Angers five days before Pau.

    “It’s a long way to travel to have a setback a few days out, but fortunately it wasn’t bad and I was able to get him fit and healthy for Pau,” says Shane. “I couldn’t work him on the flat for five days, so his test was lacking a bit of his normal expression.”

    The pair still scored a competitive 33 and added just 1.6 time-faults across country.

    “The plan was to set out reasonably comfortably and, if he felt well, press on towards the middle of the course and gallop home if I could,” remembers Shane. “He did all the lines and distances we’d planned and pulled up great with no ill effects.

    It was really pleasing to know that I can edge him through some setbacks.”

    ‘I love Australia’

    Shane is one of the few Australian eventers who has consistently been chosen for championships while based in their native country.

    “I love Australia — I love everything about it, the climate, the people, the events here,” says Shane. “The thing that’s great about Europe is their big shows are really good, and there are amazing athletes and horses.

    “If it was a short trip rather than 40 hours, and a AUS$50,000 [about £26,500] return airfare for a horse, I’d be bouncing back and forwards every other week. But I have a business, a family and a property here and it’s where I want to be.

    “I’m not rich and I can’t afford to base myself in Europe long term. You have to live there from a young age and build your profile and owners. By the time I got to the point where it was a possibility to go, I’d have had to let a lot go and my desire wasn’t strong enough. That boat had sailed.”

    Shane spent the whole 2017 eventing season in Britain, during which his successes included winning both the CCI2* (now CCI3*-L) and the Event Rider Masters at Blair, the latter on Virgil.

    “My wife and I have worked hard enough that we can do the odd trip now,” he says. “I had two or three of my best horses there to prepare for the 2018 World Equestrian Games and it was a good age for our kids as they hadn’t started school yet.

    “We certainly enjoyed it and I think in the future we’ll probably do more where we pop over for four or six weeks, do a couple of events, maybe sell one horse and bring the others home.

    “It’s a big exercise of logistics working out where to base yourself, too, and I’ve been fortunate to have some really good Australian team-mates who’ve helped me out. But it’s a big ask on them to crash their party.

    “I’d love to do it more but financially, there’s only so much I can do. If we could just shrink the world, that would be awesome.”

    Shane’s ability to come back from setbacks is almost a superpower — but we don’t think even he can shrink the world just yet.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 23 January 2020