Eventing Worldwide sat down with Jesse Campbell and Georgie Strang as they start their new venture together.
In the heart of the picturesque Marlborough Downs is Woodland Farm Stables. The yard has been home to New Zealander Jesse Campbell for a number of years. But more recently he has been joined by his fiancée and fellow top-level eventer Georgie Strang.
When we meet, just a few weeks after Georgie made the move to their shared yard, both riders seem settled into their new routine with all the horses settled and ready to start the season.
“It’s been really good. But having been her by myself that comes with its own challenges,” says Jesse jokingly.
For Georgie, it’s the second move in 12 months. At the start of 2018 she relocated from Kent to Badgerstown – home of another New Zealander, Sir Mark Todd.
She comments: “The horses are really happy. Even on the first day they were settled. It was a bit daunting doing the whole moving process again. There was still a lot of stuff to bring over. But I’m a bit of a pro now. To be based with Mark was an amazing opportunity – I’d never had the opportunity to be based with another rider, let along Sir Mark. It was a bit daunting leaving my area. But it is the hub eventing around here and it really has made me up my game. Even going to local dressage and show jumping there are a lot of riders based here.”
The decision to combine their yards came towards the end of 2018 as Georgie says: “We were spending more time together – Jesse would come over and help me and I’d help him with riding when he was away so it just made sense. We weren’t quite sure if it would work with both of us being here but the landlord has been very accommodating and welcoming and we put a plan together to make it work. Something we’re getting used to is the logistics of running this number of horses. That’s probably the biggest challenge.”
Jesse points out that making the move to be based together is a joint effort commenting: “We have always talked about our horses and we have very similar views on how we like things done. That’s really important when you are doing it in partnership. We’ve really made sure that we’re in it together. We don’t want the yard to be separate.”
Georgie’s head girl Jess Harper has made the move with her and has taken on the role for both riders. With a number of working pupils, further team members set to join them shortly, they have a team of six dedicated staff members.
Georgie adds that they have adapted their own systems to make it work, adding “It’s still a work in progress, and it has taken a bit of getting used to but we’re getting there.”
Between the pair they have 30 horses on the yard, ranging from four-year-olds to five start eventers but what do they find the biggest benefit of being based together? Jesse admits ‘it’s a different level’ but adds “it’s lovely that we are doing this together. We bounce off each other really well. This can be a very lonely sport when you’re training by yourself. And the downs are a lot more than the ups. To be able to share that with somebody is really important.”
Their first event out of a combined yard was Tweseldown. Georgie says it was brilliant as “the girls got stuck in and it was pretty organised.” Despite travelling together for the first time, the couple barely saw each other at the event says Georgie laughing: “I bumped into Jesse at the cross country at the end of the day and we realised that we hadn’t really seen each other.”
Owners are an important part of the eventing world, and Georgie says they have been really supportive of the move and recognises as a rider she couldn’t do without them. She comments: “We’re really lucky we have a fantastic team. It can be a little bit lonely for owners at an event too, especially one day events or we have a lot of horses coming through. Now we have a bigger team, everybody can meet each other and we can make it more of a sociable day out.”
With the season now underway what do the pair have planned for their stellar team of horses? Whilst big events on their radar, both feel it is also important to take as much away from the small moments they have with the horses as they do from the big results.
Jesse says: “For me I’ve always been driven with big goals. I’m still very competitive but for me this year is about focussing on enjoying it as much as I can, especially the little moments as we won’t win every event. I need to take the pressure off myself. It’s more from myself – nobody puts it on me – I want to be one of the best in the world and it frustrates me when I’m not so I want to enjoy the little moments.”
Georgie says it is something they have spoken about adding “The reason we do this is because of our love of the horses and working with them. Sometimes it might just be a young horse that you are riding in the school, and something clicks and it’s a great feeling. Taking pleasure in some of those little details rather than focussing on the end result is important to remember.”
Jesse continues: “A lot of riders get caught up in thinking that they have to perform. At Tweseldown with Cleveland I ran him round and had 20-time faults but he had his ears pricked the whole way and that was the best feeling. He was feeling great and you need to make the most of those moments.”
However, Jesse will be heading to Badminton with Cleveland, “Last year I was very much about wanting to go to certain events. And Cleveland got to Pau but he was mentally and physically exhausted. I need to listen to my horses more.
For Georgie, she is aiming to take Cooley Earl to Luhmühlen. “He did Badminton last year and it was a big ask for him. He is an amazing jumper and an honest horse, but he isn’t the best galloper in the world. So we’re going to with no pressure on him and have fun.”
Whilst Georgie admits “it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to ride at the top level” she also has lots of younger horses who she is bringing through the levels. She says: “I’m really lucky that they are all really talented. I love doing the young horses – they are a big joy for me.”
Speedwell is one of Georgie’s horses who she rates for the future saying “He is a big horse and will take a long time to mature, but he is really special.”
With a host of young horses coming through the ranks, what do Jesse and Georgie look for in their horses?
Jesse takes credit for picking Georgie’s two best young horses (jack and George) with Georgie chiming in that Jesse likes a very good-looking horse; “All of his horses are beautiful – they have to have a very nice head – not that mine aren’t,” she says laughing before adding she doesn’t really have a type.
“The biggest thing in our sport is that they have to be intelligent, and work with you,” comments Jessie. “At the end of the day,
the eye never lies, and if they are honest and genuine you can get a picture of that from their heads. And that’s what I go for, along with their gallop and blood.”
Being based close to another eventing power couple – Jonelle and Tim Price – will draw comparisons. Jesse laughingly comments “I don’t know why us Kiwi’s seem to congregate in the same area,” before adding that it is the best area to be in for eventing.”
Georgie says of any comparisons; “We’re going to set a new trend.” And we don’t doubt it.
Images courtesy of Tanzy Lee