‘I almost lost the ride on him’

  • Next month, Hazel Shannon hopes to get the chance to tackle a European five-star event – six months after she plans to do so.

    Hazel, who has won the Australian five-star at Adelaide Horse Trials three times with Willingapark Clifford, was all set to compete at the Pau Horse Trials last October.

    “Clifford traveled well and we’ve been here two weeks, then he got sick the night before cross-country,” she says. “I decided to withdraw him as though he wasn’t awfully sick, it was enough that it wouldn’t have been fair to run him. He wasn’t himself for three days, but he’s been 100% ever since. Of course, that was the three days of the competition. “

    Hazel was planning to go straight home to Australia after Pau, but having come all the way to Europe and not competed, she hatched a plan with Clifford’s owner Terry Snow for the pair to stay in Britain over the winter and aim for Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian (4-8 May).

    “I had got a lift to Pau with Kevin McNab, so I called him back and said, ‘Can I come and stay?'” Says Hazel, who has been at Kevin and his wife Emma’s Surrey yard since Pau. “I don’t have a lot of horses, just some young ones back in Australia, so now’s as good a time as any to do it.

    “It was a bit of a whirlwind, but it was so much money to come to Europe and not even compete, I’m kind of relieved I have the chance to do something. I’ve learned a lot being here so it’s been really valuable staying for the extra time. “

    Hazel Shannon: ‘No-one thought he’d be a five-star horse’

    Hazel, like so many of the top Australian riders, got her start in eventing as a working pupil for Heath Ryan, brother of 1992 Olympic champion Matt. While she was at Heath’s, she met her neighbors, Wendy Ward and Allen Jennings. Wendy’s sister Sue Devereux was a hobby breeder of thoroughbreds in Tasmania, which she would pre-train to sell into racing.

    “They bred Clifford and pre-trained him, but he was so quiet and unmotivated to race they sent him to her sister, who was my neighbor, and I started riding him as he needed a job to be sold,” says Hazel.

    “It grew from there. Wendy and Allen really liked him, I really liked him. None of us thought he’d be a horse to do five-star. I was new to eventing and happy for a horse to ride and the owners really got on board. “

    After Hazel Shannon and Clifford’s first Adelaide win, in 2016, Allen died suddenly from cancer and Wendy had to sell Clifford.

    “It’s hard to find owners anywhere and even harder in Australia than here in Britain. I was panicking and thought I was going to lose him, ”remembers Hazel.

    “Heath was really invested and had been my coach from the beginning. He’s a dressage rider too and Terry had run some dressage shows at Willingapark, so in a last-ditch attempt, with no expectations, we contacted him.

    “He didn’t own any eventers or have much to do with eventing, but he liked the story of Clifford being the underdog and I guess he liked supporting the next generation of anything Australian. He bought him within a few hours. That’s why we’re here and can come over to this side of the world – because Terry supports us. He’s opened a lot of doors for me and given me opportunities I never dreamed of. “

    Since Terry and his wife Ginette took ownership of Clifford, Hazel Shannon and the horse have won Adelaide twice more and finished 26th at the Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2019.

    “I’m still in touch with Wendy and they all still follow Clifford too – he’s a real family horse that they love,” adds Hazel.

    Clifford, who is by Passing Shot, is 17 years old now.

    “He is the ultimate trier,” says Hazel. “He could be missing legs and he’d still try 110%. He is a very generous character and a real fighter. He will just give everything he can to get between the red and white flags and he’s a genuinely careful horse. He’s an absolute gem and I love him to bits. “

    Hazel has never been to Badminton, but has watched the cross-country in the middle of the night in Australia many times.

    “I’m really excited to actually be there, but also a little nervous, as probably can be expected,” she says. “If we can have a personal best, I’ll be happy no matter where we come from, but just being able to complete Badminton would be amazing.”

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