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Hilary Scott: “I try to be as natural with my horses as possible”

Tuesday, 02 August 2022
Interview

Photo © Nanna Nieminen/WoSJ
“In Australia, I got to a point where I felt like I wanted to test myself against the rest of the world and see how far I could go,” Hilary Scott tells World of Showjumping. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

World of Showjumping met the Australian showjumper Hilary Scott at her European base near Valkenswaard, the Netherlands. To WoSJ, the 34-year-old speaks about her move to Europe, how she has reached the highest level of the sport with home bred horses, and how in equestrian sports, what weighs more than money is having the right mentality.

“In Australia, I got to a point where I felt like I wanted to test myself against the rest of the world and see how far I could go,” Hilary begins. “I wanted to keep pushing myself to be better. I always had so much respect for anything professional – whether it was race car driving or showjumping. I find it very admirable, people who can do anything at the highest level, and wanted to do that myself. If you want international exposure, you have to leave Australia, we just don’t have access to international competition there.”

Competing in Europe with Australian bred horses

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
Hilary and Oaks Milky Way have been selected for the Australian team for the FEI Jumping World Championship 2022. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Hilary has been based near Valkenswaard, the Netherlands, since the end of 2016. “I first moved to Belgium for about six months and then took the horses to Germany,” she explains. “I was renting, and it got quite expensive. We talked about what would make more sense, also with regards to my mother’s breeding program in Australia and the answer was to own something here rather than pay rent. The long-term goal for her breeding program that she started in 2005 was to one day be able to sell her horses internationally and see them compete at top level. To have this property act as an arm for that to actually happen, was perfect.”

My mother’s philosophy has been to have good mares because we believe the mares put so much into their progeny

“I brought two horses over in the very beginning,” Hilary tells. “Both have gone back to Australia since to join our broodmares. My mother’s philosophy has been to have good mares because we believe the mares put so much into their progeny. When she first started, mum had great advice from Helen Chugg, Mike Barrera and Chris Chugg who had then recently imported Vivant and the Clinton stallion Conquistador to Australia. The first mares were selected on both sport pedigrees and type: Young mares by Darco, Cassini I, Jalisco B, Verdi, Kannan, with strong dam lines.
The first two horses I brought over had originally come to Australia as young mares, chosen for both sport and breeding. They proved themselves in both, competing on Grand Prix level and one of them was the mother of Oaks Redwood.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Hilary Scott’s mother Alice Cameron bred two horses that ended up jumping at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon in 2018: Here Oaks Redwood. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Hilary’s mother Alice Cameron bred two horses that ended up jumping at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon in 2018: Oaks Redwood and Yandoo Oaks Constellation. “My mum always had a passion for breeding – in any direction – and had my interest been in dressage, maybe she would have gone that way, who knows,” Hilary explains.

“My mum wanted to breed good horses for the Australian market, because she saw that everyone who was jumping on top level, rode sporty warmbloods and she wanted to provide that to Australia. She wanted to breed the highest calibre of horses so that we one day could be on par with the rest of the world. Now, the scene in Australia is really improving and there are some very good horses coming up.”

Photo © Nanna Nieminen/WoSJ
"The long-term goal for her breeding program that she started in 2005 was to one day be able to sell her horses internationally and see them compete at top level," Hilary tells about her mother Alice Cameron's breeding program. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

“We breed 14-16 foals each year, keep 4-5 and select which would be best to come over here, at different stages,” Hilary continues. “It has been a lot of trial and error, coming to a new market in Europe. Being a small fish in a very big ocean, working out where we fit and what horses are required by the market here has been challenging. The horses here must be rideable with the right mentality, brave, careful – they have to be all those things. A horse that we might be happy to put up with at home, is not wanted here. Now, I feel like we understand the market better. I have a few contacts over in the States and the plan for the future is to send some horses over there as well. My mum wants the best for each and every horse, whether it ends up doing amazing things or not. She wants them to have good manners, be treated well and become the best versions of themselves for their rider. My dream would be to see Oaks horses at shows all around Europe and the US, with different riders doing whatever levels, but doing well and competing happily. It is a passion and something mum started because she wanted to give people opportunities.”

My dream would be to see Oaks horses at shows all around Europe and the US

“At the moment, most of my horses are our own breeding; some to sell, some to produce for the longer term. You want to give your name and brand a chance. We have been very lucky, with some of our horses going on to do good things with their riders. Being able to tie our breeding program with my career goals and ride homebred horses at the same time is pretty special. It does have a lot of meaning when you know the mare very well, you choose what stallion to use, you get the foal, you raise it; you get the whole process. It takes a long time and a lot of effort, but to see them develop and turn into good horses is really rewarding.”

Oaks Milky Way

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"I am very fortunate to have a horse like Milky, who is definitely giving me those opportunities of being competitive at five-star level. I am very grateful for having her," Hilary says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The 14-year-old mare Oaks Milky Way (Clearway x Jalisco B) is Hilary’s best horse at the moment – and naturally, she is homebred. “We have done everything with her from the start, it has been an incredible journey,” Hilary says. “You hear it from every top rider how a certain horse has helped put them on the map and helped to build their career. I am very fortunate to have a horse like Milky, who is definitely giving me those opportunities of being competitive at five-star level. I am very grateful for having her.”

I am very fortunate to have a horse like Milky

“The biggest challenge with her has been her sensitivity, and how much blood she has. She has a very powerful backend and a lot of power and energy, but she does not like having contact in her mouth. Learning how to ride that combination of power and not liking contact was a challenge. Over the years, she has taught me how to be quieter with my riding, how to ride with a lot more empathy, really feel the horses and be with them. I have learned to just let the rhythm take me rather than try to create something. Bigger and slower horses are not really my thing, but even with them, learning how to find that rhythm without forcing anything is important. I really believe that what we think and do through our bodies impacts the horses, I see it in my riding. If you are not focused, they are not. Riding is so much about being with them, and Milky has really taught me that; you can’t be anywhere else with her, she requires patience and attention.”

Photo © Nanna Nieminen/WoSJ
"Riding is so much about being with them, and Milky has really taught me that; you can’t be anywhere else with her, she requires patience and attention," Scott says. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for for World of Showjumping.

“When we were breaking Milky in, we could do everything, but as soon as you put your foot in the stirrup, she was just off like a rocket,” Hilary recalls with a smile. “It went on for a week: She just could not handle standing still – not because she was naughty or nasty, she just had so much energy. Even now, when I get on her, I just have to put my foot in the stirrup and start walking; she is just on a mission – always, on a mission. You get on and off you go!”

When you believe in something, it is amazing what you can achieve

“She has given me a lot of confidence, because she is so self-confident herself. There is nothing she won’t do for you. I think when you have a horse like that, it does help you with your riding and helps you bring other horses through whereas the opposite is true as well: When you have a horse that is detrimental to your confidence, it can ruin your relationship with other horses. Having the faith that one day, Milky would come good – because she is quite a quirky thing – has kept me going. I just had faith in her from a foal, and she is 14 now. The whole time I have been in Europe, she has been with me. Feeling like there is still a way to go with her has been a big driver and motivation for staying here and continuing to push. When you believe in something, it is amazing what you can achieve. I am very lucky that Milky is owned by my mum and she has not wanted to sell; we have sold other horses along the way in order to keep Milky.”

The Rolex Grand Slam

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
Oaks Milky Way gets a kiss from Hilary after jumping clear on the fences in the CSIO5* 1.60m RWE Prize of North-Rhine-Westphalia at CHIO Aachen. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The Rolex Grand Slam-series has been Hilary’s goal for the 2022-season. “I feel honoured and privileged that I got to do The Dutch Masters as well as CHIO Aachen,” she tells. “We were 11th in Den Bosch, and it would be my absolute goal to be in the top ten in all of those Grand Prix classes. Aachen has always been a dream, but to actually go there and be competitive, was amazing.”

“My medium to long-term goal is to represent my country and consistently jump five-star Grand Prix classes, while producing horses to that level. Obviously, this means selling some of the horses on the way in order to finance keeping those you want to produce further – you can’t keep horses if you don’t sell some.”

When you are surrounded by the level of professionalism here, it is amazing how quickly you can soak it all up

“Coming from Australia, I know how hard it is to be living far from your family and your support system,” Hilary continues. “I would like to provide an opportunity for younger riders who are passionate, motivated and hard- working, who really have that drive for it, to come and see how the sport runs here. When you are surrounded by the level of professionalism here, it is amazing how quickly you can soak it all up. It is a big commitment if you want to do it on the highest level and I would like to help people find out if this is really the direction they want to go or not.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “I feel honoured and privileged that I got to do The Dutch Masters as well as CHIO Aachen,” Hilary says about her 2022-season. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“I would love to be able to provide opportunities for younger people – not only from my country, others as well, but obviously I am passionate about Australian riders – to put their foot in the water and see how full on being a professional rider really is. They should learn everything from how to properly bandage a horse to how to look after their feet, down to grooming properly. Every little thing is so important when you want to be at the highest level," Hilary says.

You don’t just rock up and ride like Steve Guerdat; it takes hard work, long days, hot days, cold days and days of mundane work

"Anyone that comes, I encourage them to first groom – for me, it is very important that people learn the basics of how to look after a horse. If one day that person wants to run their own stable or ride on the highest level, they have to know how every little thing is done correctly," she continues. "If they get to sit on a horse and that is all they do, they are not going to know. Starting with grooming sorts out the people who are really passionate and tenacious, from those who love horses, but maybe their work desires are in different areas – which is also fine. It is a good way to work out if this is really the direction you want to go. You don’t just rock up and ride like Steve Guerdat; it takes hard work, long days, hot days, cold days and days of mundane work. You have people who really do want to do it all and those are the ones I want to foster. I think it is mandatory to know as much as you can; only then can you give your horse the best care.”

Grow as a team

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"I would prefer if we could have even more Australians over here in Europe, so we could get more Nations Cups and more opportunities to grow as a team. Team experience is invaluable in so many ways," Scott says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“In some ways yes, in some ways no,” Hilary says about her opportunities of getting into international shows given Australia does not have so many riders competing in Europe. “In general, the higher your ranking, the easier it is to get into shows. There are not so many Australians, but there are so many riders now, so I think it is hard on everyone regardless where you are from. I would prefer if we could have even more Australians over here in Europe, so we could get more Nations Cups and more opportunities to grow as a team. Team experience is invaluable in so many ways.”

 I have kept my goals to where I can control them to some extent

Australia is qualified as a team for the 2022 FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark and alongside Billy Raymont on Black Jack IXE (C Indoctro x Diamant de Semilly), James Arkins and Eurostar I (Diarado x Chacco-Blue) as well as Katie Laurie on Django II (Lordano x Brilliant Invader XX), Hilary and Oaks Milky Way have been selected to represent their country. “In the end, it comes down to having horses that are sound and fit at the time," Hilary says. "For me, I definitely want to do championships and the Olympics, but I have wanted to make my plan around shows that I can make sure I have a way of knowing I will actually do. Championships are down to selection and I cannot guarantee that, whereas I can do everything I can to guarantee getting into a certain number of five-star shows. For now, I have kept my goals to where I can control them to some extent.”

Treat them as horses

Photo © Nanna Nieminen/WoSJ
"There is a need and a use for everything, but I think it is important to remember that horses are living beings and we have to work with them as such instead of using them as a commodity," Scott says. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

“For me, I believe horses are horses and they have to be treated accordingly,” Hilary says. “Even if they are valuable and provide great opportunities for riders to jump at amazing venues, at the end of the day, in terms of horsemanship and looking after them and the way they behave, it is still the same: They need pasture, they need to eat off the ground, their bodies have not changed. We have to admit that to some extent what we do with them is unnatural and different from what they would be doing in the wild, and compensate the best we can. Sometimes, I think we overcomplicate things with horses; with vetting, overdoing equipment... There is a need and a use for everything, but I think it is important to remember that horses are living beings and we have to work with them as such instead of using them as a commodity.”

 I believe horses are horses and they have to be treated accordingly

“I like the horses treated individually, with the care that they need. I am a big believer in horses living outside as much as possible so that they can move freely. I think natural movement can be the best thing for horses. I try to be as natural with my horses as possible, I think it is important for their wellbeing. When we travel them a lot, it is essential that the rest of their routine – the other 75% of the time when they are not at a horse show – is as natural as possible. This way, when the horses get into those stressful situations that aren’t natural for them, at least they have the grounding knowing that they will be back in the paddock once they get home.”

Every new horse teaches you

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
“When you feel you and your horse are perfectly in sync, whether when you are on them or just handling them, when you have that complete understanding with each other, that feeling of being at one, together – that is the best,” Hilary says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“I still have a lot to learn, that is what I love about horses: You learn every day and every new horse teaches you something,” Hilary says. “Coming from a farming family, I understood the land and nutrients; what goes into the soil; what water and sun produces. That basic understanding has helped me with horses as well. Over time, I have learned from different horse people, who have taught me how to best look after my horses. Everything from the feet through the coat, the respiratory system, keeping them as healthy as they can be so that they can perform the best they can – there is so much you need to know. When we are at our best, physically and mentally, we can give our best: Well rested, well fed and in good headspace – and the same goes for horses. Horses are not machines, and it is really important we don’t treat them as such.”

You learn every day and every new horse teaches you something

The connection with her horses is what Hilary enjoys the most. “When you feel you and your horse are perfectly in sync, whether when you are on them or just handling them, when you have that complete understanding with each other, that feeling of being at one, together – that is the best,” she says.

Since the end of 2019, Hilary has trained under the guidance of the Irish showjumper Denis Lynch. “We work really well together,” Hilary tells. “We have a mutual respect to each other’s independence. Denis really fosters people to be independent, not dependant. I think that has been great for me and I really appreciate that in his training. He has very high attention to detail and I am a bit of a perfectionist myself, so we work well in that respect, too. Denis is very hungry for the sport and loves to win, and being Irish, knows how to win. That is something I have had to learn since being over here. I was very competitive as a junior and young rider in Australia, but when I came to Europe I sort of went back to my training and producing mentality rather than winning and being competitive. Denis has lit the fire in my belly again to be really competitive.”

Destination unknown

Photo © Nanna Nieminen/WoSJ
“Plans might change, but opportunities can continue to come if you are open to grow and learn," Hilary says. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

“You never stop learning and growing, this is an absolute journey,” Hilary says about her career choice. “And, there is no destination. When I came to Europe, I thought I would be here for a year, and nine years later, here I am! I did not know where I was going to get to, but wherever that is, I feel I am not done yet. The thing with setting goals is that I feel like every step along the way, I just want to keep learning and growing, go further, bring the next horse along, meet new people and give back to them by teaching. I feel like I just keep getting lit up when I continue on this journey.”

You never stop learning and growing, this is an absolute journey

“I think the biggest lesson for me has been to not limit my vision of what I think my plan might be and to end it there,” Hilary continues. “Plans might change, but opportunities can continue to come if you are open to grow and learn. It is a fantastic industry: At the end of the day, it is all driven by passion and I love to work with people who are really passionate about what they do. I enjoy surrounding myself with those professionals, it is so motivating. They have so much to offer, I could sit and watch them for hours, you can learn so much from all of them. Being from somewhere so far away in here where equestrian sports have been a tradition for so long, is so motivating: You see something like Aachen, which has seemed so far away, be an actual possibility... It is mind-blowing.”

Money can’t buy the right mentality

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"You are alone in the ring with your horse and it does not matter how much that horse has cost," Hilary says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“It is not easy, if you want to be at the top,” Hilary says about the reality of being a professional rider. “The pressure is immense. You are alone in the ring with your horse and it does not matter how much that horse has cost. There is only a certain period of time a horse keeps jumping well if it is not managed and ridden right. There are plenty of people who have worked their way to the top; who have gone to good stables, kept their head down and have ended up with amazing opportunities. Even the ones that have money, if you are competing at a high enough level, you still have to do it week in and week out and ride those horses. In the end, it all comes down to having the right mentality – being driven, interested in knowing how it all works, what it takes – which has nothing to do with your budget.”

It all comes down to having the right mentality – being driven, interested in knowing how it all works, what it takes

“People can now see the sport on live TV, be a part of it, and realize how much goes into it,” Hilary continues. “Our sport is about the connection with the horse and not about money. Plenty of people come in and start from the very bottom and work their way up. I have been very fortunate along the way that my mother has been so interested and invested in breeding. She has been a huge part of me being able to build my career. I have been a part of the business at home for a long time before I came to Europe. My family has always been taught to work for what you have, and that has helped me: I understand that it is not going to come easy, you have to put the work in. My mother has encouraged me to be here even when it has been hard; to think big and not give up. You learn to look for the good in all the little things. Personally, I have not had good health all my life, so I have learned to appreciate the smallest things. I think the more you go through, the more you learn to appreciate everything. That has been a revelation for me. Having a fire in your belly, knowing what you want, helps you get through the bad days. Make a plan and stick to it; if something doesn’t work, pinpoint what it is and change that – but keep the rest. And, most importantly, find support around you with good people, that is essential; I have an amazing team around me.” 

 

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

 



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