Looking to regain her confidence after a serious fall, Brontie King was encouraged by her sister to consider a standardbred for her next mount.
With a modest goal to get back into saddle, Brontie brought beautiful little standardbred mare Shakira home initially as a ‘project’.
“In the beginning, wasn’t planning on keeping Shakira; I simply wanted to get back into riding”, Brontie explains.
“I never imagined where we’d get to and all of the things we’d achieve”.
With the early discovery that Shakira was pregnant, Brontie and Shakira’s retraining journey took a pause and their connection built in a very unique way.
Trust developed, as Brontie tenderly cared for Shakira during the later stages of her pregnancy. When Shakira gave birth under a gum tree at the family property, Brontie was there to share first cuddles with the spindly colt.
As he grew, Shakira’s son was trained under the steady guide of Brontie, who started him under saddle and found him a wonderful home, just down the road with a local family.
Although their interactions were not the ready-to-ride adventures she’d first envisioned, Brontie felt a sense of trust and kindship with Shakira, which would become the foundation for an incredible partnership.
In the years since, with Shakira being brought back into work in 2019, the pair have set their sights on an impressive variety of pursuits.
Understanding the need for her standardbred’s steady mental and physical development, the return to riding for Shakira involved going ‘back to basics’, including lots of hilly trail rides to allow her to strengthen and work on her canter in a low-pressure environment.
Once they were ticking along, Brontie joined her local HRCAV (adult riding) club and began to dabble in classical dressage, under a specialist coach. Shakira’s training blossomed throughout this process and the girls found their rhythm together. Through riding club, Shakira was also given an opportunity to explore other talents, including jumping and other athletic pursuits introduced at rally days.
“Shakira has absolutely smashed everything I’ve thrown at her”, Brontie gushes.
“She’s incredibly versatile and is often mistaken for a stockhorse!”
Turning their hoof in a new arena, Brontie registered Shakira with the Standardbred Pleasure and Performance Horse Association of Victoria (SPPHAV) and the pair attended the 2022 Equestrian Victoria Summer Horse Show.
“To bring home so many awards at our first show made me really emotional”, Brontie explains.
“I just thought ‘how incredible is my horse’; I was in awe of her and how hard she tries”.
Following an amazing inaugural show season together, which included attending the prestigious Barastoc Horse of the Year and Bendigo All Breeds shows, Brontie and Shakira were invited to attend Equitana Melbourne as part of a team of standardbred riders, clubs and associations working collaboratively ‘together for the standardbred’ to cover all corners of the event.
Shakira was stabled in the Breed Village, providing meet-and-greet opportunities for members of the public to engage with standardbreds and their owners, ask questions and learn more about the breed.
Shakira and Brontie then saddled up and joined Hero Ambassadors Katie West and her esteemed show gelding Future Bliss, riding as standardbred representatives in the Breed Parade.
As always, Shakira was praised for her kind, willing manner across the high-atmosphere event.
With a growing list of successes under their belt, Brontie and Shakira decided in early 2023 to quite literally change tack, registering for the Gippsland Super Horse Challenge in February.
Setting up a makeshift course at home, Brontie spent around three weeks focused on desensitising Shakira to the intense activities she would be faced with during the Challenge, including stock whips, targets, flags, barrels, tarps and a big step up for the pair in jumping height.
Dubbed ‘the ultimate test in versatility’, once again Shakira blew her rider away with her steadfast display of raw talent.
“The event certainly stood up to its name, being quite the challenge, but I was very proud with how Shakira took everything in her stride and handled herself”, Brontie says.
“Shakira is very forward, confident and athletic and she loves jumping. She really loved the freshen up of a discipline change from showing to something very different.
“I think it was great that standardbreds had the opportunity to participate in this competition. They are so versatile and people are starting to open their eyes up to this”.
A few weeks later, still beaming from their Challenge experience, Brontie registered Shakira for the Ladies Barrel Race class at the Buchan Rodeo, held across the Easter long weekend.
“There was so much going on at the Rodeo; cattle waiting in the yards, kids running around screaming, flags, music, people cheering loudly from the sidelines. I honestly thought Shakira would seize up and would have completely understood this, if she had”, Brontie recalls.
“Of course, she just went out there, zoomed around every single barrel and did her best to impress.
“I felt her kick up a gear and she came home super-fast. She’s such a determined little horse, with a strong mindset. She just loves to work and there’s not a bad bone in her whole body!”
Reflecting on the experiences she’s shared with Shakira to date, Brontie encourages any rider considering a standardbred to ‘just go for it’.
“Owning Shakira has been the most incredible experience. When I found her, I thought Shakira would be a good stepping stone to get my confidence back.
“I never planned on keeping her, but then I totally fell in love and we grew an amazing connection.
“Standardbreds are a fantastic choice of horse to step back into riding again on. Whether you want to do trail or competitive riding, there are so many opportunities supported by the breed association (SPPHAV) and Harness Racing Victoria’s HERO program to win some wonderful prizes and to meet and compete against standies and likeminded breed enthusiasts. It creates a level playing field, where everyone gets a fair go”.
Five years into her standardbred journey, despite all of the success along the way, Brontie is mindful of the process she’s gone through to get to where she is today.
“You’ve really got to love your standardbred for who they are. Take your time in the beginning and don’t rush the training. Work as a team and you never know what amazing experiences lie ahead!”