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From Harness to High Country: Hanleigh Park Fox’s Journey into Life Beyond the Track

Ashleigh Robinson - Nav ride2

With her twenty-fifth birthday on the approach, former pacer ‘Marita Rose’, affectionately known as ‘Immy’, was nearing retirement.

Chalking up an impressive list of performances across some of Victoria’s most iconic treks, Immy had certainly done her job of helping her owner Ashleigh Robinson to regain her confidence after a challenging period of unsuitable horses and being left shaken after a few falls.

“Immy was such an easy-going horse and she really helped me to feel relaxed as a rider”, explains Ashleigh.

“She had a really kind eye and always looked after me”.

Having taken home the Best Performed Standardbred award at the HRCAV TTT (Top Team Trophy) Navigation Ride 2022 less than two months prior, Ashleigh was devastated to lay Immy to rest after recurring bouts of colic.

Taking a chance on a twenty-year-old standardbred turned out to be one the best decisions Ashleigh has ever made.

As fate would have it, Ashleigh had already organised to go and test ride another standardbred mare the day following Immy’s passing.

It was a moment where the stars perfectly aligned, as Ashleigh sought comfort in the company of another champ with a stamp.

In the four-and-a-half months that have passed since their first meeting, then surrounded by horses in the middle of an eight hundred acre paddock, Ashleigh and her new standardbred ‘Fox’ have made a wonderful start to their partnership.

Untrialled and without so much as a racing name, seven-year-old Fox was initially was very green and lacked life experience.

Coming full circle as a horsewoman, Ashleigh was able to return the support she’d received from Immy, by offering reassurance and a sense of confidence to Fox.

“Although Fox was already broken to saddle, we had a lot to work on at the beginning” Ashleigh explains.

“Fox wasn’t accustomed to a lot of general handling, having not been trained to race and managed in large herds of over forty horses.  She was difficult to catch, didn’t like treats and was really cautious even being brushed.

“For the first few weeks, I went out into the paddock with a bucket of feed and focused on making friends with Fox and building trust.

“Having never worked with such a young, green horse before, I enrolled in the online 10-Day Standardbred Challenge program through Raising the Standards [newly appointed Educational Partner of the HRV Hero program], got some support from my amazing coach Elle and took groups of friends with me to the paddocks so we could practice just all standing around patting her. 

“This was all so unfamiliar to Fox, but she quickly started to enjoy all of the attention.  She’s really come from strength to strength since then”.

Despite still being very much at the beginning of their journey together, and taking a steady approach to training, Ashleigh and Fox have already shared some wonderful experiences as a team.

Focusing primarily on trail and navigation rides, Ashleigh and Fox have already brought home their first batch of ribbons, having placed third at the St Andrews Adult Riders Navigation Ride on August the 30th and a second, fourth and the Best Performed Standardbred awards across the weekend at the Goulburn Valley Equestrian Club Navigation Ride.

Winning this award was quite an emotional moment for Ashleigh, as this was the last prize she’d won with Immy back in March.

The future looks very bright for Ashleigh and Fox, with a calendar full of exciting opportunities coming up, including riding out at ATHRA (Australian Trail Horse Riders Association) treks and some HRCAV (Horse Riding Clubs Association of Victoria) rallies and Navigation Ride events.

Adding to their growing a list of aspirations and accomplishments, is the pair’s appointment as new HRV Hero Ambassadors.

The new Hero Ambassador Program sees contributions towards entry and other fees associated with attending equestrian competitions, public events, clinics and training days will be extended by HRV Hero to a selected team of Ambassadors.

Ashleigh and Fox, who will compete under the show name ’Hanleigh Park Fox’, are “super excited” to join a varied list of Hero Ambassadors with talents across a range of equestrian disciplines, demonstrating the versatility of the standardbred.

“Ashleigh and Fox are an inspiring team, who have already shown great enthusiasm and passion during their early adventures together”, says Hero Operations Manager Tara van der Minne.

“We are very pleased to welcome the girls into a Hero Ambassador role, as we feel their pursuits across a blend of HRCAV, trail, navigation and high-country riding makes them a unique and very interesting team to showcase the many talents of standardbreds beyond the track”.

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