When Emma Lindell decided she wanted to get back into competitive riding after a 30-year hiatus she didn’t envision teaming with a standardbred, pursuing goals in dressage and showing.
But that’s exactly where Lindell finds herself today; a competitive Level 3 HRCAV rider, aboard a blingy ex-pacer with a splash of fame to his name.
James, shown under his harness racing name MF Hollywood, is no stranger to the limelight, having won countless championships and garlands across the entire East Coast of Australia and being the first standardbred to contest the prestigious Garryowen Turnout event at the Royal Melbourne Show in 2013.
But it wasn’t James’s impressive resume that drew Lindell to him, it was his larger-than-life personality and the perfect blend of dashing looks and a trustworthy, kind nature that sealed the deal.
“Coming back into riding, the nerves were there. James really looks after me and I always feel safe”, Lindell said.
“He’s never, ever naughty; cheeky sometimes, but always in a funny way. He tries so hard to please me in everything he does and always gives 110 per cent.”
James’ impeccably timed purchase (albeit tense with travel bans looming) right on the cusp of the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020 saw the new partnership immediately thrust into lockdown together.
This forced downtime turned out to be the ultimate silver lining for the pair, providing focused time for James and Lindell to get to know one another and to build the bond that has been integral to their success.
“During the lockdowns, a lot of my friends suffered from mental health challenges from being cut off from their usual support networks and routines,” Lindell said.
“I decided to upload some photos of James on social media and quickly discovered how much he loves the limelight.
“When the camera came out, he started posing. He would pull these hilarious faces, using his teeth, lips and tongue.
“People started to write to me to share how much James was brightening their day, despite everything going on in the world. I realised then just how special he was.”
James’s fan club grew quickly, even on global scale via articles shared by his sponsors MAI Capital. James’s successes have been documented on Chinese social platform ‘WeChat’ and he’s got a legion of fans across Asia-Pacific following his adventures.
And there certainly have been plenty of stories and successes to share with followers, with James and Lindell experiencing immense success during the first HRCAV season, picking up many wins in online dressage and showing competitions.
When restrictions eased, Lindell bought a float and the team were mobile. Across their first few weeks competing together, in early 2021, James and Lindell were awarded champions of their level at the Golden Spurs Dressage Series.
By the end of their first season together, the pair had won countless competitions, including their club’s (Werribee Central) annual High Point Champion award and recognition as an overall Top 10 combination for HRCAV showing (across all levels).
Recently assessed up to Level 3, James and Lindell are continuing their mission to build on their wonderful partnership, to keep improving their scores and to spread the word of the standardbred far and wide.
“I jump on every opportunity to talk about standardbreds and to tell as many people as I can how amazing this breed is,” Lindell said.
“I love James so, so much. He has such a huge personality and is proof that you really can have it all – looks, brains and a beautiful temperament – wrapped up on four hooves.
“I hope that every rider out there who’s had a bad experience, a fall or knock to their confidence, considers a standardbred. They’re just like dogs; they adore their person and really seek out companionship”.
This canine-comparison was echoed by Fiona Williams, who went one step further to describe standardbreds as the “Labrador of the horse world”.
“Standardbreds just have the best natures. They’re so kind, so smart, so eager to please.”
Williams has been an active HRCAV competitor for around six years, aboard her retired pacer Dolly (Sevenknightsaweek) who shares the same sire as James, P Forty Seven USA, a blingy Chestnut Stallion who won more $700,000 on the racetrack as a pacer.
The self-taught combination, with Williams coming from a background in pleasure and trail riding and Dolly initially green broken to saddle, threw themselves in the deep end when they enrolled as members of Keysborough Equestrian Club.
“When I joined HRCAV my club was filled with very successful, high-level combinations. Mostly warmbloods, graded across Level 2, 1 and Advanced,” she said.
“It was a bit daunting, but I decided I wanted to be inspired and learn from the best and Keysborough Equestrian Club regularly invite Grand Prix riders to coach at rallies; it really appealed to me to start my dressage training correctly from the get-go.”
The focus on nailing the foundations has been integral to Williams and Dolly’s successes, which are measured not by the level (four) and awards (many) they’ve achieved thus far in their journey together, but by the strength of their relationship.
“I’ve taken things super slow with Dolly and this approach really pays off with standardbreds. They are super trainable and keen to learn, so if you can channel that positive energy and intelligence into getting the foundation skills right, such wonderful things can happen,” Williams said.
With TTT, club High Point and countless other accolades to their name, and enjoying training the higher-level movements at home (with a cracking canter to boot), Williams and Dolly live by the motto ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, but prove that dedication and playing the long-game can yield some amazing results.
It seems that the success and positivity surrounding standardbreds in the equestrian world is steadily growing momentum. At recent competition, Doongala ARC Dressage Jackpot, where Williams and Lindell got together to share this image captured by Samuel Noaks Photographics, they each experienced immense acts of encouragement from fellow HRCAV participants, with rounds of applause breaking out at their final salutes and some fantastic scores and words of praise from judges.
As active committee members within their respective clubs, both Lindell and Williams have found that involvement with HRCAV has provided an opportunity to represent and give a voice to standardbreds participating alongside other breeds in the equestrian space.
The sentiment echoed by both is that standardbreds are a wonderfully reliable choice of HRCAV partner and vastly underestimated.
With their necks draped with ribbons and face-splitting smiles, it appears that they just might be on to something.
Follow Lindell and James on Instagram @MF_Hollywood