When the Covid lockdowns were enforced in Victoria, young Jess Barraclough found herself looking for ways to pass the time after her schoolwork was finished for the day. A ‘project horse’ seemed to offer a great distraction.
“My mum’s uncle had retired a standardbred from harness racing and he offered him to me”, says Jess, when explaining how she came to cross paths with intelligent and kind ex-pacer Jimmy, known on the track as Shadow Spar.
Having grown up on a farm with a mother who rides Western, Jess first swung into the saddle at just three years of age and immediately ‘fell in love’ with horsemanship.
Taking on Jimmy presented a new challenge to Jess, as she had previously only ever ridden horses who had been sent away to be started under saddle and then trained for some time with her mother before being passed down to the aspiring junior.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we took on Jimmy, as I’d never trained a horse myself”, Jess recalls.
“The day Jimmy arrived he was so calm. We put a saddle on and I got on him for the first time. He just did not care that I was up there!”
Filled with confidence from such a great start, and with hours of free time each day, Jess and Jimmy quickly found their rhythm together.
“We started out with trail riding to begin with, as we live right near the Murray River (in Mildura)”, Jess explains.
“I’d finish my homework in the morning, then jump on Jimmy and we’d go have some fun down by the river.
“I taught him all the basic skills and aids under saddle and he picked things up really well”.
Once the lockdowns lifted, Jess was keen to take Jimmy out to some training days.
“Our first outing together was to a barrel racing clinic with Pat Collins. It was ‘interesting’, to say the least”, Jess laughs.
“Initially Jimmy got very flustered with himself and he began pacing and jumbling his legs. He steadily calmed down throughout the day though and was very good by the end of the sessions.
“Jimmy’s not the kind of horse you can tell what to do and he’ll automatically just do it. You’ve got to take the time and patiently show him what you want, otherwise he gets in his head a bit and overthinks things”.
Once home, Jess focused on consolidating key skills and applying the lessons she’d picked up at the clinic.
With more lockdowns looming, the pair spent a few weeks ticking their training along at home, building Jimmy’s confidence and teaching him skills used across several equestrian disciplines.
“Jimmy’s quite the handy all-rounder, who loves doing a bit of everything!”, says Jess.
“Jimmy’s really good around the barrels and also collects softly in the dressage arena. We’ve dabbled in a bit of Western, which we both think is a bit too slow for us, done some fancy dress, gymkhanas and we went to a couple of pony club rallies where he loved jumping and zooming round the cross-country course.
“Jimmy first ever horse show event was held last year at the Mildura Horse Complex. I didn’t know what to expect, so we just went out to have fun. We ended up with Reserve Champion Standardbred, Judge’s Choice for jumping and we also won the Alabar Hero Series qualifier.
“We went to a campdrafting clinic earlier this year (run by the HRV Hero program specifically for standardbreds), where Jimmy got to work with a mechanical cow and these huge buffalo. I’m keen to do more campdrafting in the future, as we both really enjoyed it.
“Jimmy completed his first dressage test at the Swan Hill Dressage and Show Jumping Day. We really put the challenge to him, by entering him in the Grade 4 section. He got solid 8s and 9s across his test, for a score of 78%. I was so proud of him”.
With an impressive and diverse range of skills in their repertoire, Jimmy and Jess have taken to ‘sporting’ disciplines, including barrel racing and bending in particular.
Training hard and racking up some miles travelling all around Victoria and over the border into NSW and South Australia, the pair achieved some encouraging results in their first season together travelling long distances to Waubra, Marrabel, Lewiston and even as far as Pakenham (a solid seven-hour trip from Mildura).
Jess and Jimmy were awarded the South Australian Barrel Horse Association (SABHA) Champion Junior 2D and Champion Junior Pole Bending for the 2022-2023 season (hosted at Marrabel).
The ultimate goal for Jess was to compete in the Australian Barrel Horse Association (ABHA) National Finals, held in Tamworth across September 11th-16th 2023.
The experience of actually getting there is something Jess says will stay with her forever.
“It was a big trip, over eleven-hundred kilometres from home, which we spread across two days”, Jess explains.
“Jimmy rested on the first day, after a long float ride up. We did a little workout and let him look around. It was such a huge event, with people everywhere and so much noise.
“We ran twenty-three seconds in the Junior Barrel race, which I expected given the big arena and atmosphere. Jimmy handled himself very well and then settled to nearly crack the twenty-second mark in the Open Barrel Race class.
“Jimmy went on to run his best ever times in the Open and Junior Pole Bending classes. The experience was amazing and Jimmy was so well behaved!”
As a young rider, Jess recognises the support she’s received to follow her horse dreams and regularly gives thanks to her parents and grandparents for cheering her on and driving her long distances to attend events.
Jess also expresses much gratitude for Jimmy and all of the wonderful experiences they’ve shared since their journey began a mere two years ago.
“I love too many things about Jimmy to choose just one”, Jess gushes.
“Jimmy’s has this amazing rocking horse canter and is such an easy-going, fun horse. He’s the ultimate all-rounder, being so smart and willing to give everything a go.”
“I encourage anyone who doesn’t know much about standardbreds not to judge them before you get to know them.
“Standies are fantastic horses. They always give 110% and try their very best to please you!”