James Arkins is one of Australia’s leading show jumping riders, breeders and trainers, and his team manage Rosthwaite Farm in the NSW’s Southern Highlands where they offer professional coaching, horse training, breeding, and sales. We spoke to him about everything from his busy schedule, his mentors, why he chose show jumping as his path, competition plans, his horses and so much more.
Q: It’s been hard to catch up with you, what keeps you so busy?
A: My business has three main sides: high performance show jumpers; a riding school that’s fast becoming one of the biggest in the country; and our breeding program, which is in full swing at the moment.
Q: How old were you when you started riding?
Q: You grew up in the city, so what got you into horses?
A: My parents would take me to different activities in the holidays, like bowling, ice skating and horse trail riding. I found I loved being around horses, however, Mum and Dad wouldn’t pay for me to have lessons. I would volunteer at the local riding school on weekends so I could ride.
Q: What made you pick show jumping?
A: My first horse actually turned out to be a very good show jumper. I had finally convinced my parents to buy me a horse. My budget was $5,000. I called Colleen Brook who had a few horses that would suit me. Her working pupil rode the horse first and got bucked off. Every time he cantered, he’d buck. I was desperate for a horse, so I said I’d take him. He ended up being World Cup horse Dreamtime Invader.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to be a professional rider?
A: Riding is something I was very passionate and driven about. I asked my parents if I could leave Scots College for boarding school in Bathurst so I could take my horse and train. I was improving, but it wasn’t to the standard I wanted, so I came back to Sydney. I was riding with Julia Hargreaves at the time, she offered me a job half way through year twelve. My school principal said “you don’t often see people with this much passion” so he backed me.
Q: Who were your mentors in the early days?
A: I actually haven’t had a lot of coaching, I’m mostly self-taught. Chris Chugg was the first to take an interest in me. He started giving me a few tips and I worked for him in the school holidays. I then became a working pupil for Julia, before I went out on my own. Vaughn Jefferis is also a big mentor and supporter, he helped me find Vigilante and we were shortlisted for the Rio Olympics. More recently Michelle Lang-McMahon has been a huge support and mentor. She’s based in Queensland and we talk regularly about our horses.
Q: What was the biggest obstacle you had starting out?
A: Probably doing a sport I didn’t have the money to do! I overcame that by really getting to understand the industry and worked as hard as I could: multiple jobs; buying, selling and producing horses; gradually getting better horses and better gear.
Q: Where did the idea for a riding school come from?
A: It came from a local school wanting to create an equestrian program. They approached me multiple times and I kept saying no because I was too busy with the show jumpers, but I finally thought I’d give it a go. The program feeds in really well. We have kids graduating through the riding school to become part of the show jumping team.
Q: How has COVID affected the business?
A: Since COVID the riding school has gone mental. People are not travelling too far and looking for things to do close to home. A lot of Sydneysiders have also moved to the Highlands. I could have triple booked our school holiday camps.
Q: How many stallions have you had?
A: I’ve had a lot of stallions. Euro Star, Bling du Rouet, Cowboy (who was sold to Andrew Hoy), Braveheart, Joevaro and Kitara Krug, among others.
Q: At what level are your top horses jumping?
A: Euro Star is jumping World Cup, and Joevaro is only seven but already jumping Mini Prix.
Q: What are your competition plans with Euro Star and Joevaro?
A: I’m planning on taking them both to Florida to compete on the Sunshine Tour in Ocala and Wellington. Hopefully, this puts me in contention for WEG 2022 with Euro. Doing this trip will be great experience, and Paris 2024 could be either horse.
Q: Is there a particular competition you would most love to win?
A: I would love to win a gold medal. No one in Australia has done that in show jumping before.
Q: If you had to stop riding completely, what would you do?
A: Develop superhuman powers! I love horses and would probably continue what I am doing and have someone else ride for me. I have enough divisions of the business that I don’t have to ride.
Q: Are you afraid of anything?
A: Not much.
Q: At some shows you ride over ten horses, how do you adjust to the needs of each horse?
A: That comes with experience and I wasn’t brought up riding nicely educated horses, which isn’t a problem but I had to ride all sorts. Back in the day I had Dreamtime Invader and Cocomo. Coco was a 14.2hh $400 buckjumper from Camden sales that I ended up jumping around a World Cup. It comes down to feel and being able to adjust to the horse.
Q: If you could have any horse past or present which one would it be?
Q: What are you looking to improve in your own skill set?
A: I definitely think I need to improve my dressage skills.
Q: What advice would you give to a 20 year-old James?
A: Get people on your side without sucking up. Pick your battles!
Q: Do you have a particular quote or motto?
A: Believe in yourself, don’t let anyone else pull you down. Do you.
Feature Image: James and Eurostar scooped Champion Section 2 and Champion Young Horse of the Show at the 2021 Sydney Royal (Image by Australian Jumping).