Trainer, athlete, and riding coach, Stephen Dingwall is the owner of Cavalier Performance Horses in Murrumbateman NSW, and renowned for his successful show jumping career.
Q: Was yours a horsey family?
A: My uncle and cousin, Paul and Sean Dingwall from Caithness Stud, are very successful breeders and producers of many high quality Thoroughbred yearlings, but otherwise I came from a suburban non-horsey family.
Q: When did you begin riding?
A: Like many people, when I was a child I had the odd ride on the lead at a carnival or sideshow. At about 13 I rode at riding camps and then went through the great learning process of working at a riding school in return for lessons.
Q: Who fuelled your interest in show jumping?
A: After competing in showing, hacking, dressage and eventing, I began training with Grant Hughes, who at that time had a great team of horses and was competing at the top of the sport in Australia. He was a massive influence, mentor and friend. I later worked and trained with him for several years.
Q: Your age and where are you based?
A: Thirty-eight. I’m based at our family training facility in Murrumbateman, NSW amongst some of Australia’s best wineries. We work closely with my mother-in-law, Jan Smith, and her dressage horses. We’re extremely fortunate to be able to base ourselves here and work together. Our side of the business [Cavalier Performance Horses] produces show jumpers, trains and breaks in young stock, works and shows sale horses, and coaches riders and their horses.
Q: Do you work outside of show jumping?
A: I mainly work with the horses but around the property I’m a part-time plumber, electrician, fencer, counsellor etc.
Q: Do you train with your wife, Niki?
A: When I met her she was an accomplished Mounted Games rider having competed at two World Championships. She’s had a lot of show jumping success and has jumped up to 1.40 but since having our beautiful children she’s focused on them and supporting me in every way she can. But watch this space; I smell a comeback!
A strong bond – Stephen and Cavalier Du Rouet (Image courtesy Cavalier Performance Horses).
Q: Do you have any pre-event superstitions?
A: More than superstitions I have rituals which revolve around feeling that everything’s ready and organised. It’s something I’ve had to learn as I have a pretty casual personality. Also, coffee’s a high priority and included in my time schedules.
Q: Do you have a favourite breed?
A: I’m not rigid in the horse I ride. I have and have had good horses of all types and sizes. I do believe that our sport is moving in a direction where no matter what the breed, we need horses that have more blood. I’ve always been a fan of Warmbloods, with some good Thoroughbred blood, be that a quarter or a half.
Q: If you could have any horse past or present which one would it be?
A: Gem Twist ridden by Greg Best and, today, Peder Fredricson’s H&M All In. She’s the perfect example of an uncomplicated horse doing her job and is so very consistent.
Q: Recent successes?
A: Not had a huge amount of time in the ring due to a shoulder surgery. I’m chomping on the bit to get back to it.
Q: What skills does a rider need to show jump?
A: Resilience, and they must be patient and do the many miles required to gain experience. And balanced. I believe the very best riders, although they have different styles and techniques, all have good hands.
Q: Do you have a particular piece of gear you can’t do without?
A: There are lots of different pieces of equipment that are very useful. I tend to find what each individual horse needs rather than all must wear this.
Q: The toughest course you’ve ever ridden?
A: Depends what you’re sitting on. I’ve ridden some 1.10 tracks that felt like the Olympics and 1.50 classes that felt like a breeze. If I had to pick one it would be Leopoldo Palacios’s Grand Prix track.
Q: Up to now, who’s been your best horse and why?
A: All my good ones have been amazing; they’ve all given 110 per cent and I’d have any of them back in a heartbeat.
Q: What are you looking to improve in your own skill set?
A: I’ve always been a rider and trainer who’s not afraid to have lessons, be that dressage or show jumping, ask advice from riders I respect and watch what other top riders are doing.
Q: Is there a particular competition you would most love to win?
A: Here it would be the Australian Championships. As a coach, I love just seeing any of my students have success, mainly because the success gives them belief in themselves as riders, and that allows for their growth.
Q: Have you had any serious bingles?
A: I’ve been very lucky and not had any serious calls or injuries in the ring. Inevitably, having spent 21 years breaking in horses, I’ve had my fair share of bumps and bruises.
Q: What changes would you like to see in events here?
A: Our shows have improved a great deal thanks to some great committees and some private facilities which aim to grow the sport. I believe we need to star rate our shows, and continue putting emphasis on footing, facilities and prize money so our horses have every opportunity to be sound and confident at high levels.
Stephen and Cavalier Du Rouet triumphed at the 2018 Aquis Champions Silver Tour (Image by Oz Shotz)
Q: Three things on your bucket list.
A: Be in a championship team, compete at Spruce Meadows, and I would love to ride in a big derby at least once, like Hamburg or Hickstead.
Q: If you had to stop riding completely, what would you do?
A: I’d still enjoy finding and sourcing show jumpers and coaching.
Extra five Q&As
Q: An outline of your breeding program at Cavalier.
A: We aren’t a big concern – I like to breed one every few years. I much prefer to buy young horses I can already assess. In partnership with a great owner we’re fortunate to have acquired a stunning three-year-old colt named Cera Clariko. (Clarimo x Catoki x Quidam) from Kerri Parker of Cera Performance Horses. We’ll start using him this year for some of our mares and stand him at stud for a limited number of outside mares while he is produced for sport.
Q: In your early days, who were your mentors in Australia?
A: My main mentors as far as coaching and support have really been Grant Hughes and in later years David Dobson has had a massive influence on my riding and training. But in saying that, I’ve been lucky enough to train with many of Australia’s and the world’s very best, and have learnt things from all of them. I also have good mates, like Dave Cameron and Jamie Kermond and many others who often are there as sounding boards for ideas, advice and help at shows.
Q: You have ridden in America and the Netherlands – who did you train with, and did you compete in those countries?
A: Yes, I’ve ridden in both countries as well as some Asian ones. At 18 I rode for a sales barn in Virginia where I competed in low level eventing and show jumping. After spending a few weeks grooming for a friend at Spruce Meadows, I met Blair and Karen Cudmore. At that time Karen was a regular on the Canadian team. I broke in and trained around 10 to 15 young horses for them before returning home. In the Netherlands I’ll always be so grateful to have had a stint with Wim and Gerco Schroder. I was lucky enough to be riding many of their young stallions and sales horses while there, and Gerco was kind enough to train me on some of their older, more experienced horses. They were amazingly generous guys and amazing riders, but also good people.
Q: Is there anything you miss from those early days?
A: What I’ve learnt about myself, and COVID’s been a big part of it, is that as much as I love the sport of show jumping and high level riding, I really enjoy the friendships and the people in the sport. So I’m trying to find the right balance of top competition and the pleasure of going to those great country shows, where we can hang out, have BBQs, good family time, fires, drinks and banter – like the early days of being away on show runs.
Q: Has Australia’s competitive show jumping landscape changed in recent decades? A: Our sport has changed a great deal since the days when I was riding in juniors and young riders. The average quality of horses in our country is very good. There’s more training than in the past, and there are many opportunities for young riders to improve. That said, I think we need to keep discussing and growing our sport. A big problem we have had for many, many years is that there’s often more incentive to sell our top horses than retain them, and that’s a sure way to dilute our horses and riders capable of future selection.
Feature Image: Stephen and Cavalier Du Rouet competing at Willinga Park (Image by Australian Jumping).