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Jumping them clear with Jake Hunter

Jake Hunter is a young Aussie show jumper who has chalked up some significant successes. REBECCA NADGE spoke to him about his career so far.

After a stellar year in 2021, Australian show jumper Jake Hunter is looking towards the future with one simple goal in mind: to jump more clear rounds.

The German-based rider was named the Australian Under 25 Rider of the Year following his success on the European circuit in 2021, during which he competed at Grand Prix level in the Longines Global Champions Tour and in other major events.

Horses were a big part of Jake’s childhood and some of his earliest memories include travelling to shows with his mother Gail, who also show jumped and has been a huge influence on his career. His family now runs Hunters Lodge Equestrian in the Hunter Valley, where brother Cade, another show jumper, is based, and where Jake visited his family earlier this year, his first time back in Australia since 2018.

Jake was named Australian Under 25 Rider of the Year following his success on the European circuit in 2021 (Image courtesy Jake Hunter).

Growing up, Jake always wanted to ride and dreamed of working with horses for a living. He also had a fascination with travelling and it was his experience at the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China, that fueled his drive to compete internationally. The event was on a borrowed horse and he prepared by riding as many different horses as possible in the lead up. He says he was lucky to draw a good mare, and together the pair won the individual bronze medal.

During the trip he met young Irish show jumper Michael Duffy, and was invited to move to Ireland to ride for Duffy Sporthorses in County Mayo. He seized the opportunity and was on a plane almost as soon as he’d finished Year 12. Access to big international shows and the sheer number of horses he could ride were the main attractions of being overseas – and he certainly met with some early successes, including his first international win at CSI2* Balmoral, and a CSI4* event in Salzburg, Austria.

On the winner’s podium with the individual bronze medal at the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China (Image courtesy Jake Hunter).

However, there were some stark differences to riding in Australia, but Jake embraced them. “I remember I thought I was going pretty well until I got to Ireland and realised I couldn’t ride indoors to save my life. I went to one show where I had fifteen horses to ride, and over a couple of weeks rode hundreds of rounds.” With ample opportunity to learn and a variety of horses, ponies and cobs to ride, he quickly gained experience.

Jake readily admits that he made lot of mistakes on what was a steep learning curve, but luckily was never reprimanded for them. “There was always the next horse to ride, or another round to jump, or another job to do, so you never really had time to dwell on things. I just learned from my mistakes – and I think it’s very important to be in an environment that encourages that.”

Another challenge was homesickness. His speedy departure from Australia without any real long term plan, plus being on the other side of the world far away from friends and family, was at times tough. But he credits the Duffys for their support and for treating him like one of their own, which is why he stayed in Ireland for five years, eventually moving to Holland where he was based with Alan Waldman and his wife, international American-Israeli show jumper Danielle Goldstein Waldman.

It was during his time at the Waldman’s that he picked up the ride on Global Jativia, a Belgium Warmblood formerly ridden by Danielle up to Grand Prix level. The Cardento 933 mare gave him his first taste of the Longines Global Champion Tour in Stockholm last year, where he took on the 1.45m, 1.55m and 1.60m CSI5* classes. He describes 2021 as a “great year”, in which he finished seventh at the Poznań CSI4* in Poland, and was selected to represent Australia in two Nations Cup Competitions, including Drammen, Norway, where the team finished in second place. He represented the team again on the Sunshine Tour in Spain, and also competed in the Rolex Grand Slam Under 25s in Geneva, Switzerland.

Following his time at the Waldman’s he made the move to Belgium to base with Alex Duffy and Jonna Ekberg. Then came the offer to move to Germany and ride for Marc Wirths Sporthorses – not an opportunity that he could refuse!

Jake’s approach to stable management focuses on having happy, sound horses. Although the horses’ routine remains the same each day, their work, which may include jumping only once a week, varies with sessions in both indoor and outdoor areas, plus roadwork. “We’re lucky where we’re located. We can ride down the road to the lake and into the water,” he explains.

He prefers to work with younger horses to ensure they benefit from his system, rather than acquiring horses who may not have enjoyed the same consistent approach. “I think you can feel the difference in a horse that’s come from a really good system and knowledgeable people as opposed to one that hasn’t. We really believe in what we do and we find that most horses improve in our system. It’s just doing the simple things correctly every day. If you do the simple things right, the harder things come more easily.”

Riding multiple horses over hundreds of rounds quickly helped Jake gain experience. (Image courtesy Jake Hunter).

He plans to continue riding the best horses he can and to keep learning. His advice to aspiring fellow riders is simple: surround yourself with the best people possible and keep working hard. A supportive environment is more important than the wage, he advises.

Another realisation riders must face is that no one is offered a team of Grand Prix horses straight off the bat. Jake considers his time overseas as an apprenticeship and points out that everyone has to work their way up and be open to learning: he still regularly asks both Michael and Alex Duffy for advice.

But for any rider intent on chasing their dreams, Jake firmly believes in the value of working hard, acknowledging that there are definitely more bad days than there are good: “It’s a lot of hard work and a big sacrifice to leave everything and move overseas. I’ve been extremely lucky throughout my whole journey and been surrounded by really good people. If you find people who would do things for you as unconditionally as you would for them, I don’t think you can go wrong. With any aspect of life, whether it be business, horses, or whatever you do, if you have really good people around then you’ll always find a way.”

Jake loves what he does, which helps keep him motivated and on track. Going forward, his focus will be on a team of young horses, with long term plans for major championships. He also has his sights set on a foal out of Global Jativia.

And ever generous of his time, Jake offers one final piece of excellent advice: “Don’t give up, because you never know how close you are until you get there.”

Feature Image: Competing with Global Jativia in the 1.45m at the 2021 Stockholm Longines Global Champions Tour (Image by Sportfot).