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Life After Racing: Basking in unexpected glory

Always willing to try his hardest, Hughie is now competing at 5*.
Always willing to try his hardest, Hughie is now competing at 5*.
Always willing to try his hardest, Hughie is now competing at 5*.

Basking in unexpected glory

A diamond in the rough, eventing superstar Humble Glory has exceeded anything that Sophia Hill thought possible, writes AMANDA MAC.

Young Sophia Hill was on a mission. Horse mad for as long as she could remember, she was desperate to have a pony of her own. After many years of repeatedly begging her parents for a horse, her determination paid off when her longed-for equine arrived in the shape of a fluffy grey pony who hadn’t quite grasped the concept of listening to her rider. “I was nine years old and there was absolutely no going back! I was obsessed, and spent every possible moment zooming around my grandparents’ farm on a pretty out of control pony jumping everything I could find,” she says.

The years have rolled on and Sophia confesses that she is as horse crazy as ever, although now she is a professional rider with her own team of performance horses, a far cry from steering that fluffy grey pony over random obstacles. Nevertheless, those early days obviously stood Sophia in great stead; she’s now competed at FEI 5* level eventing and up to 1.40m in straight show jumping.

Sophia and Hughie competing in the Adelaide 5* show jumping phase.
Sophia and Hughie competing in the Adelaide 5* show jumping phase.

Along with her husband, farrier Andrew Hill, she’s currently based out of the Bluebell Park Equestrian Complex in Mansfield, Victoria, and has been enjoying considerable success of late, most notably with Humble Glory (Hughie), a talented 11-year-old off the track Thoroughbred who raced as Camon Houdini (by Bernardini out of Sharpen).

Sophia is also a Racing Victoria Acknowledged Retrainer, and says that the transition into retraining was an obvious one for her. “I’d owned quite a few OTT Thoroughbreds. They were an affordable choice of horse for me growing up and I’d had several that I had retrained and got them going well. Then, as I started to become a professional rider, it was a way that I could make a little bit of money. So, retraining worked well for me and I came across some really good horses along the way.”

But none were quite as good as Hughie, an exceptional horse who, although initially a bit of a diamond in the rough, turned out to be a superstar. “A friend of mine had taken ownership of Hughie straight off the track and he was just sitting in their paddock,” Sophia explains. “Eventually they called me and asked whether I could sell him for them.”

Sophia agreed and Hughie arrived in a stock crate, not the most glamorous entrance for a future star! “I’d worked with him for about a week when I realised that he might actually be quite good,” she says. “I had no idea how good, but to give him more time I decided to buy him myself so my friends weren’t having to wait for him to be sold. To start with, my plan was to sell him a couple of months later, but he just kept getting better and better.”

And just to make sure there were no doubts around the subject, Hughie went out and won his first event. “From there I realised very quickly that he was actually quite talented and that I wasn’t going to be selling him! Funnily enough, when he first arrived, you’d never have guessed what an amazing horse he would turn out to be. He was a plain Thoroughbred off the track, he was quite overweight, and he really didn’t look that athletic,” Sophia laughs.

As with so many top horses, Hughie has his quirks: “He’s actually a pretty grumpy horse on the ground,” she says. “But at the same time, he’s very easy going. He’s super quiet and easy to do anything with, he’s just got a bit of a grumpy old man personality and he’s always been that way. In terms of riding, he’s an incredibly trainable horse. Within 18 months of being off the track he had won the Young Rider Australian Eventing Championships at Adelaide 3*.”

But let’s just take a moment to fully appreciate that achievement. While it’s pretty much unheard of for most horses to go from off the track to 4* in two years, Hughie went one better. He didn’t just compete 4*, he had multiple 4* wins within those two years. He has now competed and had a 5* podium finish, and Sophia’s goal is to take him overseas to compete.

At just 18 months off the track, Hughie won the 2018 3*Australian Young Rider Championship.
At just 18 months off the track, Hughie won the 2018 3*Australian Young Rider Championship.

Sophia and Hughie were also the first ever combination in the history of the Wandin Park Horse Trials to finish on their dressage score at 4* level. Then at the 2023 Equestrian Victoria Awards, Hughie was awarded overall Eventing Horse of the Year, as well as the OTT Eventing Horse of the Year, thanks to an impressive season that included a clutch of CCI4*S wins at Werribee, Tonimbuk and Wandin, and a more than respectable third place in the Adelaide CCI5*L – all while Sophia was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Oliver, who arrived on schedule early last month.

Hughie’s meteoric rise has been, Sophia says, all due to him being a very honest and trainable horse. “With his jumping phases he’ll always look for the jump and try his heart out, and that’s really been his strength – he’s is so willing to try really hard.”

To add to the winning mix, Hughie is a great galloper, plus he and Sophia have developed a strong partnership. “We know each other very well, so we don’t waste any time with miscommunication. Actually, we have particularly good communication. I can gallop up to jumps and if I just sit up a little bit Hughie will steady – and it doesn’t take me much time to set up for jumps. He’s very efficient.”

Sophia readily admits that dressage is the pair’s weakest phase, but she’s confident that the best is yet to come: “It’s something we’re working really hard on and he’s improving all the time, so I’m hoping that it will continue to develop.”

And it would seem that Sophia’s run of luck with OTTs is likely to continue with nine-year-old Seattle Park. Basil, as he’s affectionately known, is, she tells me, perhaps the most sweet and gentle horse on her team. Already with a swag of 2* placings to his name, he’s now a 3* horse who’s showing potential to go to the top levels in eventing. “He’s competed in two 3* events so far, one of which was this year’s Melbourne 3DE, and he came second in them both, so I’m pretty excited about him as well.”

From her Bluebell Park base, Sophia offers rider coaching and elite performance horse campaigning. She has a very definite approach when it comes to the way she trains horses. “My focus is on classical training with the aim to build their confidence along with a willingness to form a successful partnership,” she says. “A key component of my coaching philosophy is to help riders establish a connection with their horses, as well as working on their technique.”

Sophia also runs a small performance horse breeding program at Bluebell Park, and stands several stallions at stud in partnership with Tulara Warmbloods. “We have a selection of stallions available each season for live cover and chilled semen, all with fantastic bloodlines for show jumping and eventing.”

While Sophia specialises in both those disciplines, she’s more than happy to work with all types of horses and derives great enjoyment from seeing each horse develop as they make progress.


Learn more about Sophia, her team and the equestrian services she offers at Sophia Hill Equestrian.