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Showing with the saint

Natalie and Andy in the arena at the 2022 HOTY (Image by Angie Rickard Photography).
Natalie and Andy in the arena at the 2022 HOTY (Image by Angie Rickard Photography).


Natalie McKay speaks to AMANDA MAC about the outstanding show ring successes she’s notched up with off the track superstar St Andrews.

For some it’s show jumping or eventing, while others have been bitten hard by the dressage bug. But for Natalie McKay, it was, is, and more than likely always will be, the show ring.

Competing in the 2023 Garryowen (Image by Little More Grace Photographics).
Competing in the 2023 Garryowen (Image by Little More Grace Photographics).

Growing up on her parent’s farm in Officer, Victoria, Natalie was not from your typical horsey family. Not that she let that stop her – she was in the saddle on her first horse by the time she was seven years old. “Officer was classified rural back then, so Mum and Dad thought they’d get me a little pony to keep me occupied. I don’t know whether they think it was such a great idea now though, not with all the time, effort and money we’ve put in,” Natalie laughs.

Nevertheless, that little pony was the beginning of an enviable show ring career. His name was Ben and he was a 12hh Welsh Mountain Pony. “He was great, the type of pony I wish was still around today,” Natalie says. “He did absolutely everything and I was really lucky to have had him.”

Predictably, during her Pony Club days Natalie enjoyed trying her hand at show jumping, cross country, dressage, road rides and the rest. And while it was a lot of fun, she had by then started her riding career in the show ring and it was there that she decided to stay. “We had Ben for about a year before buying a pony from Burrabong Stud. They bred good little children’s ponies back in the day, and that’s were our showing really started.”

For Natalie, the appeal of the show ring went hand in hand with her love of presenting horses to a high standard: “I have an eye for detail and I’m very particular in the way I prepare my horses. I think that’s why showing was something that I preferred to do over everything else. It was the perfection of showing that stood out to me, and the reason why I followed that path.”

Although she still had horses and rode, Natalie had a break from competition showing when she was in Year 12. Later there was marriage and the birth of the couple’s son, quickly followed by the purchase of a hack, and of course, the next logical step, a return to the competition circuit.

Fast forward 16 years, and nothing’s changed except for the growing collection of ribbons, trophies, garlands and rugs that Natalie and her horses have accumulated along the way. Interestingly, since she began competing in hack classes, all her horses, numbering around half a dozen, have been off the track Thoroughbreds. She particularly remembers Alex, her first OTT: “He was a Tudor Park horse, a half-brother to Doriemus who won the 1995 Caulfield and Melbourne Cups. So obviously there were high hopes of him being a very good racehorse, which didn’t eventuate because he was extremely slow – but he made the most beautiful show horse and was so quite.”

Awarded National Champion Off the Track Gelding in December 2023 (Image by Rodneys Photography).
Awarded National Champion Off the Track Gelding in December 2023 (Image by Rodneys Photography).

Natalie’s love of OTTs goes back to her early days in the show ring when it was very rare to see anything other than Thoroughbreds competing. “You tend to stick to what you’re used to, and I think Thoroughbreds have that certain show horse look to them – their fine limbs and the beautiful body,” she says thoughtfully. “Of course, there’re some beautiful horses who aren’t Thoroughbreds, but then there are beautiful Thoroughbreds out there as well – and I think Thoroughbreds are very smart, so that’s another thing in their favour.”

All the horses Natalie buys have had a little bit of education after the track, which was true of the remarkable St Andrews. Sired by Sandtrap (USA) out of Nun’s Chorus (NZ), ‘Andy’ was foaled down at the Rich Hill Stud in New Zealand. A consistent performer with 30 starts for five wins, he raced until he was eight years old, collecting $65,000 in prize money.

Natalie met Andy two years after he retired from racing, when in August 2018 she was visiting noted equestrian and trainer Adam Oliver’s property to look at a completely different horse. “That horse didn’t quite tick all the boxes,” Natalie explains, “and then Adam brought Andy out and he was just beautiful. I got on and rode probably about 10 metres or so and we just clicked. So that was pretty much it. He stayed at Adam’s until December because he was representing Queensland at the Nationals, and then we collected him the next day.”

Besides being an absolute gentleman, loving his food, being partial to a regular routine, and shining very, very brightly in the show ring, Andy has an endearing quirk. The gregarious OTT doesn’t like being by himself and prefers to be around other horses. That said, when Natalie rides him when no other horses are in sight, or when he’s being floated by himself, he’s perfectly happy. “I find that a bit strange, but as long as he’s the focus of attention he’s completely fine, which is a typical showman really, isn’t it?” she laughs.

Fortunately, Andy has not been short of attention over the past few years. In 2023, he took out Champion Large Hack at the Melbourne Royal, where he was also awarded the highest placed Thoroughbred after achieving 4th place in the prestigious Garryowen. At the 2022 Melbourne Royal, he won the Esquire Equestrienne Turnout, and in the same year was Reserve Champion Hack, won the Ladies Turnout, and was Champion Childs Hack (ridden by Ella O’Doherty), all at the Canberra Royal. Ella and Andy also won the Grand National Childs Hack Champion in 2022.

A delighted Ella O'Doherty with Andy, winners of the 2022 Grand National Child’s Show Hack (Image by Amy-Sue Alston Photography).
A delighted Ella O’Doherty with Andy, winners of the 2022 Grand National Child’s Show Hack (Image by Amy-Sue Alston Photography).

Prior to that, Andy was the 2021 Grand National Large Hack Champion and Off the Track National Champion at the Equestrian Australia Horse and Rider Championships in 2019, and in 2020/2021. He has represented Team Victoria in the Large Hack class for the past five years, and has carried Natalie to Royal rider wins at both the Canberra and Melbourne Royals, making many of her show ring dreams come true in the process.

At the end of last year, Andy and Natalie, who were one of only three riders and three hacks to qualify, travelled to the Sydney International Equestrian Centre to compete for Team Victoria in the Equestrian Australia National Show Horse and Rider Championship.

The results should not come as a surprise: “Andy was declared National Champion Off the Track Gelding,” she tells me, “and I had a fantastic show with him. The only Thoroughbred in the class, he carried me to National Champion rider over 26 years.”

St Andrews is now up for sale. “I think it’s time that someone else gets to enjoy this beautiful horse as much as I have,” Natalie explains. “I have another horse, seven-year-old St Onyx, who I’m competing with this year. He’s another off the track and his preparation is going really well.”

And although they’re very big shoes to fill, Natalie has every confidence that Onyx is more than able to follow in the saintly Andy’s hoof prints.