Koko Story, an 11-year-old former racehorse, is one of Australia’s elite 4* eventing horses. When Jane Camens caught up with his rider, Rob Palm, the two had returned only recently from competing in Europe.
Sadly, Koko Story had to be withdrawn from the Australian Eventing Team at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon because of a virus he contracted in France. But, treated early, he’s fully fit again now, and Rob plans their next big challenge: selection for 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Koko Story (‘Woody’) had left quarantine only days before I interviewed Rob who spoke to me while he was in a round yard breaking one of the 30 horses he trains for clients at his stables, Regulator Thoroughbreds and Performance Horses. His conversation is punctuated with the occasional gee-up click and instruction to his horse.
‘I like thoroughbreds because of their will to work.’
‘Give them a job and they want to do it for you. There’s not really anything a thoroughbred can’t do. I find people get into trouble with their thoroughbreds when they don’t give the horses a job to keep their minds stimulated. They are such athletes.’
Koko Story was considered ‘a bit naughty’ by those who first rode him after he came off the track, and he’s probably a classic example of Rob’s belief that the more work a thoroughbred has, the better. However, before Rob started riding Koko Story his wife, Cassie Lowe, also an eventer, had forged a successful relationship with the horse before handing the reins to Rob when she was heavily pregnant with their first child.
Regulator Thoroughbreds, Rob and Cassie’s breaking, training and re-educating business, is named after a grey galloper Rob’s mother Rose bought in 1998. The Regulator (‘Fred’) and Rob had a brilliant eventing career together, starting when Rob was just 14-years-old and culminating when he was 21 when they competed successfully at the prestigious 4* star event at Burghley, in the UK, in 2006.
Rob, now 33, can’t remember a time he wasn’t riding. Rose, an accomplished horse woman, had both her children in the saddle before they could walk. Each of Rob’s early ponies took him ever higher in competition in various disciplines. Notable among his early mounts was a little showjumping Arab called Flight, and Haydon Relic, a stock horse.
Robert took his stock horse to pony club, competed in polocrosse and at the Sydney Royal, in stock horse classes, and won numerous show jumping and eventing competitions.
In 2002 Rob rode for Australia in the Young Rider Eventing Championships in Taupo, New Zealand, where he competed successfully on his sister’s thoroughbred mare, Sofala Star.
‘I’m a competitive person, that’s a big part of the passion for me.’
After finishing school in 2003, Rob worked for racing trainer Gerald Ryan for three years riding track work. Further down the track he spent three months in Germany, training with dressage trainer, Martina Hanover near Hamburg. ‘A lot of people in Australia work on how their horse is going and not necessarily improving their riding,’ Rob says. In Germany, without a horse of his own, he found he had the time to concentrate on his riding – a period of time, which, he says, has stood him in good stead.
Back home, he began his own business, riding other people’s horses as well as riding his own. Then, for two years, he worked for Australian Olympic eventing champion Shane Rose at his thoroughbred and performance horse facility, Bimbadeen Park. There, Rob broke in horses, did their pre-training, and rode numerous eventers. When Shane went to China to compete at the Beijing Olympics, where he won silver, Rob managed Bimbadeen Park.
In 2010 Rob moved to Victoria to be with Cassie. In the town of Bunyip, outside Melbourne, they established their own facility to break in, pre-train and re-educate horses, as well as riding and competing eventers.
Last November, Koko Story was the leading ‘Off The Track’ horse at the Adelaide 4* CCI, with the pair finishing sixth overall. This November Rob will ride another horse while Woody recovers from his world tour before they start their long-term preparation for Tokyo.
Regulator Thoroughbred and Performance Horses enable Rob and Cassie to continue to afford to compete internationally. They buy, train and then sell some of the horses they work with at their facilities. It’s a demanding business. There were 30 horses in work at their facilities the day we spoke, and before lunch Rob will have ridden at least 15 of them. It’s not just his horses that like a job.