Shona Martyn is a publisher and editor, and not a horse person, her daughter Evangeline is a musician, and a horse person. When Evangeline showed a passion for horses, Shona swapped her heels for gumboots, and embraced a whole new lifestyle. Evangeline Read tells their story.
One of my earliest memories is standing in front of my Mum on a Saturday morning begging her to let me ride. We were living in an apartment in Elizabeth Bay, in the inner eastern suburbs of Sydney, and there was nowhere to keep a horse. My persuasive argument about turning the building’s communal laundry into a stable failed dismally. But I had imaginary horses; I was convinced that my first two-wheeler bike was a speedy pony. I would ride around our local harbourside park doing twenty-metre circles and go for ‘gallops’ when I felt that we were warmed up.
Ours was not a horsey family. Shona, my mum, had grown up in suburban New Zealand and lessons were a luxury that her Dad, a teacher, couldn’t afford. But when she was a cadet journalist she’d done a year of riding lessons.
Mum recalls jealously watching Sheryl, the girl across the road, (whose Dad was a builder) heading off to Pony Club on Saturday mornings with her saddle over her arm. On the other hand my Dad, Christopher, has always felt guilty at the idea of being on top of a horse. He would never have the heart to pull up a horse’s head if it was eating grass because he harboured the firm belief that: “the horse must be hungry”.
But I’m not easily dissuaded and so, for a time, pony parties were my parents’ means of satisfying my pony dreams. I rode in a horse and carriage on my fifth birthday, and for my seventh and eighth had Saddle Club-themed sleepovers followed by a trail ride in the morning, with all of us cheerfully singing the Saddle Club songs. I had all four albums, but no pony. Every Christmas list was headed with the words, ‘a horse of my own’. I wanted to be the girl in the car towing a horse float.
For my ninth birthday, my parents relented slightly with a term’s worth of riding lessons at Malabar Riding School, on a headland shared with sporting shooters (although riding and shooting were fortunately at different times) near Sydney’s airport. I loved the riding school because, as the owner Frank Leek would say, “the horses could be horses” as they grazed on 400 acres each night. I learnt to ride every type of horse imaginable – from grumpy Shetlands to prizewinning horses Off The Track.
Despite suffering horse hayfever, that term’s worth of riding didn’t end until I was 19 and had a waitressing job to pay for my own lessons. Over that decade, every weekend my parents would drive me to the horses and watch me ride; they took me to watch high-level competitions such as three-day events out at SIEC. They understood this was something I was deeply passionate about and within their means (they were also paying for private school fees!) they helped me to pursue my riding.
In December 2008, my Mum was at a Christmas party where she started talking to her only Sydney horsey friend, Michele Neil. Mum was in a quandary. She couldn’t afford to buy me a horse but she knew I had far outgrown the riding school horses. The ever-practical Michele had a solution. Her friend, Simon Kale, a show jumping coach at Foxground on the NSW south coast was running a kids camp in a few weeks. She put in a word and my life changed. I remember that first kids camp so well, because unbeknownst to anyone – myself and my parents included – and despite childhood vaccination, I had whooping cough. But I tried my best to keep up with everyone else; my enthusiasm and experience in riding difficult horses outweighing any lack of technique (and the coughing fits).