HILBERT resident Gemma Lee (23) always had high expectations for Vegas, despite his chequered past.
The 15.3-hand chestnut gelding had a short-lived racing career, which ended after two ‘very unsuccessful’ starts.
He was turned out in the paddock and soon forgotten about.
A hacking rider saw the neglected horse and bought him.
She fattened him up, gave him basic saddle education and set out to find him a good home.
Lee, who was in need of a new eventing horse, saw Vegas advertised, rode him and was instantly attached.
Although he was very inexperienced, Lee knew there was something special about Vegas.
‘It took us about 12 months to gel,’ she said. ‘He was pretty scared of all the jumps and I was really struggling with him at the start.
‘I was eliminated from the first five events I competed in.’
In the first year, Lee’s confidence was low and Vegas wasn’t faring much better. But Lee wasn’t going to give up.
Both horse and rider were in need of some direction so they attended weekly lessons with Kirsten Twining, at Newhope Equestrian, who got them on track.
‘It was slow progress, but it was very rewarding,’ Lee said.
‘I love working with him. I wouldn’t have gone through it all if I didn’t love him so much.’
Although there were ‘tears and tantrums’, Lee worked to get Vegas up to competition level, which included jumping clear rounds in the show jumping and cross country, and performing well in dressage tests.
He gained confidence and started to improve significantly.
In the last year, he’s shone.
‘He’s really come forward in the last 12 months,’ Lee said. ‘I’ve done most of the year at C-grade and recently at Murray ODE (one-day event) I went up to B- grade and he got me around.’
When Lee entered into the Off the Track Event series, she didn’t think she’d have a chance of winning, but she and Vegas established themselves as strong contenders early on.
By the time they got to the final ODE at Brigadoon, Lee and Vegas had already won the series but they still went on to win the event after a top dressage performance, followed by clear rounds in the showjumping and cross country.
‘Thoroughbreds are great horses,’ she said.
‘Once you bond with them, they will do anything.
‘Vegas didn’t want to be a racehorse, he wanted to be a show horse and he couldn’t be more perfect.’