22 October 2021

Yass dressage show puts ribbon on Jill's lifelong love of horses

| Sally Hopman
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Jill Doyle

Horses have been Jill Doyle’s life for as long as she can remember. Photo: Sally Hopman.

It’s hardly surprising Jill Doyle can’t remember not being on a horse. When your grandfather was in the 12th Light Horse Brigade and a Gallipoli veteran, chances are it’s in your blood.

One of her first memories is competing in the led class at the Parkes Show at age four and receiving a ribbon. It was nothing to get too excited about, she says today with a laugh, everyone got a ribbon back in those days.

For Jill, who has just turned 70, riding has always been her life. She’ll tell you she’s learned from the best, had the greatest horses, but is “just an average rider.”

Her husband John will tell you she’s just being modest, considering she’s competed in many of the country’s top equestrian events including the Sydney Royal. (John describes himself as a “Christmas rider” – just once a year.)

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But for Jill and John, it’s not about winning – it’s more about giving back to the community, introducing young people to the sport and making a difference.

Jill was given every opportunity as a young rider growing up, particularly from one fellow by the name of Clarrie Kable, who ran her uncle’s stables at Parkes in central-western NSW.

Clarrie Kable

The man who taught her almost everything she knows about riding, Clarrie Kable, on Solitaire, whom he broke in for Jill. Photo: Supplied.

Clarrie’s other claim to fame – his family lived next door to one Ben Hall at Forbes.

“Clarrie taught me everything I know,” Jill said.

“He put me in front of the saddle of his old horse Rocky and I was off. He was one of those people who always rode. I learned sign language quite young because he was deaf and that was how he taught me.

“I remember he had this old kero tin as a fire at night. I loved to just sit there with him when he told me stories.”

Jill Doyle aged about two

Jill Doyle, aged about two, with her mother Joan on Mumma the pony. Photo: Supplied.

He also taught the young Jill how to break in horses, including her own. She remembers him talking about the importance of the way you do it, how it was not a matter of brute force.

“He did it in such a special way, using quiet methods to do it. That was how I learned.”

In 1980, Jill and her family moved to Yass, settling on a mixed farm out on the Good Hope Road. It was the perfect life on the land for Jill and her horses but she, and John, soon started to seriously think about how they could best give back to their community.

Because horse riding had given her so much, Jill decided she wanted to share some of that goodwill with her community and for her, there was no better cause than the Yass Show Society in general and the sport of dressage in particular.

Dressage has always been her passion. It’s a skill shared between horse and rider where a number of predetermined movements or “figures” are performed in a specially marked arena.

Markers within the arena indicate where the movements are to happen, with the horse required to show three paces – walk, trot and canter. It is one of the equestrian world’s most skilled events, with Australia sending a dressage team to every Olympic Games since 2000.

“Dressage is a sport where people can compete against themselves to do better,” Jill said.

Jill Doyle at equestrian competition

After a 10-year break, Jill Doyle returned to the equestrian competition about five years ago. Photo: Supplied.

“I go into it not necessarily competing against another rider, but to get the most out of my horse and to be as precise as I can as a rider.”

Applying for every available grant, loan and collaring politicians wherever they found them, as well as donating their own money, Jill and John have worked tirelessly since 1992 to establish a dressage section at the Yass Show – complete with sand arenas.

“By December 2020, we had a useable arena here for the Yass Show,” Jill said. “And today, it is all so close to being completely finished.

“It was just important for us to do something for the community. We wanted young riders to have the benefits I had as a young rider – after all, you never know where the next Olympian is going to come from.

“Yes competition is important, but it’s also important for young people to learn all these different disciplines, get a grasp on how to do it – the competition side can come later.”

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Establishing such a facility almost paid off this year when Jill and John organised a dressage competition for this weekend – 24 October, at the Yass Showground.

They had more than 60 entries confirmed from all over NSW and the ACT but what they couldn’t plan for was COVID-19.

Just weeks before the competition was to start, they were forced to cancel, but have since rescheduled for February next year.

Will Jill take to the saddle again in February? We’ll have to wait and see.

“I didn’t ride for about 10 years,” she said.

“But I came back to it about five years ago when my daughter shamed me. She told me the Queen was 90 and she still rode.”

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