Shane Rose's Wild Ride to Rio Olympics

Shane Rose is best known to our owners as proprietor of Bimbadeen Park, where many of our Blue Sky purchased yearlings are broken-in and pre trained for their Sydney trainers. For those that don't know the true talents of Rose, read the below article from the most recent "Weekend Australian" Magazine. We're certainly blessed to have a horseman of this calibre handle our thoroughbreds on a daily basis and wish him the best of fortunes towards the Rio Olympic Games. 

The Weekend Australian - 21st May, 2016

STORY: DOUG CONWAY | PHOTOGRAPHY: NICK CUBBIN

Olympian Shane Rose loses count as he ticks off the broken bones he’s had over a lifetime of horse riding: both arms “a couple of times”, both legs “a couple of times”, both wrists, a thumb, “plenty” of ribs and pretty much his entire face in one horrific accident that left him in a coma for a week. Then there was the split liver, punctured lung and golden staph infection… Rose breaks in racehorses for a living. And horses break Shane Rose.

I visit him in his “office”, a round yard about 10m in diameter with a 2m-high solid timber fence, on his property Bimbadeen Park near Camden, southwest of Sydney. It’s where he starts his day, entering the yard on half a tonne of bucking horseflesh that isn’t used to being told what to do. Many of his charges are “a bit naughty”, an oftused phrase in the Rose lexicon that translates as “psychopathic”. The panels and posts are battered and, in some cases, missing – they’ve been bashed and kicked by horses like the one that sent him to his latest round of surgery for a punctured lung. “He spun round and belted me in the ribs,” he says.

Rose has been unlucky, but he’s one of the most dogged people you’ll meet. Horse breaking and training a string of Group One winners is his day job, but his dream is for Olympic victory, which he hopes to finally satisfy in Rio in August in the three-day equestrian event, the horse world’s equivalent of the triathlon: dressage, cross country and show jumping. There’s not much that can stop him, neither a smashed-up body, nor a bout of thyroid cancer, nor a litany of bad luck on a 20-year Olympic journey that has left him so far with a silver medal from Beijing in 2008. His most recent Olympic catastrophe involved watching helplessly as his horse went lame on the eve of the London Games four years ago.

“His capacity to come back borders on unreality,” says Prue Barrett, Equestrian Australia’s national performance director. “He is at the high end of mental toughness and desire to win across all sports. If he thought he could be a world champion in marbles, he would do that.”

Rose, 43, was practically born in the saddle. The youngest of four, he has been riding since the age of two, when his parents bought a Shetland pony. By five he had joined the local pony club in the northern Sydney suburb of Duffys Forest. He was a district representative rugby player as a teenager, playing with little regard for his own safety, according to friends. He skis much the same way, they say. But horses have always been his greatest passion. “He’s had that drive forever,” says his mother Penny. “He is an incredibly hard worker. Everything about him is, ‘I can do that’. He has been in the wars, quite seriously sometimes, but life is to be enjoyed and he is living every moment of it. The bottle is never half empty with Shane.”

One of those wars was with thyroid cancer in 2001, when he was 28. Since an operation followed by radiation therapy he has remained in rude good health, bar the horse-related injuries.

Four years on from the cancer diagnosis came his worst injury, when he was teaching a fractious galloper to enter the barriers at Bimbadeen Park, using long reins to stand behind the horse. He got too close; the horse suddenly bucked, kicking him in the face with sickening force. “She collected me on the bottom of the jaw and smashed everything on the way up,” Rose recalls.

Blair Richardson, a fellow horse breaker who was helping that day, remembers it sounded like the horse had “snapped a timber railing”. Rose’s wife Niki says his face was so badly mangled that surgeons asked her for photos to guide them while reassembling it. “So I took in photos of Brad Pitt, but it didn’t work,” she laughs. Rose spent a week in an induced coma while doctors performed four operations, inserting eight metal plates into his head, fixed with screws and “other bits and pieces”.

There were three blood transfusions before doctors managed to stop the bleeding behind his nose. But he was back home and riding again inside a month. “To this day if I walk behind a horse I lift my arms,” he said. “If a horse flicks its tail I’m pretty defensive because I can remember the horse kicking me, seeing it coming and thinking, ‘Gee I’ve got to get out of the way of this’. I sometimes relive it. But as far as competing goes it was fine, because I wasn’t hurt while competing.”

That’s a reference to another accident, in 2003, when he broke a leg in competition. “A naughty little horse jumped to the side of a fence and wrapped my leg around a post,” Rose says. “I had way more mental issues with that one. Every time I got to a narrow fence it was, ‘Ooh, squeeze in!’ but I was eventually able to put it out of my mind.” There’s no doubt equestrian can be a dangerous sport. Australians have been reminded of this in tragic fashion recently, with the deaths of two talented young riders: Olivia Inglis, 17, was crushed by her horse during competition in the Hunter Valley in March, and three weeks ago Caitlyn Fischer, 19, suffered the same fate during a cross-country event at the Sydney International Horse Trials. The world body, the Fédération Equestre Internationale, says about 32 riders worldwide were seriously injured or killed in 2015.

While confident in his ability to minimise risk, Rose says you always have to factor in the horse. “I can do everything 100 per cent perfectly and still have an accident because I’ve got something under me that can think for itself,” he says. “I have to have 100 per cent faith in my horse. My horse has to have 100 per cent faith in what I am telling him to do. The horses never get to see what they have to jump until they get there. So if you’re jumping over a 1.2m fence, with a two-metre drop on the other side, landing in a lake, then taking off before they can take a stride, they need to know that everything is OK and they’re going to do it.”

Eventing has its roots in cavalry tests requiring mastery of different forms of riding – from the grace and precision of intricate dressage manoeuvres, to the bravery and stamina required to leap obstacles such as log fences, stone walls, ponds and ditches in the cross country, to the technical skills and athleticism of show jumping.

Rose made the squad for Atlanta in 1996, only to have his hopes dashed when his horse was injured. The Australian team had not yet been selected, but Rose felt “devastated”. He missed out on the Rome 1998 World Equestrian Games – the sport’s world championships – also because of an injury to his horse. He wasn’t selected for the Sydney 2000 Games, where he rated himself an outside chance but acknowledged the power of the gold medal-winning Australian eventing team.

Athens 2004 was a different story. Rose believed he should have been the first rider picked, and was shocked to again miss out. The team performed poorly, out of the medals, and later that year Rose won the prestigious Adelaide International by 20 marks in a classic “I told you so” performance. “I have no doubts if I was in that [Athens] team we would have got a medal,” he says bluntly.

He finally won an Olympic medal in Hong Kong, where the 2008 equestrian events were held, but it left him unsatisfied. The Australian team led after the first day’s dressage competition, and were a close second after the cross country, but could not quite make up the leeway in the show jumping, losing to the Germans by a slender margin. “It was actually quite a hollow feeling standing on the podium thinking, ‘We’ve let this slip by’,” says Rose. “I think all of us looked at each other and thought, ’Next time we’ll go one better’.”

Sam Lyle, the assistant coach of that team, and a friend for more than 20 years, says Rose is very good at putting disappointments behind him. “I remember speaking to him after a pretty ordinary show jumping round had lost him [an important competition] a couple of years ago, and I was expecting him to be gutted,” says Lyle. “But instead of doom and gloom, he said, ‘I’m just going to have to get better. I’m going to do this, that and that. This is my plan’. That really stuck with me. That’s a bloody impressive attitude.”

Just as well, because Rose wept tears of frustration when, on the eve of the London Games, injury to his horse forced him to hand his spot on the team to the reserve rider. Australia finished sixth. Rose was left to rue a five-year preparation that ultimately counted for nothing, for it takes at least as long as the four-year Olympic cycle, and usually longer, for rider and beast to achieve the symphonic combination required for success at the ultimate level. “If the Games had been a week earlier or a week later, things may have been different,” says Rose.

Equestrian Australia’s Barrett says Rose’s high level of motivation and determination made it “gut-wrenching” for her to deliver the news that he would not compete, even though he already knew it was coming. “No one really understands how much he has overcome because he appears so flippant about it,” says Barrett, who has competed with and against Rose many times at state, national and international level (this is one of the few sports where men and women compete against each other). Rose is “very hard to beat, and always has been”, she says. “One of his rivals says that when he comes to each minute-marker on cross country courses, he says, ‘Whatever my watch is telling me, it’s also telling me that Shane Rose was here five seconds ago’.

“He has also matured into a very technically correct rider who understands how the equestrian world has changed. Twenty years ago if you had the best horse in the world you could probably win gold, but now you probably need to be the best rider, too. Shane is aware of that.”

Rose’s first thought after the searing disappointment of London was getting home to start preparing for the next Olympics. And now he is almost there. This time he has left nothing to chance, training not one but two mounts. He qualified for the five-member “high performance” eventing team, from which the final team will be chosen. Things look positive: he is currently fifth in world eventing rankings; the only other Australian in the top 10 is Christopher Burton at number two. The decision will be made by a committee in June. And this has already been a big month for the Roses: 10 days ago they doubled their brood with twins Lachlan and Zara joining Olivia, three, and Harry, two.

“I’m riding as well or better now. I have no doubts that I work as hard as or harder than anyone else out there competing. And I’ve got two horses that are as good or better,” Rose says. “If one of these, God forbid, should fall over, I’ve got another one that’s equally capable. I’m in a much stronger position. I’d be pretty disappointed if I can’t finish in the top five [in the individual events].”

Rose is already thinking ahead to the next World Equestrian Games in Canada in 2018, and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. “And we’re breeding horses now for an Olympic Games [in 2024] though we don’t yet know where it will be,” he cheerfully adds. Meanwhile, he will go on putting his body on the line breaking racehorses to pay the bills clocked up by equestrian competition.Niki, also an accomplished eventer, admits her husband has been to hospital “too many times” and when she sees him limping back to the homestead she thinks, “Oh God, what now?” But she has supreme faith in his ability. “He is a very good horseman,” she says. “He is good at judging the risks, and avoiding them. You could offer me a million dollars to get on some horses and I would refuse. But he is never scared, and he manages to convince them to see things his way.”

Rose has helped develop a string of Group One champions, including 2014 Caulfield Guineas winner Shooting To Win, 2012 Victoria Derby winner Fiveandahalfstar, 2012 Australian Oaks winner Streama, Bentley Biscuit (All Aged Stakes) and Racing To Win (Doncaster, Epsom and George Ryder), as well as Golden Slipper runners-up English and Decision Time. He has as many as 80 racehorses working at Bimbadeen Park at its busiest, and if the business thrives he won’t be forced to sell his eventing horses. They’re worth a pretty penny, too. His two Olympic mounts, Virgil and Qualified, are 10 and 11 years old respectively, just coming into their prime, and could fetch more than $1 million each.

“I love my horses but I look at them as a way of getting me to the Olympics,” he says. “They’re not really for sale, but hypothetically, if I sold the two horses for $1 million each I could be sitting at home with $2 million. But I wouldn’t be at the Olympics, and I would rather have my horses than the money. You can’t buy the opportunity to go to an Olympic Games.”