Forbes showjumper Jake Tomlinson has been named best boy rider in the Pony Club teams contest in his first ride at Sydney Royal Easter Show.
Jake, on board his mare Marley Benjara, was one of just seven of 24 riders who rode a clear round on a course that asked a lot of the young competitors.
The Forbes Pony Club member was one of four young people chosen to represent Area 5 at the Royal, an area that extends as far as Tullamore and Peak Hill to the North, Corowa and Jingellic to the South, Griffith and Coleambally to the West and Boorowa and Cowra to the East.
Thirteen-year-old Jake took up horse riding less than four years ago and showjumping about two years ago, he actually cut his competitive teeth in steer riding at rodeos.
Even more remarkably, he's done a lot of the work to train his horses himself along with his dad Gary.
He's had Marley, a six-year-old mare, for about three years now. She's an American Curly, and when she gets a winter coat her distinctive curls as well as crimped main and tail gain attention everywhere they go.
For the Tomlinsons, the choice was based on the breed's intelligence, their willingness to "do anything" and their love for working with people - but Marley is particularly special.
"As a foal she had some pretty horrific injuries, they didn't expect her to live, she's certainly one tough little horse," Gary said.
She's got a great partnership with Jake, who works with her at least an hour every day, and Gary tells a story that illustrates just how responsive she is to him.
"We went for a trail ride - I was on Marley, Jake was on the other horse - Jake would ask the other horse to canter and Marley would canter," Gary said.
"He wasn't saying anything, she was just reading his body language."
The pairing actually started competing in stockman's challenge events, which involve whip cracking, obstacle courses and mustering.
Jake's seemingly meteoric rise to showjumping success didn't start that promisingly: he actually took a fall the first time he tried the discipline and reckoned it wasn't for him. About two years ago that changed.
"There was a ranch sorting day and in the afternoon the Pony Club came over and we stuck around for the Pony Club bit," Jake said.
"Next weekend they asked us to come over, and that's how we got into it."
Jake now competes in Pony Club and open showjumping events, jumping 110cm to 115cm with Marley.
The event is a huge experience for both horses and riders: the travel through Sydney traffic, riding through crowds, sleeping in the loft above the stable surrounded by other horses and families doing the same.
Competitors ride through the crowd to the arena and compete surrounded by the grandstand, audiences, and of course the big screens.
The course, with a pretend water trap, big wooden 'wings' on jumps, pot plants and flowers, took things to a whole new level.
"Marley handled it pretty good," Jake said, and that's tribute both to the many hours of work he has put in to getting her used to distractions like waving flags or walking over tarps, and to her nature.
"She is a very willing, brave horse," Gary adds.
Their performance at Sydney Royal was enough to earn Jake a blue ribbon as Best Boy Rider Inter Area, although unfortunately two team members were eliminated which meant they didn't proceed in teams competition.
Our other Area riders were Jorja Rusten and her horse Empire Shadow from Trundle, Victoria Wythes and her horse Harvest Liason and Rianna Reeves and her horse Ennovyar Cest Moi from Canowindra were our other qualifiers.
Jake was first in the ring for Area 5 which was the fourth team to go. Only one rider of those earlier competitors had gone clear but Jake kept calm and powered through the course to finish in the time and clear.
Jorja went second and had some bad luck after Empire Shadow hesitated at the first and knocked the poles, they tripped and resulted in an elimination as she fell. It was reported that it was her first ever fall from Empire Shadow.
Tori and Harvest Liaison were up next with the added pressure of having watched their team mate fall. The pair approached the first and had a refusal before clearing.
Heading on to the very intimidating second jump, a jump with a large bright blue water tray sticking out the bottom, Tori wasn't able to get enough forward momentum to push Liaison over and was unfortunately eliminated.
Rianna was last up for the Area 5 team. Keeping a calm head she guided Ennovyar C'est Moi around the course making it look easy to be the second clear for the team and the third clear for the day.
Manager of the team was Kylie Reeves, who's incredibly proud of the group and acknowledged their hard work even in qualifying for Sydney Royal.
"It's a massive pool that the riders are drawn from. They need to be A graded riders, so jumping 1.05m to 1.10m and then there's a selection process," Kylie said.
The riders must compete in a series of qualifier events to be considered, selectors also make sure that all riders are active members of their local pony clubs attending rally days and Pony Club events.
Next up for Jake is the State One Day Event where he will compete in showjumping, dressage and cross country, followed by state Combined Training with dressage and showjumping.
There's a month to prepare for the Pony Club State Showjumping.