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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

From boy to man, horses have been a passion for Robbie Allen

ABOVE: Robbie Allen with the Hermes trophy for highest-placed horse at Australia’s first International Festival of Jumping at Olympic Park, which he won riding Helsinki.

THIS is the story of a small Sydney boy who so wanted to ride that he pedalled his pushbike to the local trotting stables to beg to be put on a horse.

This week that little boy – Robbie Allen, now a man in his seventies – received a Lifetime Service to Sport Award from Equestrian Victoria at its annual presentation dinner.

Once young Robbie got his own pony, he was soon riding in horse shows in show classes and jumping.

At age 14 at Sydney Royal Show, Lindsay Ball’s father Claude threw him up on the great jumping pony Golden Radar and the pair won the pony puissance, jumping five feet, ten inches. (178cm.) He recalls Vicki Roycroft’s sister Joanne was second.

Robbie acquired some other horses and his ambition was to do what the other top riders of the time were doing, and follow the weekly run of jumping shows with teams of horses up through NSW and Queensland and back down.

ABOVE: Robbie Allen with his Lifetime Service to Sport Award. Picture: MELANIE GOULD

Blessed with extraordinarily supportive parents, he was, at 16, too young to drive a truck, so his mother travelled with him on the show circuit. His father would travel from his job in Sydney each week to whichever show they were at, shift the truck and horses to the next town and show, then drive back home.

It was tough going for the youngster as money was tight and he had to win to eat, but he succeeded, and as well as finding more horses he was beginning to be offered rides on horses owned by others.

For all that, his standout mount for the time was a pony, a tough little grey named Just George. Apart from the countless wins in jumping classes he was amazing at the high jump classes popular of that time, clearing seven feet (2.2 metres) to win at one event.

Robbie says it was that time on the road that shaped him and others like Guy Creighton into the men they are.

“We didn’t just ride, we helped build courses, we picked up rails we all helped run the events, it was how it was with the teams on the road and what we did, we worked together,” he said.

He rode internationally for the first time in 1970, travelling to New Zealand on a team with Lindsey Ball, Neil Harvey and Margie Lamb, with Philip Hanna as groom and Claude Ball as team manager.

ABOVE: Robbie Allen (centre, back row) with Philip Hanna, Margie Lamb, Neil Harvey and (front) Claude and Lindsay Ball on tour in New Zealand.

Moving to Victoria was a big step. Robbie recalls the first time he saw the Victorian championships course set up at the old Olympic Park. It was in the glory days of the Melbourne Showjumping Club’s magnificent fences, which were artworks in themselves. With the courses spread right around the arena it was a spectacular sight.

“Guy (Creighton) and I just stopped and stared; we thought what are we doing here,” Robbie said.

Seven years later, Olympic Park was the place where the first International Festival of Jumping was held at the French Festival, with Australia, France and New Zealand competing. Robbie was part of the winning team with Eric Musgrove, Kevin Bacon and Gavin Chester. Robbie won the Hermes trophy for highest-placed horse, which was Fern Davenport’s Helsinki.

ABOVE: Eric Musgrove, Robbie Allen, Kevin Bacon and Gavin Chester at the French Festival.

He continued competing and in the 1990s rode on an Australian team in Japan.

The work ethic gained from his parents and his time on the road saw Robbie move on to serving on the committees of the Melbourne Showjumping Club, where he became chairman, and Equestrian Victoria, where were was chairman of the showjumping committee.

Moving into coaching and training, Robbie is still in demand as a rider and horse trainer, and supports his and wife Sarah’s daughter Becky Jenkins, also an elite level showjumper.

Granddaughter Lacey is following in the family footsteps with a jumping pony and while grandson Cory is riding, he seems to think he’s a golfer.

Looking back, Robbie says, he has no regrets. Life was very different as a young rider back then, and while he agrees that the young riders today have opportunities he and the riders of his time could not even dream of, he wouldn’t change places.

“It taught us a lot, we had a great work ethic, yes, we worked hard, but we had great times, I would change nothing.”

ABOVE: Robbie Allen flying high at Cobram Agricultural Show.

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