• Fran Cleland

'The garland man' is a pony club boy who rose to the heights


ABOVE: David Calbert presents one of his magnificent garlands to Emma Adams and Bamborough Royal March. Picture: AMY-SUE ALSTON

WINNING a ribbon at a show is always fun, but the biggest thrill of all is to take home one of David Calbert’s magnificent floral garlands.


They have decked the necks of some of Australia’s most beautiful horses, from Garryowen winners, Royal Show champions and Horse of the Year winners to tiny Shetlands and giant Clydesdales. They have also featured on race days for special racehorses.


David understands what’s needed as he is not only a high-class designer but has been heavily involved in horses all his life.


Starting out at pony club aged nine, his natural talent led him to showing horses that have won major events in three states. He is also on the national show horse judge register.


He has worked as a veterinary attendant, secretary for the Ladies Jockey Association and for the Sydney Turf Club in administration.


“I was the retail manager for a chain of clothing stores and doing the window displays there started my creative side coming out,” he said.


“I had seen the lovely garlands on the champion racehorses in the US and my prominent show horse friends Greg Smith and Mary Reed encouraged me to try making them here for the biggest show horse events.


“I created Conception Garlands and at first I used real flowers, which were beautiful but didn’t last, but when I changed to artificial, silk flowers it gave more scope to make some really spectacular garlands, and the champions deserve it.


ABOVE: David's garlands are a work of art.

“It’s also important to make them suitable to the size of the winner,” he said. “Making one for a small pony or a large show hunter can’t be the same. Too big on a small pony will swamp it, and too small on a big hunter means it won’t meet around the neck.”


He says colour and theme is important.


“I have made one that I know is most cherished with an Australian theme of wattle, gum leaves and grevillea, but the classic roses and gardenia is always popular – a lot of people frame them to keep them on display.”


The spectacular garlands made for elite shows are, naturally, costly and over the years people have enquired about a range of more affordable garlands designed for smaller clubs and associations.


David now offers a range of garlands, two or three flowers wide, but of the same standard. “There’s a lot of copies about now, some are good and some, well, not that good,” he said.

“There’s a pride in doing things right.”


As a show horse and rider judge David has strong opinions on modern events and especially young riders.


“People need to take their children back to grass roots to learn skills before they attempt Royal Show level,” he said.


“Pony Club and gymkhanas were a great way to learn and improve, but those days seem to be gone and everyone wants to start at the top, so horsemanship and ringcraft is sadly lacking.


“They need to start at the bottom and work up like we all did. Today, too many youngsters are presented with a $20,000 pony and expect the ribbons to come – it’s not that easy. ”