My story

It's time for a change. 

I've made a big decision ... After more than thirty years of producing international quality event horses on my own, the time has come to implement the ESB succession plan. The sale of the ESB stud can be either in part or whole and can include the name, branding, intellectual property, breeding rights, frozen semen and all stock.

The reason for this decision is because I would like to see the story and the legacy continue but I don’t have two leg-ed children of my own. This presents a unique opportunity for someone who wants to produce event horses to international level and run a successful business at the same time.

This transition will allow me to develop a few other projects which I am passionate about but I am happy to be available for training, support and even transitional management if required.

Starting again at 'Euroa Horse Park'

The move to Euroa

The demolition of 'Gold Fields'

OMG ... where do I begin to explain this time.
Experiencing one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of Victorian mining has left me utterly exhausted.

In 1996, I purchased a bare block of land and established ‘Gold Fields’, a property of 301 acres about twenty minutes from Bendigo, which was to become the home of the ESB stud, The Bush Courtyard and the venue for the 2009 Pony Club State Championships along with several other events and ventures.

Following three years of major investigations and negotiations with the mine, the EPA and DPI, I sold out, demolished the entire property and relocated to Euroa. There is nothing left at the property other than the meter box.

The rest of this story may be best left to tell in the book “It’s another Erin Brocovich story”.

An interesting year learning the Shades of People

and then there were
other stories which are best left to rest but let's just say that there are always two sides to every story,
oh and I forgot to mention the ... 


One would think that this nasty fall 
may have knocked some sense into me!


I came up with an event idea, so painted my old van ...

and designed the logo and banner graphics

and held the Beach Party in the Bush on Australia Day

so that the locals could have some fun!
including me :)
Floods at Gold Fields

but we recovered to hold camps and clinics

and get involved more in community projects
as editor of the Goornong Guide ...

... and organising more events

ABC interview about a career with horses


'Gold Fields' hosted the RDA State Championships

This was a strange few years recovering from two Total Hip Replacements due to Femero Acetabulum Impingement which is basically a conformation fault and nothing to do with riding horses. I was so fortunate to have some wonderful people to look after the farm, the horses and me.

'Gold Fields' hosted the 2009 PCAV State Championships

ESB Irish Exhibit, Frost and Honour going into quarantine before flying to the UK. ESB Irish Compassion came as well.

Boarding the airplane. 
I flew with the four horses and we all arrived safely.
Managed to catch up with Alex Hua Tian and ESB Irish Fiddle at Chatswood HT 
After a few months in the UK, it was on to the USA to catch up with ESB Irish Doctrine and Ashley Johnson


Overseas trip itinerary incorporated visits to:
1.    Punchestown Horse Trials
2.    Aston-le-wells : Nigel & Ann Taylor
3.    Milton Keynes Event Centre
4.    Hickstead All England Jumping Show
5.    Bramham Horse Trials
6.    Glenn Miller Museum
7.    Paul Schoekemohle
8.    Aachen
9.    Spruce Meadows
10.  Parelli Natural Horsemanship

Team ESB was set up to support the riders, the horses and the sport. We ran goal setting sessions, media training workshops with SOCOM, and set up webpages for each rider to be able to communicate with other members of the Team.

Unfortunately, the concept was a bit before its time and never got to see its potential realised. The selected Australian riders on the Team were not quite ready to understand the ethos or fully appreciate the benefits of sponsors, supporters and owners; nor in my opinion were they ready to fulfill the obligations and responsibilities of that support. 

It involved countless hours of work and effort but was one of my greatest failures and one which I am extremely saddened by.


1996 - 2015
The rise and fall of 'Gold Fields' the property

 1984 - 2009
Winkle Park – dreams do come true!
This is a true story of triumph over tribulation; a compilation of adversity, determination, heartache and achievement against all odds.
In 1984, Vanessa Hawkins was asked to ride overseas as part of an unofficial Australian team in Hamburg, Germany. She was awarded Best Australian Rider. After an official tour of several major breeding and training centres in Germany and the Cadre Noir in France, she back packed around Europe, England, Scotland, Scandinavia, Spain and Portugal for six months.
Full of inspiration, plans and experience from overseas, she successfully applied to do the Associate Diploma of Horse Management at VCAH Glenormiston. This was much to her parent’s horror as like many parents they didn’t see that there was much future in the horse industry. Vanessa’s mission was to breed and produced event horses to enable her to compete at international level. The other vision was to create a world class facility to parallel those overseas and for fellow Australians to enjoy. This project was nick named ‘Winkle Park’.
In between her studies Vanessa designed and organized a small working party which raised the funds and built the cross-country course for the college. It was officially opened by Bill Roycroft and the students held a challenge competition with Marcus Oldham College (Gleni won of course!).
Vanessa graduated in 1987 after two years full time. She was Dux of the year and received two awards (one for best all round student and one for the most contribution to the college) as well as a scholarship to study the Irish Draught horse overseas.
The scholarship took her back to England and Ireland in 1988, where she travelled 10,000 miles in a mini (Daisy), studying Irish horses and uncovering previously destroyed stud books which dated back to 1918. Her research was published in a report and in several magazine articles. Vanessa then founded the Irish Draught & Sport Horse Society (IDSHS) in 1989 and was President for the first two years.
Whilst building her own breeding stock of Irish Sport horses, Vanessa gained valuable experience on various stud farms including Lochinvar Equestrian Centre with Heath Ryan and Craigielea, with Peter Morgan at Kilmore. This position led her into a managerial role at Dorrington Park, a Thoroughbred stud owned by Robert Crabtree, now known as Eliza Park.
Tragically in 1990, her imported foundation Irish Draught mare, Anna, suffered post partum laminitis after her fifth foal. After battling for four months to save her, the battle was lost and Vanessa decided to marry college sweetheart, Frank. She reduced her horse numbers and moved to Murray Bridge, SA. Her mission was to be a good wife but she ended up becoming the ‘snow pea picker supervisor’ for her husband’s employers.
Following this position, she was asked to establish short courses for people entering the horse industry and developed a passion for teaching and motivating people to follow their dreams.
Frank and Vanessa moved back to Victoria in 1993, purchasing a property in Central Victoria. Six months after restoring their new home and setting up the farm, the local gold mining company discovered gold within 100m of their house. This prompted a mass of activity with scrapers, dozers, loaders and dump trucks as well as explosives blasting at least once a week. A double loaded shot resulted in Vanessa and her house being showered with rocks and is another story of its own but stay tuned for the movie! Unfortunately, the pressure was too great for their marriage and Frank and Vanessa went their own separate ways.
“If someone had told me that I would eventually learn so much about mining gold, heavy machinery and the legal profession, I would have laughed because they were subjects which had never interested me in the slightest. I actually bought shares in the company afterwards, just to keep an eye on them. This story (well some of it) has been written into history and the record books of the company as not long after I moved, the mine called one of their new pits after me. The truth is that they had actually planned to have four new pits named Franks, Vanessa north, Vanessa South and Tim’s (another landowner nearby) but they changed them after this saga and also when questioned why I had two holes and the boys only had one?!? It is a shame that they decided later to fill it in” …… J

Vanessa's pit and splay
During this time Vanessa had pursued all avenues of establishing ‘Winkle Park’ which in her mind was to be similar to Hidden Valley in Wallan, Vic built by Robert Holmes A Court. Dejected, she decided to put the project in the cupboard and let it rest.
After reading a report by George Wilson and Alan Pilkington, titled Australian Horses as a Primary Industry (RIRDC), her interest in the Australian Horse Industry grew as she developed a deep insight into the issues, which confronted the future growth and development of the industry. Further awareness and a desire to contribute to this growth led Vanessa to become a member of the executive of the Australian and Victorian Horse Council (VHC). In 1997 she was Honorary Secretary of the Australian Horse Industry Council (AHIC).
Vanessa is convinced that the Australian horse industry had a huge future if only people would work together and in support of each other. She believed that directly or indirectly all of the industry’s problems could be addressed if the AHIC adopted her formula of five P's - if we raise the Profile of the Horse, we will encourage increased Participation in the industry, which will raise the level of Professionalism; we need to increase our Protection against endemic and exotic disease threats; and if we do all these we will inevitably raise the level of Prosperity for EVERYONE !!!
“Despite the hardship and crippling effects of the recent EI situation, it has been a huge wakeup call for industry. The positive outcome of the EI situation is the increased awareness of the size, scope and contribution of the Australian Horse industry to our economy and employment numbers,” says Vanessa.
To address some of the issues confronting the industry, Vanessa commenced work on a much needed industry database, which she and her business partner funded all by themselves. This work was published with a few local directories as well as the 1997 "A-Z Horse Industry Directory". This publication was well received with nearly 3,000 copies sold and was used as a reference by the VCE Equine Studies students for many years.
The publication was about to go national when she was offered the position of Event Director for EQUITANA Asia Pacific. This was an ideal opportunity to further her work in promoting the horse industry, so she wound down her other activities to concentrate on developing the event.
Equitana is a unique event which has been run in Essen, Germany since 1968 and now attracts well over 300,000 people. However, it was relatively unknown to the Australian industry back then and required a lot of ground work and positive talking to overcome the skepticism and bring it all together.
The normal structure of this amazing event consists of three main elements - Exhibition, Education and Entertainment held over four days in one venue. However, EQUITANA Asia Pacific attracted considerable support from the Victorian Government who requested a fourth element of international competition. This was achieved with the 1999 event held over ten days using Werribee Park Equestrian Centre and the Melbourne Convention Centre. The event showcased the Australian horse industry in its entirety for the very first time, attracting over 70,000 people and receiving many awards due to its success.
After the 1999 event, Vanessa returned to developing her new property and running her breeding program, Equine Sports Breeding (ESB) which by then consisted of over 100 horses, including seven stallions and thirty mares at Goornong in Victoria. ESB has become one of the largest and most consistent producers of eventing horses in Australia.
Despite all the skeptics, the ESB program that began in 1986 in Terang has just produced its 250th foal and a stallion which was ranked 7th in the world in 2008 by the World Breeding Federation of Sport Horses (WBFSH).  The stallion, ESB Irish enough is the sire of World Cup winner and Beijing Olympic silver medal winner, Kirby Park Irish Jester, owned and ridden by Megan Jones. From her first two foundation mares Vanessa has seen her breeding program develop into one that is now making a name for itself internationally and according to her the best is yet to come. She has made sales of several horses for between $100,000 – 170,000 each.
With the breakdown of a long term relationship, Vanessa returned to the workforce in 2003 to support the ESB program and the property. She was recruited by Bartercard, the world’s largest trade exchange.
She achieved World Records in 2005 and 2007, breaking all previous records and finishing number one in the world for the most number of sales in the company.
Her work with Bartercard not only enabled her to continue with ESB and the property but it also took her back overseas to work. These opportunities rekindled her interest in developing ‘Winkle Park’. The first trip in 2004 was the international conference in Spain followed by a Bartercard Bootcamp in the UK. After this Vanessa met up with her great pal Christine Stacey, whom she went through Glenormiston Ag College with and who is now resident in the UK. They travelled to Ireland to see Punchestown Horse Trials before returning to the UK to visit facilities and riders, including a G&T with the late Douglas Bunn who owns the Hickstead Stadium.
Vanessa then continued on the Essen, Germany to catch up with her Equitana friends. Whilst there she spent a day with Paul Schoeckemohle, probably the biggest producer of Dressage and Showjumping horses in the world. She also visited Frank Kemperman, Director of Aachen and saw the developing site for the 2006 World Championships.
On a round-the-world ticket, Vanessa flew on to Calgary, Canada and spent several days at the Spruce Meadows facility. She shared many hours with the owner, Mrs Southerns. After popping into see the site where they hold the Calgary Stampede, she flew on to Denver and spent a few days with Pat and Linda Parelli before flying home.
The next trip was following the 2005 Bartercard International conference in Phuket, Thailand. She went on to work in Cyprus for three weeks and managed to visit the hospital and naval base where she was born and the house where they lived for eight months.
Travelling on to England, Vanessa spent several weeks talking to eventing people about Team ESB. She visited Braham Horse Trials and the Twinwood arena before flying out to Virginia, USA. Here she was based with Wash Bishop (past Olympic selector for the US) for two weeks and visited Phillip Dutton, Mara Dean, Jim Wofford and Karen O’Connor.
In July 2007, Vanessa was asked to work in the UK for Bartercard for seven weeks. During this time she managed to visit Gatcombe, Burghley and Blenheim Horse Trials as well as catching up with other eventing people and competitions. February 7 2008, Horse & Hound published a four page feature on ESB. As a consequence, Vanessa flew to the UK with four of her horses on May 23, 2008.
She remained there until the horses were placed. During this stay she was offered the position as National Sales Manager for Bartercard UK.
She has received international media attention for her concept Team ESB which is currently supporting over thirty young eventing riders, assisting them with their goals to ride at international competitions.
A world first, Team ESB consists of ESB horses, riders, owners, sponsors and supporters. Vanessa says, “Team ESB embraces all members and makes the most of everyone’s energy, ideas and expertise so that our investors and stakeholders feel involved and valued. At the same time everyone wins and benefits from the global exposure as well as the expertise, mentorship and networks of all the team members.  It’s also about having fun and sharing the endeavour and pursuit of an Olympic medal.”
Vanessa admits, “There is more to Team ESB than just riding and competing horses, it is about developing ourselves as individuals with good values, trying to live the Olympic spirit each and every day and bringing people together to share the same quest for excellence, friendship and respect for others.
It is about being the best we can and keeping the dream alive, realizing that with hard work, determination and passion, we can achieve anything if we try.  It is also about developing and contributing to the next generation in order to create a more peaceful and positive future. I’d like to leave this world a better place and know that ESB has created its own legacy and contributed in some way.”
After the mining incident, Vanessa purchased another property further north but wanted to stay close to the 300 acres she was leasing next to the mine. Six months later the leased land came on the market and despite the mine wanting to buy it, she had secured first option and managed to finance the purchase unaware of the challenges ahead. It was a bare block with three out of four boundary fences on the ground.
The mining superintendent had become a friend and he came around one day and suggested that Vanessa speak with the Shire council, as the mine had given permission to run an off road car rally over their site. There was to be two hundred cars, travelling at 200kms an hour around the designated track, three times a day over a three day period.
The main problem was that the proposed track crossed Vanessa’s property and she had not been consulted. Not one to stand in the way of initiatives, this required numerous meetings with Vanessa to discuss how to best manage this event when it was going to cause considerable disruption to her horses and life. However, the rally did not eventuate due to a lack of insurance.
Next came the activities of an environmental impact study which the neighbouring mine had to conduct. This involved a number of researchers pouring over the land to study the native fauna and flora. During this process, they discovered a large collection of aboriginal scar trees on Vanessa’s land. Apparently, the experts can tell that the tree was cut by aboriginals by the way the bark grows back.
The trees were to be registered with the Government and under the act Vanessa was not allowed to move them, despite their deteriorating condition. Vanessa arranged to meet with representatives of the local aboriginal community and was going to propose that they fence the trees and place story boards on them to make them an interesting feature.
Five times, Vanessa waited for them to turn up and five times they must have decided to go walk about! Another learning curve and challenge encountered.
Six months later, Vanessa decided to build on her new property and she met with the manager of the neighbouring gold mine to discuss the implications of this. She suggested that due to their close proximity and based on previous experiences, that it would be advisable to eliminate the possibility of there being any gold deposits on the property BEFORE she started building.

The exploration process discovered a small deposit on the western side of her property in the State Forest.

The implication of this was that the company wanted to put a road through the middle of her property to
minimise the costs of extracting the gold and creating a direct route to their plant.
Having had some previous experience with living next to their mining activities, Vanessa knew how to start the negotiations. The following discussion then took place;

"So that will mean a road, a few fences and some dams? (as compensation)" - to which they replied "Yes but we also need somewhere to dump our waste material (unprocessed rock without gold)" - "So how much rock are we talking about?", says Vanessa.

"About 30,000 cubic meters" was their answer, to which she replied "Great so we could build a few banks for the horses to jump up and down on!"

They looked a bit sheepish and replied "Not 30 - 30,000!" - "Oh, so slightly more than what I was thinking. Can you show me what that looks like?"

They went for a drive and stood her at the bottom of a nearby waste dump which was the size of a mountain and said "A bit bigger than that"

"Right" says Vanessa, "Well I am not about to take up grass skiing, so I will have to think about this".

“After sleeping on the options and potential uses for 30,000 cubic meters of rock, I thought - why don't I build a stadium! You know that film 'A Field of Dreams' well I'll just do the same - build it and they will come!

So I went back to the mining company and said ‘Can you build me a stadium?’ - To which they said, ‘You design it and we'll tell you if we can build it’.

So that night I designed a stadium, just like I had done every week of my life!”
And so things began. “After the trees were cleared the fun began with 80 ton dump trucks, scrapers, loaders and vehicles working around the clock. Blasting, excavating, carting and dumping continued as the grounds started to rapidly grow and rise up before my very eyes.

The horses were thrilled with all this activity to keep them amused and came galloping over to watch when they heard the sirens for another blast.

They became quite used to the traffic as their noses almost touched the sides of the dump trucks with wheels as big as a house as they drove past. Truck load after truck load of dirt was dumped ...
After numerous discussions and plans and consultations with various people about slope gradients, drainage, the height of the banks, the size of the arena etc etc things were progressing. At the same time Vanessa had mares foaling, fences going up, massive floods and a manic depressive partner to also keep her occupied.
Then the mining company sheepishly admitted that they had just a little more rock than first thought!

"So, how much EXTRA rock are we talking about?" asked Vanessa nervously.

"Oh, only about another 15,000 cubic meters …" was the reply, “That’s another half again!" ... "and we need to move it soon, so where would you like to put it?"

Well Vanessa was well in the swing now and
moving dirt was the game ...

"Let's just build a bank there to the north for the sponsors and judges; and then we'll build a bank for the bands and stage and we’ll shape it so that the horses can jump it as well"

"and the rest?"

"Well, we'll push the rest out into warm arenas and car park areas - as you do when you've got over 45,000 meters to play with! Who needs a sand pit!” says Vanessa.
Huge mounds emerged six meters high, forty meters wide and over 150 meters long on both the east and western sides. The north bank blended with the trees naturally and the south bank creates an impressive back drop to the stage and towers nearly four meters over the main arena.
Once all the rock was placed and smoothed over the next challenge was to cover it with grass. All the banks were covered with top soil and lovingly raked by hand! The seed was sown and germinated with the first rains, turning a lovely velvet green. Then the rains stopped and didn't come anymore.

So the green turned to brown and eventually disappeared to dust. Not one to be discouraged - "We'll try some different" says Vanessa. "How about we use strips of kikuyu turf, which already has roots?"
So along came the grader to dig furrows for the turf, leaving huge great rivets, uncovering rock and completely changing the contours of the slopes! The upside of this was that when it did rain, the water stayed in the furrows longer and allowed the roots to live. But only when it rained!

As the banks began to turn brown for the second time, Vanessa decided to take action. She filled her little 500 litre water cart and spent 3-4 hours a night with a hose in her hand, determined not to let the grass die.

And so the green emerged once more, patchy this time but none the less green and alive.

In time, even the bits that couldn't be reached lived - so much for watering! Now she is trying to fill in the gaps and with the help of a 'few' kangaroos who keep it short, it is spreading well.
The future of this venue will be to host a broad spectrum of events which will contribute to the growth, economy and interest in the central Victorian area. Events will highlight significant messages and financially support worthy causes.
“We have hosted two Working Dog Trial events and the 2009 Pony Club State Championships with over 800 people. It has been great fun and just amazing to see all the hard work brought to life and actually have a purpose. I am planning to run three horse trial events every year as well as a number of other events and concerts in the future. The facility lends itself to a whole host of options and is only limited by our imagination” say Vanessa, obviously not lacking in any.
“I am a great believer of turning every negative into a positive. I just wish more people thought the same way. It has not been an easy road but most things aren’t, life isn’t. There have been lots of people against the mine activities and have even been critical of my association with them but I have discovered that they have a job to do, just like everyone, and you are better off working with them than against them”.
“A common criticism is that mining destroys the environment and ecology but I have found this company to be far ‘greener’ than I am. They have been very professional in their conduct and astutely aware of their responsibilities. Where farming practices have destroyed acres of land with rising water tables and erosion from mass clearing, it has been more socially acceptable. Mining is not as aesthetically pleasing but they seem to plant more trees than they take out.”
“I like to think that this story is an example of how people can work together to create better outcomes if they changed their outlook on things. It is about acceptance that everyone one has a role and a right to do things, and that with a little respect, the world could live in peace and harmony.”
Despite the mining activities, the car rallies, the aboriginal scar trees, a drawn out settlement with her ex, the floods, the drought, EI and the global recession, Vanessa has pressed on, determined to see her efforts come to fruition. The property is named ‘Gold Fields’ and is now home to the Equine Sports Breeding & Training Centre, The Gold Fields Stadium, The Bush Courtyard and the Gold Fields Equestrian Club Inc.
The facilities offer breeding services, events, clinics, workshops and accommodation. “As much as I am grateful for my education at Gleni, I don’t think any course could have prepared me for this journey and steep learning curve,” said Vanessa.
It was during all this activity and development that Vanessa had a visit from her long time Gleni friend, UK based Christine Stacey. “It was fantastic to see her again and show her the horses and the property. We had done a number of assignments together at college and she had really shared my vision.”
“It was while we were standing on the banks of the stadium that Chrissie turned and said – “but Ness, this is Winkle Park”, that I realized that dreams can come true!”
< 1984
How things started out ...

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