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Forge Farm riding high

Rebecca TurnerCountryman
Forge Farm's Wendy Dodd, centre, with horse Nigella and riding school students.
Camera IconForge Farm's Wendy Dodd, centre, with horse Nigella and riding school students. Credit: Countryman

An overgrazed cow paddock, a hitching rail and eight horses is how the story of Forge Farm Gypsy Cob Stud and Riding School begins. A lifelong dream for owner and riding instructor Wendy Dodd, the property was far from its now beautiful and well laid out state in 1998 when the Dodd family first moved to Chidlow.

"The property was very bare when we first arrived, we didn't let this stop us though," Wendy said. "We ran the riding school from the start and used to keep all the riding equipment inside the house until we had a tack room to store it in."

Forge Farm is not the first riding school Wendy has run, with her original school located in Kalamunda.

"The property we started on in Kalamunda was not ideal for a riding school, it was too steep and it required a small amount of road riding before you could get out on the trail," Wendy said.

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Soon after putting their Kalamunda property on the market, the Dodds were in need of a new home and room for their eight riding school horses. They soon found a 12.5-acre property in Chidlow that was ideally located for trail riding.

"We have done a lot to improve the property, including creating pockets of revegetation and putting in a big permaculture garden," Wendy said.

"One of the best things I did when we started developing the property was hiring an architect for an hour to discuss ideas on layout. This was possibly the best $100 I've spent."

Wendy said the architect's advice centred on where to put the tack room, greeting area, arena and yards to enable people to arrive, get fitted for boots and helmets and then get on a horse.

A big part of Wendy's business is trail riding with two to three trail rides booked each week. The most popular trail ride offered is to the nearby Chidlow pub, which has a hitching rail for its patrons on horseback.

Running the riding school is a full-time job for Wendy, who said in hindsight she should have made it her full-time job much sooner.

"Initially, I was working part time for the Kalamunda Shire but I stopped doing that seven years ago and made the riding school my full-time business," she said. "That decision meant I was able to dedicate much more time to the riding school and it has since become a great success."

Running a riding school has been something Wendy has dreamed of since she was first introduced to the idea at seven years of age.

"I grew up in England and it wasn't until I went to school and sat next to a girl who told me that her parents ran a riding school that I found out you could pay to learn how to ride a horse," Wendy said. "Since then I've been hooked on horses."

_ For the love of horses _

When she emigrated to Australia with her family at the age of 16, Wendy and her sister Sally bought a horse while they were still living in a migrant hostel.

She said in retrospect it was a crazy thing to do to her parents; however, Ben-Hur was a much loved addition to the family and cemented the importance of horses in her life.

When Wendy met her husband, Lawrie, in the early 1970s they decided to venture north. They spent 12 years in the Gascoyne and Pilbara where Wendy was instrumental in helping to set up the Karratha and King Bay Horse and Pony Club.

With a passion for teaching people to ride, Wendy said she was extremely grateful to have the opportunity to introduce people to the world of horses. She is now even more delighted at the prospect of doing this using her own Gypsy Cob horses.

While she had not bred horses before, Wendy said a shortage of suitable riding school horses was the catalyst for developing a Gypsy Cob stud.

"I am always looking for quiet horses to use in my riding school," Wendy said.

"I have found finding really, really quiet horses suitable for the school very difficult."

_ An emerging breed _

Wendy uses 10 horses in her riding school with a Percheron cross and two Clydesdale-cross horses some of her most valued mounts.

"These horses are really great mentally and also good weight bearers, which is so important for a school like mine that specialises in teaching beginner riders," she said.

Wendy said the attraction to importing and breeding Gypsy Cob horses was their temperament and strength, with their colouring and profuse feathering a beautiful added bonus.

The Gypsy Cob horse is an emerging breed in Australia with only a handful of listed studs nationally, a few of which are in WA.

The breed has a reputation of being very docile and people-orientated, combined with a strong work ethic and profuse feathering from the knee down.

The history of the breed goes back more than 100 years in the UK; however, their ancestry is unclear given the nomadic nature of Gypsies and their mostly oral history.

Many claim the Gypsy Cob originally derived from Shire, Fell and Dale bloodstock, along with many other pony breeds common to Great Briton.

It is not known when and where colour was bred into the breed but some say it was introduced to safeguard the Gypsies' horses from being drafted into the English military, which required solid coloured horses.

Colour has certainly played a big part in this breed of horse developing a new following here in Australia and is seeing many people now consider the expense of importing horses from the UK to Australia.

For Wendy, this decision was not made lightly, so research was done prior to purchasing her first mare, Clononeen Baby Shanlara, a five-year-old Gypsy Cob in foal to UK stallion Clononeen Magnum.

Wendy received a lot of valuable advice and help from Alison Kendrick, of Ballinasloe Farm Gypsy Cob stud in Mt Barker, WA's largest Gypsy Cob stud.

"Alison was very supportive. She has imported eight horses herself from Clononeen Stud in Oxfordshire," she said.

_ Building numbers _

After Wendy's mare arrived in 2011, her Gypsy Cob numbers began to grow with the birth of a colt foal in 2012 that was named Heathcliff.

Clononeen Baby Shanlara has since been put back in foal to Arranmore Gypsy Cob stud's stallion, Belamy, a United States import.

Wendy also bred one of her riding school mares, a Clydesdale-cross pony, to the same stallion in 2011 for a colt foal that will be used in the riding school when it is old enough. "I now have two purebred Gypsy Cobs and a half bred with another Gypsy Cob due in May," she said.

Future plans for the stud include standing Heathcliff at public stud in 2014 at Primrose Court Warmblood stud. Heathcliff will also be campaigned at breed shows in the near future when time permits. "Breeding is something I now plan to spend more time focusing on and it is something I will have time to do since employing a manager for the riding school," Wendy said.

Things are certainly busy for the Dodds, with their expansion plans in motion. Their Chidlow property is on the market and two bigger properties have been earmarked as potential locations for the riding school and stud to relocate to.

Wendy said having set up their current property from scratch 15 years ago, they would be using that experience to develop their next property.

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