FAR North Queensland horsewoman Hazel Shannon is making her mark in the world of eventing, with a place in the national team for the Rio Olympics later this year a real possibility.
Hazel, 23, grew up in Mutchilba, west of Cairns, doing pony club, challenges and campdrafting.
In December 2009, she packed her belongings and moved to Ryans at Newcastle Equestrian Centre where she has been under the experienced tutelage of former Olympian, assistant coach and Australian champion, Heath Ryan.
Her methodical approach to competition and outstanding work ethic has endeared Mr Ryan and his wife, Rozzie, herself an accomplished horsewoman and eventer, and impressed the industry’s elite.
Eventing is an equestrian event which comprises dressage, cross-country and show jumping. It has two main formats, the one day event (ODE) and the three-day event (3DE).
Hazel has quickly moved through the eventing stages and in December she competed at the 2015 Australian International Three Day Event, a world class 4 star event in Adelaide, and hotly contested by riders seeking national selection.
Hazel and her mount, Clifford, finished seventh out of about 30 horse-rider combinations, astounding not only themselves but also those around them.
Mr Ryan labelled Hazel “a rising star” whose name would be firmly fixed in conversations by national team selectors given her recent performances.
“Her seventh place at Adelaide puts her into the top bracket of people heading to Rio,” Mr Ryan said. “She had silver medallists in front of her and gold and silver medallists behind her.
“We are being very methodical and working really hard, and I would think its very likely that Hazel Shannon is one of the very serious people for Rio.”
Mr Ryan said Hazel worked very hard and was reaping the rewards.
“She is not a theatrical person,” Mr Ryan said. “She is very quiet, very methodical and works hard.
“She is a real Australian kid. She has worked hard on top of Australian bush skills. She does not try for brilliance; her talent is fantastic but its not talent that does this - its real methodical work.
“One of her hallmarks is that she won’t say a word during her lessons but just absorbs it all.”
Clifford is central to Hazel’s success but there was a time when the former thoroughbred failed to impress.
“He was a former race horse but was too slow,” said Hazel, when the Queensland Country Life caught up with her on a visit home. “He was not impressive in any shape or form.”
Hazel spends her days working at the Ryan’s equestrian centre where she rides up to eight horses a days and takes lessons.
Hazel and Clifford will line up for the final Olympic trials for Australian-based riders at the Sydney International Horse Trials in late April, where selectors will run their eyes over potential team members for the final time.
What makes Hazel’s story even more remarkable is the setbacks she has suffered. In April last year, she fell while competing at Albury – the second accident of her short eventing career – which left her unconscious for four days and with two bleeds on the brain.
Hazel has no recollection of the accident and after doctors warned her parents to expect the worse, she miraculously returned to competition months later, determined to contest the Adelaide 3DE
Hazel plays down her chances of national selection but admits it would be a dream come true.
“Who would have thought this would be happening six years on,” Hazel said.