“I haven’t sped him that much,” said Katie Laurie (AUS) of her top mount Django II. “He’s normally such a big jumper or a bit slow and whenever I try to make him go a little bit faster, we get too fast.”

It’s not that they’ve haven’t had a chance to practice or to get to know one another either. The 12-year-old gelding is a homebred. Django is the offspring of Flower Power, a hot-blooded Thoroughbred-turned-broodmare that was campaigned internationally by Laurie’s father, Australian Olympian Jeff McVean.

It’s that the horse has always been a bit complicated.

Half Thoroughbred, Django was both sensitive and reactive as a young horse, making him challenging to work with and all but unsellable.

“To be totally honest, he was really bad,” shared Laurie.

“As a six year old, we moved from New Zealand to Australia and we took him with us. He always had a huge jump, but he always was a little bit [difficult]—if you wanted to go one way, he wanted to go the other. I actually could not sell him as a six-year old, could not sell him as a seven-year old.”

Even Laurie’s western-horse trainer husband, Jackson, advised her to throw in the towel.

“At one point, he was so naughty that Jackson was like, ‘You’ve got to give up on that one.’ And I was like, ‘I’m not giving up!’ And so it has been a long road.”

Patience and perspective eventually brought Django around. Laurie expanded the nervous horse’s comfort zone by, quite literally, making his world bigger.

“We lived on a big farm [in Australia] and we [decided] we’re just going to ride him out over the farm a bit because he needs to be able to go places and not jack up and be silly about it. And so, we rode out over the farm, through rivers there. He was a proper Australian farm horse there for a little bit. And I think that helped him too.

“When he started to enjoy the job and want to work with you is when it really turned the corner. And he’s been pretty amazing ever since.”

Now 12 years old, Django has trotted the globe with Laurie. He took the Australian Olympian to the World Championships in Herning, Denmark in 2022 and to podium finishes at Traverse City Horse Shows (Michigan), Desert International Horse Park (Thermal, CA), Spruce Meadows (Calgary, AB) and Thunderbird Show Park (Langley, BC).

He’s a strikingly consistent contender too, boasting a 43% top 10 finish rate in 23 rounds at 1.60m and 58% in 13 rounds at 1.50m, according to Jumpr App.

But he continues to be a work in progress, albeit one that’s actually working now.

On Sunday, the long-time pair captured their first international win with the Talus CSI3* Grand Prix 1.50m at DIHP. Last to return and chasing the time to beat set by the ever speedy Conor Swail (IRL) on Theo 160, the pair strolled into the ring, stopped for a pat while they waited for the buzzer, then picked up a contained canter to the first jump that turned into a deceptively fast jump-off round.

Laurie and Django were over half a second faster through the timers, stopping the clock at 40.89 seconds to Swail’s 41.27. Maire Valdar Longem (DEN) and Echo de Virton took third in 47.53.

“All we have to do is keep him calm,” said Laurie. “And if he’s calm, he’s got such an enormous jump and he’s actually really nice to ride once you get going on the course. It might not look it. But he eyes up the jump a bit and he’s always backing off. So I just walk in and try to not have him too wound up before we start.”

Her management of the gelding helps keep Django comfortable on the road.

“He’s really needy with other horses. So we only have two [horses] in FEI this week and whenever McCaw jumped and [Django] wasn’t jumping, he had to come up [to the ring] and watch as well because he can’t be left by himself with no friends,” she explained.

Laurie credits Saturday’s CSI3* Classic as the jump-off practice they needed to “have a go” on Sunday.

“I feel like we are starting to understand each other a bit in the jump off now, which is nice,” she smiled.