If there is a central theme to Australian Paige Jardine’s show jumping career so far, its resiliency.
To be sure, that’s not a new concept for horsemen—or athletes, in general. But the stakes are undeniably higher when you’re under 30, and staking your claim some 8,000 miles across the world.
“I left Australia when I was 18 [and] moved to France. I spent 12 months there, and then I’ve been in America ever since,” says Jardine, 29, who works alongside her partner/boyfriend, Nicky Galligan as a trainer and manager at Guardian Stables in Camarillo, California.
“I’m actually an only child, and I’m very close with my parents. I try and get back to Australia to visit as much as I can, but it’s tough. I miss them, they miss me, but I’m so lucky that they understand what I’m doing, and how important it is to me. [They] support me in any way they can.”
At times, that means being at-the-ready for phone calls at any hour, including one particularly hard 2 a.m. conversation on July 29, 2022. That day, in the small hours of the morning, Paige called them crying, revealing that her beloved mare of nearly two years, Chaccara Blue, was going in for colic surgery. The prognosis wasn’t good.
“That morning [‘Chac’ and I were] accepted into [our first] five-star, and at 3:00 p.m. that afternoon, [my boyfriend Nicky Galligan] and I cracked open a bottle of champagne. Then at 5:30 p.m. that afternoon, we’re in the vet clinic. That whole day was just one of the highest highs to the lowest lows,” she says.
Tragically, Chaccara didn’t make it, and by Jardine’s own admission, it was a professional and personal blow she is still working through today.
“I’m not ready to walk into the barn and not hear her reply to me as I call her name,” Jardine wrote on her Instagram last year. “But I’m also not ready to be asked, ‘How’s your mare?’ when I see people who don’t know, and be able to answer them without my knees buckling.”
Losing Chaccara was the rock bottom of what Jardine calls a recent “rollercoaster of bad luck” that had her seriously reconsidering her lifelong dream to ride for Australian on the senior team.
“I’ve got close to five-star a few times. I’ve had some great horses over the years that I’ve produced along the way and for whatever reason, we’ve had to part ways with them. I had a really nice one a few years ago that I had to sell. And then I had a great horse [in Chaccara],” said Jardine.
“I mean, if not the bad luck, I’d have had no luck so far.”
After she lost her mare, Jardine’s father, a small business entrepreneur back home in Victoria, Australia, gave her an out, offering Paige and Nicky the chance to give up the horses, come home, and run one of his businesses.
“[He said], ‘If it gets to the point that the sport is too much, and you can’t do it anymore—which is what happens—then that’s okay. There is something for you to come home to,’” Jardine recalls. “’Come back to Australia, spend some time with your family, and, hey, you can have a normal life: get married, have some kids, you know, that type of thing.’”
Jardine said she took a couple of days to think over her father’s offer. Then, she thanked him, and told him no.
“I really did have an out, [but] it definitely would have felt like a failure,” the Australian rider admits. “I don’t think that’s fair, [necessarily], but it certainly would have felt like the last 10 years of chasing this dream were a waste.”
As fate would have it, however, Jardine’s dogged devotion to the sport she loves paid-off just a few days later. It came in the form of a phone call to Galligan, and the promise of a new opportunity.
Crazy, an 11-year-old Hanoverian mare in Neil Jones’ stable, was initially offered Nicky, until Jardine—with her boyfriend’s eventual blessing—decided to intercept the offer and contact Jones herself.
“I called [Neil], who had offered Nicky the ride, and said, ‘Screw Nicky, he has enough horses to ride. I have nothing.’ So, [my] relationship got a little rocky for a few days there,” jokes Jardine, adding that, in hindsight, the emotionally fueled move was totally out of character for her.
“But I went, and I tried [Crazy], and got along with her,” she says. “That [situation] almost felt like the universe saying, ‘I wasn’t ready for you to give up just yet.’”
It was a partnership that gelled quickly. Since making their international debut in March, they’ve earned a 50% top-10 finish average over seven rounds at 1.45m, according to Jumpr App, with CSI3* and CSI4* placings at the Desert International Horse Park and San Juan Capistrano in California.
In June, Jardine and Crazy were named alternates for the Australian Team at the CSIO5* Longines FEI Nations Cup™ of Canada at Thunderbird Show Park. When, at the last moment, California rider Zoe Brown (AUS) could not attend, they were called up to the team proper.
Unfortunately, the pair’s inexperience at 1.60m caught up with them in the form of an elimination in Round 1.
“To be asked to step up and jump on the [Team was] something I wasn’t entirely sure I was ready for but certainly something I would give my best shot,” Jardine wrote on Instagram. “Unfortunately, Crazy and I just weren’t at our best for the team that day.
“I’m proud to have made it this far, I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity and I’m as motivated as ever to make the improvements necessary for us to ride under the Aussie flag again.”
Despite their Nations Cup setback, after the challenges of the last year, just attending tbird—where she earned her best result to date, a fourth place finish, in the opening CSIO5* 1.45m class—felt to Jardine like a dream come true.
“Just the fact that I was [there], at my first [CSIO5*], with Australian flag on my chest, [was moving for me],” she says.
“[That first day at Langley], I just stood in the middle of the field for a second and shed a tear. I made it. My horse is here. I’m here. She’s happy and healthy. I’m happy and healthy. We were coming to the table.
“[Crazy] still has a lot to learn‚ but so do I. Between the two of us, we’re kind of figuring it out as we get along,” Jardine explains. “You can’t teach a horse to enjoy what they do, and you can’t teach a horse to go out in the ring and fight for you. But she really has clicked with me so quickly. And we go out there, and [Crazy] sees the colored sticks, and wants to jump them as much as I do.”
According to Jardine, the fast-tracked process of getting Crazy on her side has been worth every bit of effort, in and out of the ring.
“She definitely was a little cold and closed when we first got her. But she’s come out of her shell now, and she really loves being loved, you know? She has a female groom, Shay, taking care of her, [and] we feed her too many treats, and pamper her, and all that.
“I trail ride her, I ride her bareback. She wanders around the barn at home with no halter on [and] follows me around—she’s a pet. [In the ring] she drags me to the fences and she’s perfectly named,” Jardine continues. “But the rest of the time, her name should be ‘Lazy,’ not Crazy.”
Though Galligan occasionally swings into the saddle to assist with Crazy’s schooling, Jardine admits she doesn’t have the physical size or strength to manufacture a certain way of going in the mare. In some ways, the Australian rider believes, it’s been an asset to their partnership.
“I look back on her career, and she’d had a lot of bigger, stronger men on her. And for a big, strong mare, she’s very sensitive,” explained Jardine.
“I think [her previous riders] tried to put her in a box and make her conform a certain way, whereas I am physically incapable of doing that. So, I was a little like, ‘All right, if that’s the way you want to do it, then let’s do it.’ I think accepting that’s how she wants to go, and trying to work with her, has kind of been the key to unlocking everything that she has inside of her.”
In Crazy’s case, it took a special bond to unlock the potential inside her. For her rider, it took a tragic and unexpected loss.
If you told Paige Jardine a year ago where she would be today, she likely wouldn’t have believed you. But the Australian rider has discovered there’s both light and darkness at the end of the tunnel. She also knows, if she’s ever to achieve ‘the dream,’ she’ll have to grapple with both in their turn.
“I’m sure something else will happen,” Jardine reflects. “It’s the way the world works, right?
“What goes up must come down. This, too shall pass—all of those things. But for right now, I’m enjoying the high. I’m grateful to be here.”