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An equestrian character

July 14, 2000

by Joanne Marshall

Without a doubt Sharon McHugh is one of the characters of the Southland equestrian scene.

She's well known for her vibrant personality, distinctive laugh and tiny stature. In fact her personality almost overshadows the success she has achieved.

The Winton horsewoman began riding early and competed at a national level at the NZ Pony Club Championships at age 16. From there she went on to win events such as New Zealand's first national Three-Day-Event at Taupo in 1980 with Kallan Light. She also won the National Junior Dressage Title in the same year with Caladam.

In more recent times she has tasted success with Close Up -- winning the Otago Horse Trials' Championship three years ago.

Unfortunately unsoundness put an end to Close Up's competitive days and Sharon lost what she believed was a horse with "international" ability.

As yet she has not found a replacement for Close Up. She is working with three young horses and has high hopes that at least one of them will be able to compete successfully at national level.

It's competition at this level which Sharon misses and looks forward to again.

She also misses the hills of Longridge in Northern Southland where she grew up and once trained her horses.

"Back then you could whip off the road and jump a fence or a ditch. There were opportunities everywhere to educate young horses and it was great for them.

"These days I'm mostly limited to road work," she says.

Other things have changed since she was Sharon McFarlane. She is now married to Hunter McHugh and has two children, Jenna and Ashley, to consider.

Fortunately Hunter is as interested in horses as Sharon, although he does prefer working with, and showing, Clydesdales.

Another interest they share is racing. At one stage Sharon gained her amateur rider's certificate and rode her horse Royawa in several steeplechase races.

She chuckles when she recalls her racing stint.

"Royawa was the most nervous horse and I'd be shaking as much as him when I'd be putting the boots on in the stalls before the race."

Once on the field they'd usually be last out the starting gates and as Hunter says they'd be on the outside running rail most of the way.

"We went a lot further than we needed to but we kept out of trouble."

Royawa did go on to win one race over steeples but not when Sharon was riding him.

"I wasn't much of a race rider ... the closest I could get was fourth."

While Sharon is still as game as ever she has developed an interest in self-preservation.

"I remember taking Close Up on a jumping course and being told to let him go and use my weight to control him.

"He was 17HH and I was only about 7 stone ... there was no way I was going to do that. He'd have killed us both."

Since then Sharon has lost interest in clambering aboard a 17HH horse and now prefers a nice quiet horse of about 15.3HH.

Ironically though, two of the three young horses she is developing are 16.2HH or more.

A horse with a bit of experience is also popular with Sharon but as she says half the problem down here is getting that experience into them.

"We only have one-day-events once a month so it's hard to improve them and get a line on them," Sharon says.

And what of the future... Sharon is happy eventing and competing on a regional level but she also has hopes of returning to competition at a national level.

Longer term she's started work on her daughter's first hack and as far as retirement from eventing goes ... it's not something she's considering.

"I've always said I'd take up dressage when I'm an old lady -- but I'm not there yet."



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