On the cover of the July-August 2021 Horses and People Magazine, we feature Chloe Durkin and Halo, who were photographed by Louise Sedgman for The Sweet Teen Project, an initiative that is raising funds for Headspace Australia, the organisation that is supporting the mental health of our youth.
Based in Gippsland, Victoria, Chloe is a passionate young horsewoman. Determined to pursue a career with horses, she is combining Year 12 studies with a Certificate III in Racing (stable hand). She is already working part time at a racing stable and is loving every minute of it.
Chloe is 18 and in the six years since she first met Halo she has come a long way. The enthusiasm and confidence with which she speaks to me over the phone did not come easy, and Chloe insists that it’s mostly thanks to her wonderful equine friend.
“I needed a pony to challenge but give me confidence, but the confidence he gave me was just ridiculous!” says Chloe. “I went from doing small jumps and lacking confidence in my ability to riding confidently and jumping all kinds of obstacles. And it was not only the riding, I think he gave me this new-found confidence in myself – to talk to people and make new friends.”
Chloe explains that she was born with a learning disorder that makes it more challenging for her to remember things, and her life-long interest in everything horse really helped her discover new ways of learning.
“I was born with it and I guess it will always be there, and especially when I was younger, it was a huge challenge” she continues. “From learning horse’s names on properties to learning a dressage test, or a showjumping course, it was always a struggle for me. I’d be the kid walking the course 20 times, before getting on. I will take pictures of the cross country jumps and flick through them when I am in the warmup, so I remember where I am going. It’s the cognitive function of remembering the steps.
“So, for me, as a 13 and 14 year-old, remembering the course was a big deal. At school I could not do normal Year 7 maths and English level. But riding really helped me figure out how my brain works, because from riding and learning dressage tests and jump courses, I can use the knowledge of how I learn and transfer that to an English essay or maths problem.
“So, yes, I think you could say that having Halo and learning those things have helped me in other areas in life. It sounds corny, but I really believe that without Halo and the support of my family, my coach Catherine Martindale, and my Pony Club Lillico and District, I don’t think I would have grown as I have or gained as much confidence.
“On my horse I had confidence in myself and Halo. I had so much trust in this little palomino. At school I found maths in particular quite hard but I could remember these long cross country courses or anything to do with horses! So to my teachers credit, they started relating my schoolwork to horses or my pets and I became more confident in myself because I could connect schoolwork with real life questions or scenarios.
“Relating everything to horses has really helped me understand. Having a horse that you trust and especially having something that is consistent throughout your teenage years, whether it’s your footy team or something else, really helps a young person develop and grow.”
Chloe is another wonderful ambassador for Louise Sedgman’s Sweet Teen Project and for the organisation it is supporting. “I haven’t used Headspace personally, but I am a huge advocate” she tells me. “My school has a Headspace representative who works within the school community helping all Senior students with whatever we are going through.
“Just knowing they are there makes a difference. I think the more programs like Headspace the better, there’s no denying mental health is an issue for young people and older people too, so the more help and support the better.”
She’s also a great promoter of the Certificate II in Racing and particularly grateful to Jenny Lewis and Community College Gippsland who run the course.
“We get to work with harness horses, which is the coolest thing! For me, [the course] has been huge. Without it I wouldn’t have my stable hand licence from Racing Victoria. For that to arrive in the mail, putting it in my wallet and showing it to the Stewards… it felt like such a great achievement! Racing is another big part of my life now, of my future.