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Horse's Tale - Dicavalli Royal Rory with Abbey Lovell

This article is from the November 2020 Horse Deals magazine.

Photo: Julie Wilson.

Photo: Julie Wilson.


Stable name: Rory
Height: 15.3½hh
Age: 12
Breeding: Royal Rubin (IMP) x Decoupage (IMP) bred by Diane and Henry George of Dicavalli Stud
Owner: Abbey Lovell
Riders: Abbey Lovell and Paul Austin

Top 5 results:  
It’s hard to pick just five as every single win is so special – but to summarise his
top performances:

  18 x Royal Show Open Show Hunter Hack wins  
  Champion Open Show Hunter Hack – Canberra, Adelaide and Toowoomba Royal Shows  
  Reserve Champion Open Show Hunter Hack – Melbourne Royal Show  
  4 x Australasian EA Champion Small Show Hunter Hack titles   
  8 x HOTY Small Hunter Hack Championships

How did Rory come into your life? I am forever grateful to Mark Lilley for insisting I see this horse that was at Dicavalli Stud who he thought would be perfect for me. I wasn’t in the market, however, a couple of months later I went with Mark to help photograph the foals at the stud and before we left he asked if I remembered the horse he had told me about. We got him out of the paddock and it was well and truly love at first sight — I knew as soon as I saw him, winter woollies and all, that he was the horse of my dreams. He wasn’t for sale, however, over the next few months I visited often to bond with him and finally was able to bring him home. I could never thank Di and Henry enough for giving me the opportunity to have him in my life, and of course Mark for insisting I meet him.   

What was your first competition together and how did it go? Our first open competition together was the Toowoomba Royal Show where you are allowed to enter young horses in their first season. Amazingly, against all of the top hunters at the time, he went on to win Champion Open Show Hunter Hack and qualify for Grand Nationals. It was such a thrill, to be on such a young horse and be able to piece together his basic education to pull off such a great achievement so early on.   

Occasionally you pass the reins over to Paul Austin, why? After such a wonderful first season, I knew that Rory was something special and that he had the potential to be one of the best. To win at the Nationals had always been a big dream of mine, although one that I never thought possible before Rory came into my life. As a family, and with Paul’s guidance we decided that it would be our focus and that we wanted to give him every opportunity to achieve that goal, so he went to live full-time at Paul Austin Equestrian. Over the journey, Paul and Rory became an incredible partnership, so we continued to share the rides. I have learnt so much from working with and watching Paul, both in and out of the ring. Both Paul and Mark have been so incredibly supportive and helped me develop my riding and own ability to produce a horse, as well as helping me figure out how to rise to the occasion in the ring, even when nerves sometimes get the better of me.  

What was it like watching him from the sidelines? Honestly, watching Paul and Rory together is incredible — they truly love and respect each other and have a very strong bond and we as a family have loved every moment of watching them together. We have grown very close to Paul and Mark over the years, and to share such an incredible once in a lifetime horse with them has been very rewarding. I love this horse so much — any time he steps in the ring whether I am on him or Paul, he gives 100 percent and it is such an incredible feeling that hasn’t faded, even after all this time.     

In 2017, Rory won the National Champion Open and Childs Small Show Hunter Hack, what did this double win mean to you? It’s hard to put into words. From a young age, the Nationals was the epitome of the show ring. To qualify was an achievement, but to actually win one, let alone two of those blue and orange garlands amongst the best of the best is something I will never forget. It was the culmination of an incredible amount of hard work, commitment, stress and team effort and I have never been prouder than that moment. We left no stone unturned in the preparation — which started months in advance. I am forever grateful to Paul and to Mikayla Van Kampen for their help in making this dream come true as well as everyone behind the scenes that helped — my family (who are also my vets!), especially Mum and Dad (Gail and David Lovell), Tony Price our farrier, Daniel my incredibly supportive partner, (who knows he must share number one spot with Rory), Mark Lilley for the meticulous tweaking of his diet and his incredible fan base that cheered him every step of the way. It takes a village, but I knew he could win it and I still get emotional watching the videos back.   

The following year he claimed the back to back National Champion Child’s Small Show Hunter Hack, how do you keep him so consistent? We are so lucky that Rory makes our job easy — he is Mr Consistent and has proven that over and over again. Paul and Mark run an incredible operation and are able to recognise exactly what needs to be done, and we put every faith in them to keep Rory in peak condition.

We were very lucky that Mikayla was living and working at PAE at the time so was able to ride Rory regularly in preparation. He also was runner up in the open in that year with me on board so it was another level of preparation that was required. Both Paul and Mikayla were so helpful and supportive to ensure we could perform at our best. We have always been conscious to not over show Rory — he only competes in major shows or royals to ensure he doesn’t get sour. As long as he gets lots of time in his paddock between shows, he is happy and ready to give you his best each and every time he steps into the ring.  

Abbey Lovell and Rory at Melbourne Royal. <br>
Photo: Angie Rickard Photography.

Abbey Lovell and Rory at Melbourne Royal.
Photo: Angie Rickard Photography.

How does he adapt to the different level riders? Rory loves his job and is a true gentleman, even more so when small kids are on board and he does not have a mean or naughty bone in his body. He is a lot of horse though, and he does not reward a lazy rider.  

What are his strengths? Rory has an incredible canter, that has been a standout trait throughout his career. He is a lot of horse, with a lot of power and it’s an amazing feeling to sit on. He is also able to adapt and learn very quickly which has made his training so enjoyable. He exudes star quality and charisma which really helps him in the ring and has really helped him become the ‘people’s horse’ — the one everyone wants to have a ride on!  

How would you describe his personality? Rory is a true gentleman through and through — he has a big heart, gives you his all and is the easiest horse to produce and have around. Mark once said if there was a Mr Congeniality award, he would be all over it. He has his quirks like any horse, but he is always happy to see you, loves a cuddle and knows his job.   

Most annoying habit or quirk? Rory is the king of escaping and letting himself out of his stable or yard — he has gone on many adventures around show grounds or royal show arenas over the years and will take any and every opportunity he can to escape!    

Rory is often used for rider classes. What he is like to ride? Both myself and Mikayla have been lucky enough to experience a lot of rider class success on Rory. He is an incredible horse to ride — he has power, charisma and is very comfortable, but he is not a horse for a lazy rider or if you want to just sit on top and look pretty. He will do anything for you as long as you ask and don’t expect. There is no greater feeling than floating around the arena on him knowing that you are working together as a team.   

What has he taught you as a rider? Anything is possible if you work hard, dream big and do the preparation. Light hands, strong seat and legs on — he can switch from long and low, relaxed Rory to showman just with a bit more leg. Rory has taught me that you have to work with a horse and understand their strengths and weaknesses to get the best out of them in the ring and that the answer to any problem is probably softer hands and more leg!  

How does he handle the big occasions? When you trot into the ring, I feel like he grows at least two hands and he knows it’s time to put on a show. He thrives on it — the bigger the occasion, the better, and he will give you everything he has.

Preferred work environment? He loves the big events — he knows when he is at a royal show or in the nationals arena and he thrives on it.   

Work ethic? Never have I had or met another horse with a better work ethic. He knows his job, he wants to please you and he is a gentleman 100 percent of the time. Ask and you shall receive — I think that is Rory’s motto.  

Weekly training regime? During the show season, Rory lives full-time with Paul as I am extremely busy at our family veterinary practice and I visit to ride him. He is generally ridden 4-5 times a week, with varying levels of intensity depending on what his show schedule looks like.  

Does he have a best friend? Me! But seriously, at the moment Rory’s favourite stablemate is my newcomer hunter pony Debanlay Class Act. They are often seen standing with each other or sharing their hay nets through the stables walls. He is a bit of a ladies man and I am hoping he is giving her some tips on how to be a superstar when she is ready to start her show career!  

What is the first thing on your shopping list for him? Rory will do literally anything for carrots. 

When was the last time he made you laugh or cry? He makes me laugh on a daily basis, and rarely cry because he is so amazing! But a few weeks ago, I put him in a different paddock and he managed to eat an entire lemon tree that we had been growing for a number of months in the garden next to it. It made me laugh, but then also almost cry a little at the thought of him being in trouble for destroying it!   

What is your most treasured moment together? I have been so fortunate to have so many wonderful moments with Rory it is difficult to pick just one — I think winning Runner Up at the Nationals was a huge thrill personally for me and something I will never forget. It was the culmination of blood, sweat and tears. Winning Best Novice Hunter hack at Canberra Royal was another hugely special moment. I had never competed at an interstate royal, and I was nervous as anything and to hear his name over the loudspeaker as the winner was very special. And finally, winning Reserve Champion Lady Rider at Melbourne Royal Show was emotional — again it was something I never thought I could achieve and I have Rory to thank for showing me that anything is possible.  

What celebrity does Rory remind you of? George Clooney for sure! King of the cool — charismatic, handsome and full of style and substance. Impeccable manners, and just an all-round dreamboat.   

What does the future hold for Rory? 2020 has been a strange year for everyone, with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the show season. We made the decision that with the cancellation of all of the major royal shows and national championships that we would give Rory the break he hasn’t been able to have in other years as he has nothing left to prove here in Queensland. We have been working hard at home, and we hope to be able to do another royal show run in 2021 — 20 royal show blues is the goal. I would love to have the chance to compete in the Garryowen at the Melbourne Royal Show, and of course, try for Nationals 2021.

Paul Austin, Abbey Lovell and Rory at Canberra Royal. Photo: LMG Photographics.

Paul Austin, Abbey Lovell and Rory at Canberra Royal. Photo: LMG Photographics.

3 things we don’t know about Rory...  

1. I secretly picked Rory up and sent my mother a photo of him announcing that he had joined our family while she and my father were on holiday in Hawaii.

2. Rory does not lunge — he turns into a fire breathing, wild stallion because he thinks it’s so much fun. It’s always a much better idea to just get on!

3. Rory is the people’s horse — he has his own very successful Instagram page run by his biggest fan Sophie Potter from South Australia. He has gotten fan mail, gifts and even products to try!

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