THE ‘PRIOR TO EMPIRE’ STORY
What was before Empire and how it started..
Meet me.. Hi.. I’m Chynna. The owner and ‘designer’ of Empire Equestrian.. I use the term designer extremely loosely because Empire really is solely what I want but can’t find and then, in turn, have made. Fuelled by a leopard print obsession of course.
Let’s start from the start though.
I grew up riding. Quite literally the girl riding before she could walk. That was me.
My parents invested so much in my riding and allowed me to take it very seriously. Initially starting off as every kid does, doing the pony club thing. Eventing and showjumping with some hacking on a fat, little welshie before moving onto the greatest Galloway in the world, Yeoman.
Brought initially for showing, Yeoie soon turned his hoof back to jumping taking me to state on numerous occasions in all disciplines.
At the age of 12 and, I thought, completely responsible for my own career path, I decided to focus on showjumping. Bj, an OTTB started the love of the breed and he begun the next level obsession. Mannyyyy more Thoroughbreds were acquired.
First Chester, the most arrogant, ‘I am the best’, persona you will ever come across. But my god, could he jump! Twist, turn, chip in, anything to save me. A christmas surprise from my amazing parents.
Rosco was next. A 21 year old, former World Cup horse who, I swear, had early onset dementia. He was such an incredible jumper for his age but definitely had a stack of blonde moments, so to speak. Excuse the shorts in the below photos.. I needed Empire then! 40 degrees is not the weather for pants..
My heart horse, Cairrick, followed. The happiest, quirkiest little man who was just so much fun and put soo many smiles on my face. The following Christmas surprise.. Yes, luckiest girl ever. And I defend my fashion choices back then.. Oakley’s were cool!
Tilky, came along as my first somewhat baby with the hugest heart and would just try anything no matter what. Then do a zoomie and be out of control for a moment.
Finally, a beautiful warmblood named Jack, joined the team and we had all bases covered.
We went everywhere for everything. Up and down for all carnivals, classics, squad. Anything. Loving life and aspiring to go as far as humanly possible…
Then, I fell.
At a small country show in a scurry, I went too hard. Jack the warmblood could jump the mom, but would just throw the towel in if I got it wrong.. Which being 15, I still did.
I took him out first and he stopped at an oxer when there was really no need to. So I got the s***ts for the next round.
Tilk was up. You couldn’t get two more different horses. Jack had all the ability in the world and no heart, whilst Tilky, although slightly limited in how high he was going to go, would just try absolutely everything. And that was our undoing.
Being far too competitive, I came in completely wrong to a 1.3m oxer. He shouldn’t of left the ground, but he did. He got the back rail caught between his front legs, the pole didn’t snap. I came down over the shoulder as he tripped then he somersaulted and completely landed on me.
After trying to push him off me, I squirmed around and got to his feet. I got to my knees, turned blue and then went back down.
The St John’s ambulance guy came over with his Bob the Builder show bag, looked down at me and said ‘Ooo, looks like you’ve had a fall.’
If I could’ve gotten up and smacked him, I probably would have.
The fall resulted in me fracturing my sternum, my collarbone, six ribs and lacerating my lung which haemorrhaged and collapsed. Off hospital we went.
After a week in I was finally discharge, but I thought my run had come to the end.
It was one of a series of falls and bad luck I was having all season and it was just getting too much. So we made the decision, let’s quit, let’s retire.
We sold all the gear, kept some horses and sold a couple as well. And that was it, it was done. But as you all know, the horse obsession/addiction doesn’t stop.
A year later and it was time for come back. I was still giving lessons, and decided ‘let’s start breaking in.’ After doing a series of breakers, I found the local trainer in Griffith needed a trackwork rider. Of course, I was available.
Well this was it, someone is going to pay me to ride all day and go super, duper fast? I mean, how could I not? On a gap year from uni I moved to Gundagai and then Wagga riding trackwork. Deciding along the way that this is far too good. Let’s be an apprentice jockey. Much to my mother’s delight of course.
I began my apprenticeship in Wagga, moved around a little bit, thought it wasn’t for me went and back to Griffith. But turns out, I was obsessed again. Just didn’t know it. I started race riding again, and was lucky enough to have a really successful first season. I fell in love with so many horses, had so much fun
If i wanted to get serious though, i had to move. I packed up everything, squished it into my car and moved to a friends tiny bedroom in Canberra where I slept on a futon lounge for a good portion the first few months. I was four months into my time in Canberra when my world changed for ever.
Tumut races, 2014. A pick up ride at acceptance in the first race at Tumut. It rained so much that morning and the track was underneath.
We started the first race and only got to the first turn. A horse slipped over in front of me and we had nowhere to go. My horse and I both went headfirst into the ground, she rolled over me. She was okay, the other horse was okay, the other jockey broke his ankle and, as per usual, I don’t do things by halves.
I was airlifted to Canberra hospital where they discovered I broke my neck. But that was probably the easy side of it. As the fracture was undisplaced I was able to go home and try and do some healing. But that’s when it all changed again. Over the years they’ve discovered I have brain damage, post concussive syndrome and epilepsy. I’ve also discovered a fracture in my back.
The brain damage has been the toughest. It means I have the worst memory ever. I have so many blonde moments. I fall over virtually anything. And, for a good portion, lost all my in the independence and confidence. I virtually lost my life. I was still here, yes, and I know how lucky I am to have made it, but that didn’t mean I didn’t lose my sense of purpose and all my confidence in my ability.
Being in a domestic violence relationship didn’t help things. He went to jail for what he did for me to me for a long time, but that, combined with the everything put me in a really dark place.
Through this all, the only time I ever felt okay was on the back of the horse. Quite literally, I own my life to these horses because it was a bad time where I didn’t want to continue. And that’s how the charity was born. Recycled Racehorses started after my fall, when i needed to show everyone what these incredible animals were capable of. I had always had some when they retired, even before trackwork, but I didn’t realise the scale and need for a future for these horses. They had provided me with so much happiness and excitement through my short career. They had provided the owners and the crowds with so many memories. They provided other jockeys with an income, they supported an entire industry.
And, at that time, they didn’t really have anywhere to go. On when the superhero cape, I decided I couldn’t have this. And that’s how it all started.
After six years of giving absolutely everything (money, blood, sweat and oh so many tears) to it, Recycled Racehorses is what it is today.
The charity has provided futures to over 100 horses and now, in the hands of a very dedicated board, will continue to save more.
Whilst doing the charity I was also giving lessons and remembered this amazing joddies I had when I was growing up. They were so fun and bright and I wanted them again. Oh, and i was sick of putting holes in my cotton on tights because joddies were too hot. I couldn’t find them anywhere and even consider starting to make them myself.. But apparently you need to know how to sew.
Just by luck I found a manufacturer. And that’s pretty much it. Empire Equestrian was born. I’ve always loved the name and meaning Empire; of conquering, of being strong, and being with so fearless in the face of everything else. We only have one life, we have to live it. And I wanted to inspire people to do that because, in the words of Bill Cunningham, ‘Fashion is armour to survive everyday life.’
I wanted girls and guys to stand out, to feel strong in whatever situation they faced. And we all know a certain amount of strength comes from a feeling about yourself, an attitude that can be represented in your clothing. And obviously comfort.. To kick arse comfortably was a necessity.
So, there it is. I hope my story can give others some strength. I have such terrible days sometimes. The head injury and brain damage also changed my moods, massive highs and badddd lows. I always get that people can’t see it, which sometimes makes it harder because I don’t have something I can show for it. But, regardless of everything, you get up.. Put your crown on and live fearlessly.xx