A natural horsewoman

27 October 2021 Written by VRC

Irish-born Caroline Jennings has travelled the world to gain a deeper understanding of how best to work with horses. Now she is putting her skills into practice as Head Trainer of Kennedy Racing, founded by James Kennedy, whose company sponsors the Kennedy Oaks.

Caroline Jennings was about ten when her mother and father told her and her sister that they needed to find a hobby to keep them busy at the weekends.

“My sister chose drama and I chose horse riding and, from then on, every weekend I went to Kill International Equestrian Centre and learned to ride. But it was always a hobby and I gave it up at 14 or 15 before getting back into it at 18,” said Jennings.

“When I left school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do – I just knew I had to do something that I loved. A friend got into a diploma course in sport and fitness and I followed her.”

But working in a gym didn’t trigger the spark that Jennings experienced around horses, so she completed a degree in Equine and Human Sports Science. She developed a ten-year plan to study horses and their biomechanics and behaviour and that plan included studying with Monty Roberts at his school in California.

“I first saw Monty when I was 12 when he did a demonstration at my riding school in Ireland. I didn’t realise that would have such a big impact on me then,” she said.

“He worked with a horse at the school called Stanley – a very aggressive stallion. As we grew up, we’d be told by our instructors, ‘If you don’t get down off those hay bales, you’ll have to feed Stanley!’ There was a trap door and we’d have to slide his feed under that. But Monty completely transformed that horse and my riding instructor went on to compete with him quite successfully in showjumping.”

Jennings began assisting Roberts during demonstrations and this took her to work at a stud in Germany and later to New Zealand where she spent a few seasons working with Foal NZ and with Monty Roberts-trained instructors specialising in educating foals destined for the racing industry.

“Studying with Monty opened up this world of meeting a lot of interesting horse people from all over the world. I was willing to work hard and travel and I was fortunate to work with some challenging, raw horses that taught me a huge amount,” said Jennings.

Jennings set up her own school in Ireland and trained a small number of horses but, ten years ago, she decided to explore the opportunities in the racing industry in Australia. She found work with Gai Waterhouse who supported Jennings to get her permanent residency but in 2019 she was approached by Kennedy Racing.

“Monty called me out of the blue and quite mysteriously said there was something happening in Melbourne, he couldn’t tell me much but I’d probably get a call from a guy called James. That was it!” laughed Jennings.

“I didn’t hear anything for a while and then James Kennedy called and asked me about how I’d manage horses and their stables. I didn’t hear anything for a while and then met James who said he wanted to make sure that Monty’s methods were embraced all the way through the stables every day. That afternoon we went to see the Kennedy Racing stables at Pakenham and James introduced me and told the people there I’d be running the place. A few days later I was moving horses into the stable. It was a whirlwind but it has been brilliant.”

Kennedy Racing owns 20 horses with ten in training. Jennings is on site every day and credits the dedicated team around her and James’s commitment to racing and their horses with the success of the stables.

“James is passionate about racing and providing the best care for the horses in our stable. I feel very lucky to work where I do because he understands the need to be patient with the horses. If I don’t feel a horse is ready, James listens. He values my opinion and he is very focused on ensuring our horses are treated well.

“We have three and four-year-olds who are starting to shine and some have their first start in the next couple of weeks,” said Jennings. Jennings picks out fillies, Sugar Pop and Plucky Pirouette, as names to watch.

“Plucky Pirouette hopefully will run in Cup Week. She was my first starter and my first place and I wish we had ten of her. She always gives 110 per cent … Watch this space.”