Christopher Wilkinson and Natalie Roach are the amazing duo behind Spirit Lodge Equestrian Centre at Pembrooke. With an extensive background in eventing, dressage, showjumping and the racing industry, Christopher and Natalie are able to provide an unparalleled array of services for you and your equine friends, from agistment, to training, foaling and breeding services, to education clinics.
This hardworking pair are currently flat out on the property, with many mares foaling (usually in the middle of the night!) right now, but Nat was able to spare a few minutes to chat …
What’s Spirit Lodge Equestrian Centre’s history?
Spirit Lodge came about after we outgrew the 7 acre block we were renting in Port Macquarie. Chris was teaching part-time whilst riding track work in the morning and working full-time; he was also competing and training his own competition horses, Lowenstein, Poachers Moon and SLH Infusion, with clients’ horses coming in to be started and educated in his spare time.
I (Natalie) was also working full-time and doing my best to start back riding on my Thoroughbred, Bright Talaq, after having children and trying to keep up with Chris’ hectic schedule.
We had 11 horses on this block and no real facilities, so decided it was time to either rent something bigger or buy.
We looked for some time and fell in love with the 117 acre cattle property on Brookhouse Rd, Pembrooke.
What’s your background with horses?
I started with a brumby called Joey and riding at Pony Club in Mount Gambier, SA. I began riding other people’s horses for showjumping and eventing, which led me to the racing industry. Taking a job with the late Colin Hayes of Raceside in Angaston, SA, I was able to do a lot of veterinary work. Whilst in the Barossa, eventing became a huge part of my life. I moved to NSW and left for a six month stint in Japan with racehorses, before returning to Port Macquarie and the local racetrack. I started to compete in dressage in the year 2000.
Chris was involved with horses from a young age, enjoying shows and Pony Club with a little Arab, Tallawalla Lukeson, under the guidance of close friend and coach Nel Marshman. Then came a Thoroughbred gelding, affectionately known as Turner (Tudor Boy) he competed with locally in dressage. Chris was always interested in young horses and worked at the Taree racetrack, working for trainer Bobby Haire. It was then he acquired his first Warmblood, Lowenstein, and the real dressage journey began. He’s also backed, trained and competed to Pre-Novice level in eventing.
Chris specialises in starting young horses for all disciplines and is highly regarded in both the racing and performance horse industries for his abilities as a breaker and to turn around difficult horses. To many he is affectionately known as “Mr Fix It”, with horses being sent from interstate to be started or educated.
What services does Spirit Lodge offer?
Agistment – we dish your feeds, put your feed orders in, feed your horse/s, take your rugs on and off and offer pasture improved paddocks, with access to all facilities.
We offer one on one instruction on your own horse – tailored programmes to enhance personal growth and development of the team unity between horse and rider.
Clinics – held at Spirit Lodge with Chris’ mentor and coach, Lizzie Wilson Fellows. We’re currently developing our own programme, affectionately known as “Ladies Day”, which focusus on confidence building and understanding your equine friend.
With our resident stallion, we take outside mares for breeding and offer collection services for stallions needing to have semen collected and shipped.
Foaling down services – we have foaling paddocks beside the house and 24 hour alarm monitoring. IGG tests are performed on your newborn foal, plus intensive monitoring for those crucial hours and days after birth.
Chris specialises in starting young horses and believes they need to be horses before they undergo discipline-based training such as dressage, showjumping and eventing. They learn to round up cattle, trail ride, and be independently ridden out. Racehorses are taught to go through barriers and work in muscle developing frames, while performance horses are taught the basic fundamentals conforming with the training scale.
Horses in training for many disciplines are taken here: dressage, eventing, showjumping, racing, or just pleasure and Pony Club. We can campaign your horse and offer a large range of competition exposure as needs require.
Weaning and yearling preparations are also offered.
Racehorse pre-training is available, with barrier work, canter track and lots of hill work.
Selling horses can be daunting, so we take the pressure off you by preparing your horse for sale, take photos, videos, and organise all the advertising. We then take the time with the buyers, to find your horse the right home.
Nutritional assistance is always available, and veterinary assistance is available on a regular basis, along with a chiropractor, dentist, massage and herbal consultations. We are sponsored and supported by:
Prydes Easi Feeds – www.prydes.com.au
Horse Barn Saddlery – www.horsebarn.net.au
Kelato Animal Health – www.kelato.com.au
Up Close & Personal Equine Therapy – find them on Facebook
ThinLine Australia – www.thinline.net.au
Herbal Horse – find them on Facebook
Wauchope Rural Centre – located in Wauchope, Timbertown end
Vicki Lawerance Vet Services and Port Macquarie Veterinary Hospital
Describe your property.
Set on 117 acres with a spring fed creek, Spirit Lodge offers many facilities, including: a 60 x 20 surfaced and fenced dressage arena with lights; 20 m round yard with lights; 900 m canter/exercise grass track with barriers; 70 x 40 fenced grass show jumping arena; training cross country course from logs on the ground to 1.05 m fences; 31 horse fenced paddocks with electric standoffs; two larger broodmare herd paddocks on the creek flat; four foaling paddocks; and access to Cairncross State Forest for hours of trail riding.
What events have you been involved with recently?
This year our focus has been on our two talented four year olds. We’ve attended three CDI events in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, where the events were specific to the horses’ ages and critiqued the quality of horse and the rider’s attention to the correct training scale. These three events have the best horses in the country attend, many of whom are imported.
Our home bred German Riding Pony x Warmblood placed 3rd overall at all three events, which was a super achievement.
Chris’ other young Warmblood, who is exceptionally large – 17.1 hh and still growing – placed top 10 in Melbourne, with exceptional feedback from the judges on his quality and future. Unfortunately, Sydney was a disaster, with the tree breaking in the saddle. Brisbane was successful, placing 6th and 8th, proving Chris’ training is that of a true professional. It also reflected that we own two of the best four year olds in the country, which is a real buzz!
Follow our Facebook page, Spirit Lodge Equestrian Centre, or Instagram slh_performance_horses, drop us an email: email@example.com or we’re in the Local Directories.
Interview: Jo Robinson.
Photo left page, bottom, by Angie Rickard.
All other photos by Roxanne Mann.