Equestrian: Sonja Johnson impressed by Ballarat hill track | photos

THERE was no hiding the delight of Olympic equestrian silver medallist Sonja Johnson as she exercised her international three-day-event mount Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison on Ballarat Turf Club's uphill training track on Wednesday.

"Can I have take it home," a beaming Johnson said.

Johnson is accustomed to working horses on a hill track at home in Western Australia.

This was the reason she found her way to Ballarat for the light workout during a stopover between flights from Perth to France, where she will be part of an Australian team contesting the World Equestrian Games in Normandy on August 23 to September 7.

She did not expect it to be quite so impressive though.

Thoroughbreds grace the synthetic track everyday, but none quite like Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison, or "Ben" as he is known away from competition.

The chestnut is a great "Off the Track" thoroughbred program success story - a fine example post-career options for racehorses.

The now 13-year-old had just the one race start in WA, with him proving too headstrong to be persisted with on the track.

It has been a different story in the care of Johnson, who in eight years has transformed "Ben" into a world class three-day-event (dressage, cross country and showjumping) performer.

Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. While he did not make the trip, Johnson did ride and was a teams silver medallist.

She is hoping to use Normandy as a stepping stone to riding him at the 2016 Rio de Janiero Olympics.

The purpose of Johnson's fleeting visit to Ballarat for the hill workout was a vet check and fitness test for Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison - needing suitable conditions for him to exercise.

Johnson met up with Equestrian Australia vet Nathan Anthony, who made the trip from Brisbane especially to see Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison as part of the preparation for the flight to France.

Repetition work up the synthetic track was part of the process.

They leave their temporary Plumpton base for France on Wednesday, August 6 - a 30-hour flight Johnson cannot wait to embark on.

Not a bad outcome horse once described as a "loveable, but irritating, highly intelligent brat".


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