Greendale's Debbie Ross believes her horse Studebaker could be Australia's oldest thoroughbred

PARTNERS: Owner Debbie Ross with Studebaker, who could be Australia's oldest thoroughbred as he turns 36 on August 1. Picture: Adam Trafford
PARTNERS: Owner Debbie Ross with Studebaker, who could be Australia's oldest thoroughbred as he turns 36 on August 1. Picture: Adam Trafford

As thoroughbred horses celebrate their birthdays this week, central Victorian horse Studebaker has enjoyed more birthdays than most.

Turning 36 on August 1, the standardised birthday for thoroughbreds in the southern hemisphere, Studebaker is possibly Australia's oldest thoroughbred.

But it certainly hasn't been a life in the slow lane for this retired racehorse.

Studebaker and his owner Debbie Ross, Greendale, Victoria, have always had a competitive streak with the pair qualifying for the Sydney Olympics in the demanding equestrian sport of eventing.

ELITE: Debbie Ross and Studebaker in their heyday tackle a cross country water jump.

ELITE: Debbie Ross and Studebaker in their heyday tackle a cross country water jump.

Ms Ross first set eyes on Studebaker when she was in the Victoria Police Mounted Branch and his previous owner offered for him to be trained as a police horse.

But Studebaker was too small to become a police horse so Ms Ross bought him to retrain as a performance horse and compete in dressage, showjumping and cross country disciplines.

During his racing career, from which Studebaker was retired at nine, he was a hurdler so cross country jumping came naturally.

"When I picked him up and brought him home he couldn't canter a circle properly but I popped him over some logs and thought boy can he jump," Ms Ross said.

Hours of training to master the basics of flat work and showjumping saw the pair climb through the grades to eventually compete at the elite levels.

"Our first advanced competition was Melbourne Three Day event and some of the jumps were quite scary - I had to stand on tippy toes to reach the top.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Debbie Ross has had former jumps racehorse Studebaker, who turns 36 this week, for more than 25 years. Picture: Adam Trafford

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Debbie Ross has had former jumps racehorse Studebaker, who turns 36 this week, for more than 25 years. Picture: Adam Trafford

"But he's just the most unbelievable cross country horse and he always looked after me."

In 1999 a top 20 finish in one of Australia's top equestrian events saw them qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympics but Ms Ross was in the process of moving on to another horse who was " just a bit better all round" with some extra finesse in the dressage ring.

She retired Studebaker from elite competition when he was about 16, and her niece took him to pony club where he too helped her rise through the grades.

A memento from Studebaker's hurdles racing career

A memento from Studebaker's hurdles racing career

Since then he's been taken to pony club by several other young riders, but in latter years has enjoyed retirement in his Greendale paddock.

"He's always been a good boy, a very honest, very genuine horse whose jump would get me out of trouble," she said.

"It was a real bonding thing. We grew up together going through the ranks and doing training - I knew him and he knew me, we knew each other back to front."

IN OTHER NEWS

Studebaker and all other thoroughbreds celebrate a standardised birthday on August 1 which helps make it easier to keep track of bloodlines and ages for the racing industry.

While smaller horses can live well in to their 40s, the average age for a thorougbred is about 25 to 28 years.

In her research Ms Ross found the longest lived thoroughbred on record was US racer Prospect Point who died in 2016 aged 38.