Rob Lawson and Gambling On Starlight were crowned NSWRHA 2019 State Championship Open Derby Champions in front of a delighted crowd but at home, they’re just part of the scenery. Karen Callinan and Margo Lohse venture south to spend some time with the pair at home.
Words Karen Callinan
Pics Margo Lohse and Ken Anderson
It’s an unexpected sight but not to those that know him. Well respected Australian Reiner, Rob Lawson, being trailed by 3 dogs, 2 cats and a mob of roos. But there it was, Rob casually at ease at home at his property in Bungonia NSW. Sammy the border collie, sweet and excited bounded toward us and was clearly no asset to Lawson’s Performance Horses on the security front.
Bungonia has a reputation for the winds, the chill-you-to-the-bone penetrating winds that stunt the growth of trees and keep the weak away; we were braced for the cold. Anticipating sting on the cheeks from the biting wind fresh from the Goulburn plains and contemplating how to get print worthy shots of our muse, Gambling On Starlight in such conditions. Instead we were greeted by a still, warm morning reflective of the energy of the horse and rider combination we were there to interview.
Waiting patiently in the breezeway was 2019 NSWRHA State Championship Derby Winner, Gambling On Starlight (aka Gerry). Silhouetted in the morning light he looked every part the champion he is.
Keeping It In The Family
It seems a common talent of skilled horsemen, the ability to just know. “Oh, I loved that horse instantly, I knew he was a good one.” Explains Rob, “It was same with his mother.” Although Yulgilbar Gambling Girl was not always a sure thing to land in the hands of Lawson’s Performance Horses. In the early nineties Rob inspected the weanling paddock of Yulgilbar Quarter Horses with Manager Bruce Holmes. He was on the hunt, looking for just the right prospect for a treasured client. When the black filly approached Rob knew, “Who’s that? I want that one?”. “She’s not for sale” was the solid answer from Bruce and Rob left the property with an empty float. The patience of the confident was rewarded, with a single phone call, “she’s yours” and so began the beginning of the successful coupling of Yulgilbar Gambling Girl and Lawson’s Performance horses. A coupling that resulted in multiple Futurity and Open Championship titles and a National Open Reserve Championship title behind legendary Ian Francis after a gut wrenching 5 spin in the run off. Not to mention progeny like Hollywood Tradition and Gambling On Starlight. Yulgilbar Gambling Girl harks back to Cloverleaf Stud whose horses have offered decades of positive influence on the Australian Quarter Horse industry.
When it came time to select a sire for her, Rob looked to breed outside his current lines. The criteria clear, the sire needed to upgrade some qualities and needed to be more than just impressive on paper “Obviously pedigree is to be considered, but what you see in front of you, what goes in to the pen, that’s the determining factor for stallion selection” explains Rob. After being in the stands to watch Wimpys Lil Step win the Futurity with Shawn Flarida in 2002 including an impromptu standing ovation from the crowd, Rob knew what he was after.
Enter Todd McCormick from McCormick Equine, who wanted the same. Unable to source semen and determined to get his hands on a Wimpys Lil Step, Todd jumped on a plane and went direct to the source! Wimpys Lil Step progeny were yearlings at the time “I must have looked at hundreds of the things.” Recounts Todd, “but I wanted the full package, the palomino and the quality mare”. And the full package he found, purchased and imported. Wimpys Lil Starlight direct from the USA to McCormick Equine Byrneside Victoria. Taking care in the breeding management of Wimpys Lil Starlight, Todd has adopted the Harley Davidson approach “I want my breeders to take pride in owning one.” And so they do with progeny like ME Lil Bentley, Wimpys Whizzngem and Seen The Light excelling in the show pen for their delighted owners.
With Gerry, comfortably rugged and settled, we savour Rob’s coffee and enjoy the banter between friends with a common interest, Reining. Conversation swings easily between light hearted recollections to more intense and earnest discussion about the future of the industry that employs many, sparks passion and commitment like few sports can and results in the production of talented performance horses like Gambling On Starlight and most recently blockbuster media franchises like Yellowstone and Run for A Million. As we fuss over his ribbons and trophies to get just the right shot, Tony Mitchell of Ravenswood Reiners breezes through the door with the ease and familiarity that only comes from years of trusted friendship.
Tony owns leading Australian mare Revolution Reddy (IMP) and hopes to combine Gambling On Starlight with his coveted mare. With a stellar career in her own right and now proven as producer of Non-Pro NSW Futurity Champion Shane Sainsbury’s Reddy Set Gunner, Revolution Reddy‘s trainable mind and talent will capitalise on the strengths of Gambling on Starlight.
So much more than just a pretty face, Gambling on Starlight is turning heads amongst all those that cross his path. As arguably one of Australia’s most accomplished professional Reiners, when Rob Lawson says; “You couldn’t offer me enough to part with him” you can be confident he’s something special.
Epitomising form to function, Gambling On Starlight’s flawless confirmation is reflected in a naturally balanced gait. A quality highly regarded amongst our judges and the future of our sport. A body for the job is complimented by a beautiful temperament that has ensured he was maintained as a colt. Alert, with lots of feel, Gambling On Starlight was bred to perform so his multiple Championship titles should come as no surprise.
Horses like Gerry, are decades in the making. They not only bring joy and success to their owners but are the are the gel that unites the Reining community. One Stallion has connections across states and indeed around the globe. From the importation of his sire Wimpys Lil Starlight by Todd McCormick (Vic), to Warren Backhouse (Qld) watching dam, Yulgilbar Gambling Girl compete from the stands in the nineties. Then to Sam Larcombe (USA) winning a Derby on his dam, who shines on the international stage right through to NSW youth riders like Lilian Johnson (NSW) who watched him grow from birth. A timely reminder of the true interconnectedness of our sport.
When asked, apart from producing top quality reining horses, what are your ambitions and plans for Gerry? “Enjoy him. Shown or not, it’s irrelevant, he’s just so nice to have around” Rob says. Gambling On Starlight is offered at stud for the 2019 season.
First foal crop is due 2020. Owned and selectively offered to the market by Rob Lawson himself, Genetically Gifted is privileged to present this talented Stud for your consideration.