All-Star TWOTH Adam Sutton - Horses Maketh the Man

There’s an inner peace that’s clear to see when Adam Sutton works his magic with horses.

Sutton is one of four to go head-to-head in EQUITANA Melbourne’s All-Star TWOTH. The 2010 TWOTH winner, along with Bruce O’Dell (2014 champ), Ken Faulkner (2012 champ) and Kiwi Tui Teka (EQUITANA Auckland 2017 winner) will have just hours over four days to transform unhandled horses from wild to willing...

Sutton’s journey has been well documented, including on ABC’s Australian Story. He’s been on horses for a lifetime, but is the first to admit, his riding style of today couldn’t be further from his wild and woolly youth. There’s not a time that he doesn’t remember a natural affinity with animals, and especially horses. With parents who rode, it was natural he was riding as a toddler and it wasn’t long before his first pony arrived in Buddy.

“We were both as crazy as each other,” he says, “and we had a blast.” Family weekends were often spent trail riding in the nearby National Park.

“My riding style may be different, but the passion, determination, devotion to ongoing learning and that affinity with horses as individuals remains the same.”

At 43, there’s a tale to be told. From trail riding to success on the rodeo circuit, campdrafting to movie sets, and so much more. And while the decades roll by, Sutton says when he fires out of bed every morning it is only his body that tells him he is no longer 21 – despite what his mind may think. “I have a great osteo who I see every five weeks to keep me walking straight.”

He’s not your run of the mill cowboy but he’s always got something quirky or funny to say . . . and he does admit – with a bit of a smile – that some days it is easier to talk to horses than people.

Sutton lives and works on a purpose-built New South Wales central coast property where he and racing thoroughbred owner and breeder Denis Hanley have collaborated to build a multi-diverse purpose built equine facility. “It is my dream horse training set up,” says Sutton. With large irrigated paddocks, safe training yards, laneways, two round yards, an enclosed outdoor all-weather arena, a 25mx60m floodlit indoor arena with a super synthetic surface, open areas for training and links to miles of nearby bush trails, it is easy to see why. “We cater for all discipline styles of performance horses from racing to all aspects of English and western styles, equitation and safe social riding trail horses and have a broad set of equipment, terrain and challenges to use with each horse,” he says. They also have plans in progress to develop a unique outdoor obstacle trail course utilising the natural setting of the land and inspired by popular trail courses overseas.

“The beauty of our new property is that I can now bring all the young stock right through from foal to the performance track or arena. – usually they have been through many hands, and that’s not always good for them. I take pride in getting them to the race track cool, calm and confident.”

Sutton has developed a reputation of success in turning around problematic behavioural issues within both horse and rider with his popular clinics which are held throughout Australia or by invitation. “I love teaching and being able to pass on knowledge and understanding for people to achieve ongoing success with their horse.”

But front of mind is the All-Star TWOTH. “I couldn’t be more proud to have been selected for this fantastic anniversary celebration challenge among such talented and successful previous winners. We are all winners, each with our unique style that we will exhibit during TWOTH. It really is a great opportunity for the public to see and learn from.”

It’s woken him up a few nights too, just thinking about it. “There is a bit more of a build-up to this one. In 2010 I went into it with no preconceived ideas about how it would be or what I would do. This one seems to have been coming for so long and everyone is talking about it. But I do consider us all winners at this event and am really looking forward to meeting and engaging with my new equine friend and other horsemen/women.”

He will be focussing on keeping his mind cool, calm, subtle, relaxed and confident. “You don’t want to let the pressure get to you or let little things enter your mind. That focused mind is very important.” A lot will come down to horse selection – picking what is right for him. “You have to get those right energies working really quickly.”

He credits his many mentors, including John Stanton, with helping get that side of his horsemanship on track. “He had great ways of helping to develop feel, like making me ride in a blindfold so I had to rely on my other senses more,” says Sutton. “I have also had great support from master horseman and movie horse trainer Heath Harris who has a unique way of helping understand the mind of a horse.” Other influences include clinician Steve Brady and trainer Dave Simons who Sutton has trained and worked under. Simons mentored him before his 2010 TWOTH win, and more recently he’s been watching with interest classical dressage trainer Belinda Bolsenbroek. “It’s tempted me to get more into dressage.”

Everything comes together though to form his own unique way of working with horses. “Based on the experience I’ve had with some of the finest horseman here and overseas, I’ve developed a systematic approach to horse training that works well for me. It is a system that allows each horse to develop suppleness and obedience in his own time. My approach involves eight separate steps and exercises that build upon each other. There’s no point expecting exercise three to work at 100 per cent if the horse is still only comfortably being 70 or 80 per cent effective with exercise two.” Sutton starts all his exercises on the ground so both horse and rider understand which zone controls what movements.

He’s worked with many different people over the years, including on the sets of Ned Kelly, Brokeback Mountain and Wild Boys. “It was some of the most exciting and hardest work I have ever done, and that’s saying something for someone who has worked on fishing trawlers and down the mines.” He had six weeks to break in the largely unhandled horses before the likes of Heath Ledge and Orlando Bloom got on them. “Doing movies taught me so much about what could be achieved in a short period of time and how to be a small cog in a big wheel. I was completely clueless about movie stars, so I think it was novel for that set to be with someone who didn’t care who they were, only what they could or couldn’t do with a horse.“ Teaching actors like Ledger and Bloom to ride like Aussie stockmen was not only “amazing fun” but it gave him two life-long gifts: some terrific mates and the urge to keep on helping riders to build their confidence.

When not working with horses, Sutton is happy to be surfing, diving, or fossicking in his veggie garden where he enjoys growing natural and organic produce – all of course fuelled by the essential horse manure!

“Horses aren’t a job for me any more. They become who you are – it is more than a lifestyle. It is who you are. You are either committed to this or you’re not.”