By Brendan Rees
Horse riding was something Sally Francis was born to do.
The Tooradin resident of more than 50 years first rode a horse at the age of four and her passion has seen her contribute to the community for many years.
Today, her dedication in volunteering with Riding for the Disabled Victoria and Riding for the Disabled Australia has earned her an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for service to people with a disability and horse sports.
Ms Francis said the best part about her role as a trainer and mentor at her Tooradin Estate riding school was helping a student grow.
“It’s just so rewarding to see them communicating with the horse and communicating with me and the people that are also helping them,” she said.
“In turn, just preparing them for life and improving their general living skills, so that’s very rewarding.”
When told of her honour, she said was “incredibly shocked and honoured.”
“I love horses, and I’ve got a wonderful team of school horses; love how much they give as well to ensure the success of the program.”
Ms Francis, 58, has volunteered her time in coaching and mentoring in Para Olympics over the years including Beijing, Rio, London, Sydney, and Atlanta.
But it was her time as the Australian para equestrian team manager at the London Paralympics in 2012 where she helped a rider from Broadford take out gold, that was most memorable.
“The Para Olympics is very satisfying and very rewarding, very moving, and we’ve had quite a bit of success as well,” she said.
“It’s lovely helping a team of riders and horses to pair get overseas and them for them to compete in the main area.”
Ms Francis, who also teaches at the Tooradin Dalmore Pony Club, contends she finds any achievement – even at a local level – “just as important.”
“I think it’s really the magic of horses. What the magic of horses can really bring to people to achieve great things.”
Ms Francis’ parents, who she described as “good horse people” moved from Mt Eliza to Tooradin in 1996 where they began the riding school in Tooradin.
“It was on the cards that I was going to take over the business. I didn’t actually take it over until my mum passed over, so that was 2008.”
Ms Francis says she will celebrate her Queen’s Birthday honour with friends and family during an afternoon tea party at home.