Tanya Bartlett will never forget the thunder of hooves and the roar of the crowd as she urged her horse Henry into the arena during the spectacular opening ceremony at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
Reminiscing this week, 20 years after that memorable night, the Gunnedah woman recalled the great excitement in the lead-up to the event and the sheer pride in her country and fellow Australians as the world watched the first day of "The Friendly Games" on Friday, September 15, 2000.
Most Gunnedah residents now know Tanya as one of the finest sculptors in Australia but her dream of riding in the Olympics never went away as she explored the hills and bush on horse back around her parents' property just outside the town.
After a few years jillarooing in the Australian outback, Tanya completed a Bachelor of Education in secondary teaching, majoring in art at the University of Newcastle.
During her studies she was introduced to sculpting and extended her love of horses to her craft.
"When I finished uni I didn't pursue a career as a teacher or an artist - instead I packed my bags and headed overseas to chase an equestrian career with my dearest friend Debs Kelley (nee Gavel)," Tanya said.
"We worked incredibly hard and long hours in horse yards in the UK for a riding lesson and a few modest quirks that meant everything to us ... shovelling lots of poop ... all for the love of it.
"While over there though it dawned on me that I wasn't going to cut it and become a professional rider - it was too tough and fragile an existence.
"I didn't want to lose sight of why I rode horses and my love and appreciation of horses as 'amazing, beautiful creatures' - so I decided to make them my work."
Tanya considers riding horses "a privilege" so on returning to Australia and setting up her sculpting business she tried to put the Olympics and her dream out of her mind.
After settling in to her new enterprise, Tanya was given a young horse with a lot of attitude named Henry.
"Henry had only just been broken in and also gelded due to his temperament ... to put it mildly, it was not one that a breeder would want to pass on to progeny," she said.
"He is an Australian Stock Horse, and is very pretty, and nicely put together - unusually he shows a stamp of Arab in his looks, which comes from way back in his ASH breeding - he was a tidy package with a whole lot of attitude.
"What didn't make things easier, was that he had been sold to a bikie who used to agist him at my place. He would visit and literally 'wrestle' with him in the paddock rather than ride him. He gifted Henry to me not long before I heard about the opening ceremony try-outs on the Bush Telegraph.
"Of course my ears pricked up and I thought ... I'm going to try out on my crazy horse."
According to Tanya, although looking the part, Henry found it all a bit too much hanging out with all of the well-behaved stock horses and in the end she received a letter saying the horse "hadn't cut the mustard" and wasn't even a reserve.
"I decided to keep practising on Henry anyway as he was very young and very green and to my absolute delight some months later out, of the blue, I received a phone call from the Olympic opening ceremony committee asking me if I would be interested in attending the first bootcamp at Scone with Henry," Tanya said.
"Of course I jumped at the chance, packed up and bolted to the next three bootcamps - thank goodness a little voice inside me said 'don't give up' and kept urging me to practise. Someone must have pulled out and I must have been next on the list."
On about the eighth day of the final bootcamp at Castle Hill, two days before the big event, four horse-and-rider combinations were singled out and slotted into significant positions - Henry was one of them.
"We were in the leading section - four horses and riders - as the 120 horses marched down the centre of the stadium - my dream of one day riding in the Olympics was fulfilled in the most perfect way," Tanya said.
"So Henry went from not even a reserve ... to the front line. I'm pretty proud of him. He went on to teach many children to ride, attended Gunnedah and Quirindi Pony Clubs and is now retired and still as cantankerous as ever.
"[Henry] is still living with me in Newcastle. He is 26, retired but looking well."
Twenty years on from the memorable Olympic Games, Tanya's reputation as a sculptor has spread far and wide, with her first big commission to create a life-sized sculpture of Les Darcy, a tragic figure in Australian boxing annals. Other big commissions soon followed with her sculpture of Australian cricket captain Sir Donald Bradman unveiled a year after his death in 2001.
In 2005, Tanya created the Waler Memorial at Tamworth followed by sculptures of popular country music legends Smoky Dawson and Slim Dusty. In the Hunter Valley, Tanya's horse sculptures include Redoute's Choice at Arrowfield Stud and a new sculpture of Schnitzel unveiled just recently.
Singleton boasts a Bartlett sculpture of founder Benjamin Singleton, while Bowral has Mary Poppins. Other sculptures include RM Williams and horse trainer TJ Smith and and the larger-than-life size yearling and handler outside the new William Inglis Hotel at Warwick Farm.
Tanya is now working on a sculpture of the mighty racehorse Winx as her star continues to rise - all for the love of a horse.