The Argus XII

Riding ahead

Sculptor Hugh Parry-Okeden was devastated after a fire destroyed his Mudgee studio but it led him down a new creative path and today this keen polo player is known as the builder of some of Australia’s most beautiful stables.

A chestnut mare looks inquisitively over the fence. With her neatly hogged mane and sleek shiny coat, she is one of the many horses you can see grazing in the green paddocks edging the Hawkesbury River at Richmond. Here, in this town nestled at the foot of the NSW Blue Mountains, the rich river flats are home to some of Australia’s best polo ponies — and an increasing number of them are housed in magnificent stables built by Hugh Parry-Okeden.

Originally a sculptor and a furniture maker, Hugh moved into the construction industry after a fire destroyed his Mudgee workshop over two decades ago.

“I pretty much lost everything — all I had left were a few burnt tools,” Hugh explains today as he reflects on this change in his career. “So I decided to move down to Sydney to start a new life with my girlfriend.”

The keen rider, who grew up watching his father and grandfather making furniture, began doing some small building jobs.

“I quickly realised that the craftsmanship of fencing, and general timberwork, was appalling when I started doing a few odd jobs for people. I saw then that there was an opening in the market, and it grew from there.”

And so Giddiup was born in 1999. Originally the fledgling company was all about post-and-rail fencing but Hugh’s decision to build a barn at his Richmond home with his uncle saw the business boom in a new direction. “That first barn was important and again it was that family connection for Hugh, building it with someone in the family,” explains his wife Gendy, an eventer who once rode for Australia and who now works with Hugh on Giddiup’s creative direction.

After travelling the world for her riding career, it would be hard to find someone better qualified than Gendy to help design beautiful stables. “I grew up riding and I was surrounded by professional riders so it was a natural pathway for my sister Nicky and I. We both represented Australia in eventing and spent many years competing internationally. I gave the riding away once I had three small children,” she says.

Today, Giddiup has expanded into bigger building projects and the list of their past work includes the Sydney International Equestrian Centre, Sydney Polo Club, Arunga Polo Club, William Inglis Riverside Stables Complex and, in a step away from the equine world, The Grounds Cafe in Alexandria.

The pair is quick to mention how important their team of craftsmen have been to this success. “We have some incredible people working with us who are just so skilled,” says Gendy. “Giddiup was a name that was just a bit of fun at the time. I don’t think either of us thought it would go on to become the business it has become.”

Listen to Hugh talk about finishing a barn build and you can hear the passion in his voice. “It’s sort of a sad day and a happy day. We have accomplished something that we think is pretty special over the past three and a half months…  but now we have to hand it over.

“It’s a bit like a baby lamb, it grows up and leaves its mother — and it has its own life. That’s the stage where we are at today and it is a little bit sad but very satisfying to hand something over that everyone is very proud of. I hope we get to come back in a few years’ time and see how she is getting on.”

The little boy who loved to help his dad in the stables and thinks of old buildings aging well like “a bottle of good wine” has clearly found his vocation.

For more information about Giddiup, email info@giddiup.com.au or telephone 0410 456 090
Video credit: Jim Gowing / Awe Vision

Victoria Carey

“Everyone always jokes that if there is a horse in the story, I will always want to write about it and they are right,” she says. “And after years writing about architecture and design, it was a joy to research this story and discover the craftsmanship that has gone into creating these stables.”

Pip Farquharson

This photographer grew up on a farm in Blayney in NSW’s Central West with a father who was a keen horseman so she felt right at home on this shoot. “I love photographing people in their working environment, especially people that are passionate about what they create, which Hugh and Gendy certainly are,” she says.

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