HAVE you heard of the hit show filmed recently in Daylesford? SARAH HUDSON explains
It is a global phenomenon, a TV series showing regional Victoria's most beautiful areas, featuring our state's rising performers and viewed by millions in more than 50 countries.
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- The Saddle Club was first published in October 1988.
- Bonnie Bryant wrote at least 38 books before others took over.
- There are 101 titles in the original book series, with more than 13 million copies in print worldwide.
- More than 600,000 copies have been sold in Australia and New Zealand.
Yet many Victorians would never have seen the series, let alone heard of it. That is, of course, unless you're a young girl or a horse lover.
The Saddle Club is about three 12-year-old girls and their horses and is based on the best-selling books by Bonnie Bryant.
Series three, which was filmed on the outskirts of Daylesford, is currently showing on Channel 9.
To Daylesford producer Lynn Bayonas, it is obvious why the TV series is a global brand, capturing the imaginations of kids around the world and even leading to a boom in riding school enrolments.
"Every little girl wants a pony," says Lynn, who has produced all three series.
"When I first started with the series in 2000 I thought, 'Why hasn't this been done earlier?'
"Aside from the horses one of the big drawcards of the show is the friendship between the girls. They fall out, they get jealous, but they always come back together.
"And we have the girls acting and singing - there are 22 new songs in series three and after series two, the cast did a tour and we had 6000 children at one mall."
Aside from the child stars, each series requires local residents to perform as extras.
The fictional Pine Hollow Stables in series one was filmed in Wandin, series two in Hurstbridge and the current series in Daylesford - which saw a property transformed into a fully-functional, state-of-the-art riding stable.
"We put a huge amount of work in finding a location. We travelled through Gippsland, the Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra Valley.
"We require each area to be beautiful, close to Melbourne and ideally the property will have stables.
"For series three we ran into a bit of trouble as Victoria is normally so green but it got dry very quickly."
In fact, she says, they encountered a swathe of troubles.
"We lived with the drought but it meant we had to find food for 30 horses.
"We had a fly plague, which was just grose and even worse than that we had the equine flu, which meant we couldn't bring our previous horses from NSW."
Instead they wrangled horses from McLeod's Daughters, which were based in South Australia.
All horses are trained to perform on their own, free from restraints and ropes, are able to gallop from Point A to Point B, rear in the air, bow, kneel, fetch a halter or magazine in their mouth, sit down, paw the ground, nod or shake their heads.
Lynn says the show is a Canadian-Australian production, with most performers sourced from Victoria, with the exception of the three leads in series three who are Canadian.
"We want the children to be able to sing, ride a horse and of course act," she says.
Lynn says before The Saddle Club she had little to do with children and animals. She grew up in Melbourne and had an agisted horse in the backyard.
She was introduced to the industry by Orson Welles in the '60s, working as his script assistant for three years in Europe.
Since then she has been a producer and writer for A Country Practice, development producer of The Man from Snowy River series and was head of drama for three years with Nine, responsible for the network's entire drama product.
Currently she has two children's programs and a feature film in development - but will not elaborate on details.
Lynn says it is an indictment on the industry that so few quality Australian TV shows are produced.
"It's a sad thing in this country that if free-to-air TV did not have a quota requiring them to play children's programs, there wouldn't be any produced.
"For The Saddle Club our budget was $400,000 for a half hour. The first series was $300,000 so we had a good budget this time."
She says the old adage of never working with children and animals is wrong.
"I hadn't worked with children since the ABC in the '70s. I've always enjoyed it.
"On A Country Practice I worked with animals: Fatso the wombat and plenty of farm animals.
"With any production you have hair-raising moments but I think the combination of children and animals works a treat - they get such a buzz out of working together too."
The Saddle Club airs at 10am Saturdays on Nine and WIN.