And Now For Something Completely Different…

When you speak to horse riders about the topic of holidays, nine out of ten times their first comment is “I can’t go on holidays, I have horses” and usually I too subscribe to this but late last year when my dad asked me if I would like to go away for a few weeks in early 2013 I stopped myself from repeating the worn-out saying and said “I would love to”. So, for a change, I am going to write about my time far away from horses taking a break and doing something completely different.

First I have to acknowledge that I’m very lucky to agist. Usually I long to live with my horses and not to have to drive to see them but agisting with trustworthy, knowledgable people means I was able to head overseas for three weeks knowing that Action and Luna were in the best of hands and having a well-deserved rest. With this in mind, dad and I made plans for our trip. We were to travel to England to visit family in London and Manchester for two weeks and then have a quick three day stop-over in KL, Malaysia to explore a city we used to live in and both love. Mum would stay at home with the dogs and cat while we were in England and meet us in KL on our way home.

We had a midnight flight from Melbourne airport to KL of about eight hours and then a fourteen hour flight to Heathrow. Fortunately I have the unique skill of being able to sleep on any form of transport, at almost any time of day. Thus, I slept sprawled out across my dad for twenty of the twenty two hour flight and woke up to the pilot announcing that we were arriving in London to a “lovely, warm ten degree day”. I almost did a double take having left Melbourne on a twenty five degree day – in my head that was a perfect oxymoron – until my dad reminded me that England is coming out of one of the coldest winters it has ever had and that many parts of the country were under snow. With this in mind, we made our way through the airport and out onto the world-renowned London tube – which I must say is quite a task with a suitcase half as big as yourself – to go to my grandma’s flat where we would stay for the next week.

Job number one when arriving at destination: ensure contents of room cover it from wall to wall

Job number one when arriving at destination: ensure contents of suitcase cover your room from wall to wall

Although it took me a little while to come to terms with morning weather forecasts below ten degrees and seeing storm clouds outside this first week was great fun. I spent a lot of time catching up with my grandma and my aunt as well as exploring London. My dad and I went to the theatre to see One Man, Two Governors which was easily the funniest theatre performance I have ever seen and a great day out. We also went into Kingston, a small town not far from the centre of London, to explore the old town with beautiful cobblestone streets and historical buildings as well as some great little shops. I was very excited, much to dad’s dismay, to find a Joules store selling their Mary King line of ‘Team Great Britain’ jackets, polos and jumpers. However, as nice as they were, all my dreams of wearing a national team’s colours have been of green and gold and so I didn’t get further than trying them on.

The Kingston Phone Boxes

The Kingston Phone Boxes

Pretending to be a British eventer

Pretending to be a British eventer

Where do I get one of these dogs to carry my handbag?

Where do I get one of these dogs to carry my handbag?

Just a quick bus trip from my grandma’s flat, Carter’s Steam Fair was at Parson’s Green during the first week of our holiday. One afternoon dad and I headed down there to see what it was all about and wow did we get a pleasant surprise! The fair was full of restored amusements from as early as the 1920’s including a shooting gallery, Grand National simulation, dive bomber, dodgem cars, swinging ship and various arcade games. All were beautifully preserved and in original condition, powered completely by steam. Even the old cars and caravans to transport everything were steam powered and in mint condition. It was great to see these beautiful machines and enjoy them with my dad, learning about some of the things he grew up with and reminding me just how much technology has advanced.

London London

The arcade games at Carter's Steam Fair

The arcade games at Carter’s Steam Fair

London

The Grand National simulation

The Grand National simulation

After our first week we went to stay with one of my dad’s friends from his school days and his wife, some of our oldest family friends, for a weekend at their home near Manchester. They live just around the corner from Aintree and as the Grand National had just been run the weekend before we were there it was interesting to see some of the signs, stands and other facilities still set up as we drove past. Sadly we weren’t allowed to get a close look as the grounds were closed. However, we weren’t robbed of our horsey fix for the trip and during our visit we went to their local saddlery – which is so big it has an in-store café, three huge showrooms and takes a good half day to get through if you’re being quick! I had lots of fun investigating what’s in fashion in the British horsey world and noticed lines of dog bowls, carriers, jackets and other accessories from the big horsey brands which I can’t wait to see out here – I just hope they come in dachshund size!

Back in London we spent our second week catching up with further family, including my great aunt, and a friend from Australia who is living and working in London at the moment. We went back to theatre, this time with my aunt to see Roald Dahl’s Matilda. What a show! It was so much fun and very true to the story I remember from when I was little. On Friday we packed our bags, said our goodbyes and jumped back on the tube to catch a ten o’clock pm flight to KL to meet mum for our quick stop-over on our way home. Just one catch – there was no ten o’clock flight to KL.

Camden Lock

Camden Lock

Camden Market

Camden Market

London

The Sherlock Holmes Museum

The Sherlock Holmes Museum

Leicster Square with my aunt

Leicster Square with my aunt

Well no, there was originally supposed to be one. When we checked in, went through security and got to the gate listed for our flight we were notified that there was a delay and we would be leaving at 11pm. Unconcerned, we sat in a corned and read our books for an hour waiting for further information. At 11pm there was another announcement: there was a technical difficulty with the plane, the engineers were working on it and we should be underway shortly. Still unconcerned, we continued to read. We did notice, however, that the airport was beginning to close around us with lights going out and most of the staff leaving. At midnight we were informed that our flight had been cancelled. Whilst the technical problem had been resolved, the airport’s curfew was 11pm and we would not be flying out any time soon. We were given our bags back, put on buses and sent to airport hotels for the night. By the time we were in our room it was 2:30am and dad and I were worrying about mum who was meant to be meeting us in KL and would have no idea what was going on in Heathrow. We got onto the internet and emailed the hotel, asking them to inform her of our predicament, and tried to get some sleep.

We were up early in the morning and went into the hotel foyer to find a message informing us that a bus would be coming to collect us at 11:30. We weren’t sure what was going on as the airline we were flying with fly out from Heathrow every day at 12 noon and 10:00pm and so we decided to order a taxi to the terminal and find out for ourselves. Here we proceeded to the ticket desk where we managed to get a transfer onto the 12noon flight. We checked in, again, passed through security, again, and went to the gate…again. This time our plane did leave and we arrived in KL having only missed one night. Our fourteen hour flight took us twenty six hours but we had arrived! After we had dropped our bags at the hotel and explained to mum what had happened the night before we all went for a walk around the city centre.

The hotel was a very welcome sight after a very long night!

The hotel was a very welcome sight after a very long night!

Malaysia

Chinatown in Malaysia

Chinatown in Malaysia

My dad used to work in KL and so we all lived there for a while and it is a city I really love. There is something wonderful about its combination of spectacular modern buildings and beautiful traditional ones standing side-by-side in the chaos of streets which twist and turn with no symmetry of system of organisation which has great appeal to me. It was great to spend a few days defrosting from the cold, wet and wind of London visiting some of our favourite places in the city centre, lying by the pool, enjoying the street music festival performing just one block from our hotel and getting our fix of amazing Malaysian food.

Malaysia Malaysia

It was sad to say goodbye to Malaysia once again and I would have loved a few more days to visit some of the beaches or the equestrian park but I will have to save these for another time! I was very happy to be home by the time the plane touched down in Melbourne and eager to see my horses and catch up with everyone again. I am so grateful that I avoided repeating the old saying “I can’t, I have horses” and said yes to going away. Mixing things up with a complete break from routine was amazing fun and has brought me back to my life here with a new energy and enthusiasm to get stuck in and work hard again.

I hope one day you too change your routine and do something completely different! You never know what adventures you might have.

Happy riding! Or not as the case may be…

2013 Hamag Victorian Young Dressage Rider Championships

Hi everyone! Sorry its delayed and a bit short but I am writing this blog from London as just after the conclusion of this year’s festival I jetted off to Europe for a couple of weeks off to visit family, get some retail therapy and relax.

I cannot deny that every year the Young Rider Festival is a highlight of my competition calender, however each year it is for different reasons. Last year Victoria hosted the Young Rider National Championships and it was a huge event. There were big classes, steep competition and the highlight for me was competing in the FEI Junior Championship. This year the competition was a whole new ball game for me as Danson Wolkenaction and I entered our first state championship competing in the preliminary and novice championships.

I was lucky and had great times for the whole competition which saw me not competing until midday Thursday (even though the event started on the Wednesday) and meant I could take my time preparing. After spending several hours on Wednesday morning gathering together the last rugs, saddle blankets, whips and other bits of tack required and then trimming, scrubbing and re-scrubbing Action, we were off to Werribee Park at around lunch time. Those who have ever travelled further than half an hour with me in a car are probably aware that I have a very bad habit of falling asleep. I am without a doubt the WORST road-trip company. Ever. I can sleep on a car, train, bus or plane in perfect comfort no matter what time of day it is. People have taken photos of me fast asleep and posted them on Facebook, thrown water at me and teased me without end to try and break the habit, however I would not be deterred. However, on this particular trip I fell asleep with my face digging into the seat belt and remained there for one and a half hours. When we arrived at Werribee I was forced to walk around with a big red line running down the right side of my face which no amount of makeup could cover and almost every person I said hello to mentioned to me – I think I may have finally learned my lesson!

So my new facial marking and I headed straight into Indoor 1 to watch the first round of the FEI Young Rider competition and were very impressed! The strong field performed some great tests and it was hard to predict who would be sitting where on the leaderboard. At the end of the competition Tori Stuckey, Emma Crocker and Morgan Duell were eligable for the freestyle and the rest of the field were allowed to ride h/c which was great as it gave everyone the opportunity to ride to their music and show their talents in this area of competition the following day. After watching this class I worked my own horse, showing him around the venue and letting him get a feel for the atmosphere. He was a gentleman and I was very impressed with how he took it all in – that is after he came to terms with the idea that spectators sometimes lie down on the grass, a very foreign concept apparently. I was fortunate enough to meet some gorgeous Tasmanian girls who had made the trip over to compete and it was great to speak with them about what dressage competition is like over there. Hats off to them and their support teams for the huge effort they put in coming over to Victoria to compete!

Action and I heading out to the practice arena - dressed by Horse in the Box and Reiter.M

Action and I heading out to the practice arena – dressed by Horse in the Box and Reiter.M

6:30am Thursday morning and my alarm was blaring. There are no sleep-ins at Werribee! I fumbled out of bed and went with Micky Bray to feed Action who was, apparently, absolutely starving, and her beautiful Acacia Ridge Vivaldi who waited patiently for his breakfast. After completing our morning routine of changing rugs, cleaning stables and filling up water we headed back to get ready for the day. Time for a serious tack-cleaning session followed by skipping around beside the float like I’m doing a dressage test, muttering to myself “lengthened strides”, “half halt!!” and getting lots of strange looks from passers by. My tests were very close together time-wise which meant we would need to be super organised and on top of what we were doing – good thing I’m an obsessive list maker and had made timetabled lists a good few days ahead!

YR State Champs 2013YR State Champs 2013

The team looking super enthusiastic about the day of competition ahead of them

First up was the Novice 2C in the very spooky outdoor arena 1. I had never competed Action in this ring before and as it is the only one at Werribee with judges boxes I was interested to see how he would handle it. He was very well behaved and overall I was pleased with this test. However, a few rider errors pushed him a bit too much into the hand to score 62% and be out of the placings. With the help of Matthiew Sievers to hold Action for me I was able to jump off quickly between tests and watch some FEI Young Rider Freestyles. I was particularly impressed with Emma Crocker and her lovely Rolando who did a beautiful test and had some amazing results throughout the competition – well done Emma! Then it was time for a boost back on, a second gear check and the walk back to the warm up arena for Novice 2D. This test was a bit of a mixed bag – some great moments and some rider errors.

Photo by Ellen Dwyer

Photo by Ellen Dwyer

Although it’s easy to be disheartened by these moments, I am so lucky to have the support team I do. I was able to watch the video of the test taken by my mum multiple times and get a good idea of where my judgement was incorrect. My wonderful coach Jenny Bray talked me through where I went wrong and what we needed to fix  to come back better tomorrow and in the future. Also, one of my judges was extremely supportive and spoke with me about my horse, where he’s at and how that test could have been improved. After all of this I was feeling great and finishing my first day of competition in a really good place.

 

Debriefing with Michaela Bray and the newest member of the team - her adorable puppy Maizie!

Debriefing with Michaela Bray and the newest member of the team – her adorable puppy Maizie!

I had the opportunity to pencil for Jill Sinclair in the Medium that afternoon which was great. I learned a lot about judging the walk, how to determine where a horse’s unevenness may come from and the finer points of riding certain movements such as the half pass to the flying change. That night was the pas de deux which is always a great highlight! We laughed, danced and sang along with some fantastic tests. The costumes, themes and music get better every year. The winners in the young rider section were Fern Wright and Allysse Smith who rode with an Arabian theme. Their horse and pony were in beautiful harmony throughout the test and it was truly captivating to watch. They scored a whopping 78% to top the competition – well done girls! In the parent-child section we laughed and sang along with Loretto and Erika Hoscking’s “it’s raining men” piece and just loved Christine and Matthiew Sievers’ Adams Family piece but it was Julia Battams’ beautiful stallion Westewind who captivated the entire audience from start to finish and she and her daughter finished in first place with their naval themed performance. Congratulations to everyone who competed – it was so much fun!

Allysse Smith and Fern Wright

Allysse Smith and Fern Wright

This year I had the pleasure of watching the pas de deux with Tyson Zootjens. Tyson used to work at Danson Dressage and knew Action before I purchased him so it was great to catch up with him and learn more about Action’s history. I was very impressed with Tyson’s dedication – travelling straight from a show to a clinic to the young rider champs and then back to South Australia for another show! Congratulations on some great results Ty and I hope we have the pleasure of hosting you again soon.

Michaela Bray, Tyson Zootjens and myself enjoying the pas de deux

Michaela Bray, Tyson Zootjens and myself enjoying the pas de deux

Friday morning it was up and at it again at 6:30 am for a slightly earlier start in the Preliminary Championships. Action and I were much more on top of things now after learning from my mistakes on Thursday and did some work I was really pleased with to win the Preliminary 1C – good boy Action! Sadly I had to leave the event in a hurry so my thanks again to the Ritchie family and Matthiew Sievers for collecting my prizes and bringing them home for me. Our win in the competition ring was not our only win and I was spoilt in the silent auction with a voucher for a new pair of Kyron Breeches from Horse in the Box Equestrian Clothing and Giftware and beautiful one-of-a-kind handmade whip from Elite Canes and Browbands! I am so excited to compete with these soon and will be spamming you all with photos when I can. Thank you to everyone who donated prizes for the silent auction and raffle as they were lots of fun and there were some fabulous things up for grabs making for steep competition!

Photo by Ellen Dwyer

Photo by Ellen Dwyer

Good boy Danson Wolkenaction!

Good boy Danson Wolkenaction!

The beautiful cane I won, thank you again to Elite Canes and Browbands for your generous donation!

The beautiful whip I won, thank you again to Elite Canes and Browbands for your generous donation!

Overall this year’s Hamag Young Rider Festival was a very different experience for me but a wonderful learning curve. I saw some beautiful tests, learned a lot about myself and my horse, had unbelievable support from those around me, met some great people and had a super time in general! Thank you to everyone who volunteered, sponsored, judged, competed, spectated or donated a prize or auction item. It is competitions like these which encourage young riders and give us something to work towards each year and talk about long after. I look forward to next year!

Riding with Matthew Sievers

Riding with Matthew Sievers

Happy riding!