Interschool Championships, Birthday Parties and Winter Series Finals – And They Say we Back Off in Winter!

Wow wow wow –  I don’t know who I was kidding when I said I’d be backing off with the horses when Winter came around and getting stuck into my school work! July so far (and the month is still young) has been absolutely crazy and wonderful in so many ways so here are a few highlights for you:

On the 8th and 9th of July the dressage component of the Victorian Interschool State Championships was held at Werribee Park National Equestrian Centre. Danson Wolkenaction and I competed in the Secondary Preliminary Championship and the Senior Secondary Novice Championship. The Preliminary was held on the 8th and I was blessed with afternoon times which meant my wonderful chauffer (aka mum) and I had a very reasonable 7am departure from our house to go and pick Action up. After being pulled out of the paddock and found to be unreasonably filthy, Action’s legs and socks were re-washed and he was plaited and bundled into his Skye Park dress rugs and onto the float for the two hour drive to Werribee Park. It had been raining and miserable at home with fog so thick I could barely find Action in the paddock so it was much to my surprise that when we pulled into Werribee we were greeted by a beautiful sunny day! I took this a good omen and proceeded to prepare for my first test – the preliminary 1B.

The fog in Kinglake!

Action gave me a great ride in the first warm up and after coming to terms with the concept of young boys on bikes – apparently capable of eating 17hh warmbloods – he felt super through my test and we produced some work I was really proud of. It was great to meet on my way back to the float a young girl competing in the primary school section who was just eight years old. She was riding a cute-as-pie Shetland pony with mum in tow carrying dressage tests, water bottles, a video camera and who I assume was her brother. Their uncontainable excitement to just be a part of such a big event was a stand-out for me and really reminded me what interschools are all about and how they foster a love for our sport so unique and special.

Enjoying some birthday cake between tests with Chantel and Kayla Thomas

After a short break and with this in mind I began to prepare for my second preliminary test. This would be a real test for Action and I as we were competing in the far ring on the show jumping arenas, surrounded by cross country jumps, during feeding time at the Werribee Open Range Zoo which can be heard and smelled quite clearly from here. Action was very good however our inexperience in these situations showed a little and I over-rode his nervousness in this heightened environment, leading to a messier test than our first. Whilst I walked away a little disappointed in what I had been able to produce, I was also very proud of my horse for settling through the test and producing some good work in the later movements, showing me how we are working more and more as a team.

Action Interschools Shannon EDITED
Photo taken and edited by Shannon Fiesley

It was a wonderful surprise to hear on returning to the float that we had scored a personal best 80.8% to win our first test and that, despite the hiccups, we had still achieved a 66.4% and seventh place in our second test. Overall this put us fourth in the championship which was a lovely finish to the day and I walked away with much food for thought to process and come back with on day two of the competition. In the meantime, it was time to catch up with other riders from my school including Eliza Wilson-Hall who experienced much success in the advanced championship that day, and Sophie Pomie who also rode in the preliminary championship.

The Tintern Team
Some Tintern Schools team members

Day two saw my alarm blaring at 6am and I very reluctantly dragged myself out of my bunk bed to go and feed Action. I would like to mention at this point that the night, although dry, had been FREEZING and mum and I had had a grand total of about three hours sleep so it was very hard to leave my sleeping bag which had only just warmed up! However, there’s no rest for the wicked and I had an early ride so it was up and at it for us with speed breakfast eating, stable cleaning, top boot polishing and forelock plaiting (although credit here goes to Hannah Bathen who does WONDERFUL forelocks!). Now I have to absolutely take my hat off to the organising committee of this event. The scale of the whole thing was HUGE! There were hundreds of competitors with nine dressage rings all running concurrently and how they organised it I am in awe of!

A complication of having such sheer numbers however is that the warm up rings become very crowded and sadly this was a bit of an issue for us before my first test. I was walking Action on a long rein while the combination before me were in the ring when another horse got a fright and leaped through the air a few metres from Action and I. Action got a big fright, leaping through the air and leaving the warm up arena, going top-speed through the crowd of parents, siblings and strappers and out onto the cross country course. Apparently it was time for me to get in touch with my long-lost eventer! Luckily this enthusiasm was short lived and we were soon back in the warm up ring and calming our nerves. Unfortunately this spoilt our relaxation and we were both a bit over-cautious and our test lacked flow and forward.

Catching up with Hamish from Hamag – a long term supporter of the Interschool Championships

The highlight of this day for me was how well Action turned around from getting such a fright in his first warm up to really getting his mojo back in our second. I wish I could say the same for me! I was still very cautious not to push him and rode a very ‘safe’ test which lacked the forward and push we probably needed. However, it was still a good test which I walked away happy with and I was pleased with how we’d gone from taking off out of control onto the cross country course to performing a calm, happy and harmonious test in a short space of time. We placed fifth in our first test, third in the second and fourth overall which I was wrapped with all things considered and as we packed up and headed home I could certainly say that my last interschool championship was a success on many accounts. Special mentions from the second day of competition go to local rider Hannah Kennedy for winning the Senior Secondary Novice Championship on the delightful San Remo B; and to Michaela Bray for placing second in the Prix St Georges, second in the Intermediate 1 and second overall in the Small Tour to take home reserve champion dressage rider in her last competition on Acacia Ridge Vivaldi before he went to his new home. Well done girls!

Chantel Wigan
A little star-truck receiving my prizes from Chantal Wigan!

Now with the interschools behind me it was time to celebrate something non-horsey for a change – my eighteenth birthday! My birthday was on the 8th of July and so was spent, as it has been the past four years, sleeping in my float at Werribee Park. As much as I love competing, I wanted to celebrate without horses for a change so a friend of mine and I decided to have a joint party on the 20th July. After organising this I was horrified to learn that the date for the final round of the Whittlesea Plenty Valley Dressage Club Winter Series was actually the 21st July, not the 28th as was in the Dressage Handbook, and so I would have to turn around from hosting a party for one hundred people to competing the next morning! The organising committee were very understanding though and allowed me to ride last in both classes so that mum and I were able to make the most of the two hours’ sleep we ended up having.

Preparing WPVDC 3
How many monkeys does it take to change a lightbulb? I don’t know but it takes three people to clean a very muddy Action Man!

Sadly, the weather gods were not quite so understanding and treated us to crazy winds (strong enough to blow arena markers over) and icy temperatures so cold I could see Action’s breath and couldn’t feel my feet. Although we were quite bleary eyed and I was slower than usual to react, we performed two tests I was pleased with to place third and seventh. As this was the last round of the series the overall champions were awarded and Action and I were lucky enough to win both the novice and preliminary series – what a good boy! I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Whittlesea Plenty Valley Dressage Club for three wonderful events. I am very excited to now be a member and look forward to representing you in a few weeks down at the VDC Inter-club Teams Challenge! Congratulations to all the other series winners and thank you especially to my wonderful mother, Matthew Sievers and Michaela Bray for being wonderful strappers and eyes on the ground at this last round – it certainly wouldn’t have been possible without you!

Whittlesea Prizes

Now it’s time to recover from the competition as well as clean up the house and go through everything from the party – a horse rider’s life is never dull!

I have a few exciting things in store for the next few  weeks so watch this space – it may be Winter but we’re certainly not sitting inside by the fire here!

Happy riding everyone