I would like to formally apologise to everyone I ever doubted when they warned me that the second half of year twelve would be dizzyingly busy – you have been proven correct! In the last weekend of my last school holidays ever (wow it feels incredibly strange to be saying that) I’m cherishing some of the strange phenomenon known as down-time and intend to fill you all in on the past three months in thirty minutes!
I am incredibly lucky to have an uncle who manages The Border Mail up in Wodonga and, for my birthday, was spoilt with VIP media passes to Cavalia under the White Big Top in at Docklands. Mum and I were almost bursting with excitement as we headed into town for a girls night out!
Upon arriving at the venue I was struck by its castle-like appearance. With four towers extending over 35 metres high (the size of a ten-story building) and covering 2, 440 square metres it was truly impressive! After picking our chins up off the floor, we were directed down the red carpet and then into a special tent for dinner and champagne. I was very star-struck and, after summoning up the courage, introduced myself to stars including radio personality Kate Langbroek (whom I told it would make my week if she mentioned me on her show the following morning and, although she promised to, I must admit I slept right through) and Melanie Vallejo from Winners & Losers.
The actual show was an incredible mix of inspiring acrobats, impressive strong men, evocative music and, of course, beautiful horses. With the right balance of drama, danger and comic relief it was a true delight and I thoroughly recommend you try and get tickets if you can (hint hint all those in South Australia!). The fusion of performance and horsemanship was something truly special and left me pondering how well Action Man would take to having me try and perform backflips whilst he canters in a circle – maybe we’ll work towards that over summer 😉
During the after-show VIP tour of the stables I bumped into Maggie McDonell from Hamag, EV’s super CEO Greg Pratt, Kerry Mack from Mayfield Farm, riders Will Enzinger and Julia Battams and many other familiar faces. Getting to see all of the talented equine performers being groomed, rugged and tucked in to bed was a very special experience and I loved seeing two of my favourites – Merlin, an 18hh six year old Percheron and the largest member of the cast and Troubadour, an 8hh miniature pony stallion and the smallest in the show – enjoying their dinner and the adoration of those who had just seen them at work. On speaking with a member of staff I learned there are over 45 horses in the cast, none of whom are mares, comprising of 11 different breeds, who have joined the team from all over the world throughout the nine years the show has run. I was also impressed by the sheer size of their tack room – I’m sure glad I don’t have to clean that many saddles, bridles and boots!
To finish off a magical evening I was able to speak with some of the wonderful human members of the cast at the VIP after-party including Fairland Ferguson from the USA and the team of Moroccan strong men. They were all so friendly and clearly delighted to be part of such a great show –a tribute to the huge team of 120 permanent employees and 100 locals hired specifically in each city the tour visits. I take my hat off to the creative masterminds behind the show, especially Magali Delgado and and Frédéric Pignon who are in charge of all the equine choreography.
After such a magical evening at Cavalia you would think my week couldn’t get any better – think again! Just two days later I was donning a dress and heels (a little different to breeches and boots) and heading in to The Palladium at Crown for the Courtney Fraser and Emma Booth fundraiser dinner. Elizabeth Wischer had organised a table for a few of the girls I used to event with and I was excited to catch up with this great group of riders and show my support for Courtney and Emma.
I cannot express how phenomenal The Palladium looked when I walked in – Will Enzinger and his team had done an incredible job organising the event and it was HUGE! There were so many people, tables, decorations and donations it was almost overwhelming. I was so inspired by Courtney and Emma’s strength as they spoke about the accident, their recovery so far and their hopes for the future. The amount of support and love the equestrian community have shown them reminds me why it is so special. Its nights like those which show why all the hurried ‘good luck’ messages as someone goes into the ring are important – we need to have each other’s backs and foster that sense of belonging I felt sitting in that room!
After a beautiful meal, an intense silent auction and as much dancing as my feet could stand I headed home incredibly excited by what I had seen and felt that evening. I was even more delighted to hear later that nearly $70,000 has been raised to support the girls in their road to recovery – what a remarkable effort!
And the week just kept getting better! The weekend of the 27th-28th July was the training weekend for the selection of the new Equestrian Victoria Young Ambassadors and I was asked to speak to the finalists about my experience as young ambassador and the art of public speaking, and then mentor them in preparing mini-debates.
I arrived at Werribee mid-morning, even though I wasn’t scheduled to speak until 5pm, eager to watch some of the lessons and catch up with the riders. After checking out the morning tea (one can never have too many muffins) and a quick lesson in the art of using Elia’s flashy camera I was let loose to capture some pictures of the day’s lessons. Two things soon became glaringly obvious to me:
1. The standard of young riders and we have in our state at the moment is VERY exciting
2. I am about as talented with a camera as I expect Mr Bean would be. Maybe even less.
Angus Wright-Smith show jumping on Larry
Its all fun and games until Mia tries to take a nice, serious photo – sorry Angus!
The dressage combinations were a mixture of old and new faces and it was nice to meet some new people including the lovely Rosie Cole. They shared the indoor with the show horse riders and I loved catching up with some of these girls who I had met at the training weekend last year. Whilst watching the show jumping lessons I was reminded of the importance of corners in setting up for the fence and a sneak peak at the cross country course revealed some lovely young event horses I can’t wait to see progress through the grades! Whilst I can’t claim to understand vaulting, or be brave enough to try it myself, I was very impressed with the skills of this group of riders who have only been part of the Young Ambassador Awards for the past two years.
Michaela Bray riding the beautiful CJP Diamond Dazzler
Each year as part of the selection process, the finalists are asked to demonstrate their ability to speak to an audience about a given topic. In the past, this has taken the form of speeches on a variety of things from what we would do as young ambassador and how we resolve conflict to how we would spend one million dollars. When Elia told me the finalists this year would be debating I must admit I was VERY jealous – as someone who has debated in high school I would have leapt at this opportunity! However, it appears I was quite alone in this reaction and most of the finalists were much more on the terrified side of things. I have to sympathise with them, debating is complicated and can be very daunting if you haven’t had much experience of it! This is where I was asked to help – to reassure them they would all live through the evening and were well and truly capable of formulating a good debate and teach them some basic rules and strategies.
After a little blurb about my strategies for debates – never say “I have convinced you” being my golden rule – the riders split into teams and were given topics. Some of the topics were very challenging including discussions on which equestrian disciplines would best suit Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott and whether a horse with sheer talent or pure courage is better. A pat on the back to each of the finalists – you all put together good arguments, conducted yourself well and barely needed my help in the end! I went home that evening very impressed by what I’d seen and excited to see who would be named in the final short list the next day.
The Equestrian Victoria Awards Night was set to be a great night – a new venue, a new look, lots of new awards and the much anticipated announcement of the new Ambassadors – and it sure delivered!
I arrived at the Werribee Racecourse and met Elia and Liara, the first ever EV Young Vaulting Ambassador, to put the final touches on the decorating. When all the chairs had bows tied around them, all the tables were set correctly and the photo booth was set up it was time for the guests to arrive and that for me meant a crash-course in using the eftpos machine (a job I gladly gave to Liara) and marking off all the arrivals.
The actual night was great fun! I loved sharing a table with last year’s ambassadors and a few young dressage riders. Congratulations to the new ambassadors Michaela Bray (dressage), Zoe Boulton (jumping), Jessika Hill (vaulting), Teegan Ashby (eventing) and Kristen O’Connell (show horse) – I know you will all make the most of being ambassadors and do your sport proud! Special mentions also to the young riders whose horses received awards for best performed retired racehorses Jacob Wells (BP Poet’s Corner, jumping) and Jordan Smith (Corona Gold, dressage) and to Joseph Patterson for being awarded EV Young Athlete of the Year.
Once the awards were done and dusted it was all about having fun and catching up with friends. Whilst I have two left feet on the dance floor and I pray that one day I’ll learn to wear more sensible shoes, it was great to be surrounded by good songs and good company in an atmosphere a little different to a competition or clinic for a change. The photo booth was SO much fun and I never saw it without a big queue – everyone was getting into the spirit of things, consolidating friendships from the weekend and making memories.
Whilst it felt strange to be handing over my ‘crown’ as it has come to be called, I am thoroughly excited about the future young ambassadors. Those who were named for 2013 are great riders with lots to give and have already begun to make their mark. Those in the top three (or four for jumping) I hope to see back up on stage next year as you have some fabulous ideas and I trust you will make great contributions. Those in the top ten for each sport are a perfect representation of why young riders should be cherished as the future of our sport – you are all very deserving! Overall, a great night to top off a memorable year – thanks again to Elia for all your work co-ordinating the entire process and I can’t wait to be back next year!
It turns out I’m having to eat my words a fair bit these days! All those times I swore I’d never jump again – looks like I was wrong! During the July school holidays I got back into the Bates and had a little jump to ‘prove to myself I was really done with it’ and apparently I’m not because I found myself at the Euroa Show on the first of September as a competitor, not as a spectator! I’m going to blame this on having had the opportunity to attend show jumping competitions as a strapper earlier this year and the emphasis placed upon cross-training.
When I say competitor, I’m certainly not in it to win it but I had a lovely time jumping around the Junior 1.05m class in the back ring on jumping schoolmaster Kaboom. I think that’s a fabulous part of show jumping events – that you can go to a show and compete in an unofficial class, not having to be up against professionals, and then sit back and watch the ‘big kids’ do what they do best in the main class! I loved the atmosphere of the show and seeing people I used to compete against regularly when I evented 100 years ago, as well as meeting some new faces. There were not many familiar faces from the dressage scene, people referring to me as ‘the dressage rider’ and asking me if I even had a jumping saddle, however it was great to see Amy Lynch and Tori Stuckey who do compete in both dressage and jumping. Congratulations to Tori on winning the Bronze Class on Mayfield Noble.
Kaboom was very good to me and helped me get my jumping legs back, jumping all clear to take home 7th and lots of smiles.
Friday 20th to Sunday 21st
Those who know me well know I never do anything half-heartedly and my brief return to jumping was no different! As soon as we were home from Euroa we were getting excited for the much anticipated Australian Show Jumping Championships to be held at Werribee Park from the 19th – 21st September.
This year the Championships introduced an unofficial back ring which again gave me the chance to pop around smaller courses (90cm, 1m and 1.05m) for a bit of fun. This time I borrowed Rebecca Thaller’s super little horse Duchess Royale who was SO much fun and – testament to Bec’s training – jumped every fence I pointed her at over the two days we competed despite my nerves and us being a very new combination.
One thing I can’t get over about the Championships is their atmosphere – there is a big screen showing the rider on course in the main ring and their penalties, the arena is surrounded by trade stands and the two-storey VIP area is more than impressive – you could be in Europe! When you’re standing there looking at the physical set up of the show you can understand why they were awarded EV’s Event of the Year. I loved the opportunity to watch classes ranging from 1.10m to Junior and Young Rider Championships and then the main class, the Senior title. The Senior class came down to a nail biting final on the 21st, which was won by Tim Clarke and the gorgeous grey mare Caltango, and the overall title went to Jamie Kermond and Caracus. It was great to be able to watch the country’s best jumping riders take on a challenging course on a sunny spring day in great ring-side seating – a testament to the organising committee and the weather gods.
My highlight of the day was easily watching the dressage quadrille performed by Tori Stuckey, Kristin White, Fiona McNaught and Emmalee Weston riding Mayfield Miracle, Mayfield Be Brave, Ostra and Belcam Jazzmine. It was fabulous to see these great dressage combinations out amongst the showjumps, showing the spectators and competitors a little bit of what our sport is about and some of the popular ‘party tricks’ dressage horses are trained to perform. I also loved how impressed the people around me were by the dressage display and it gives me hope that in the future examples of this cross-disciplinary support will continue!
Many people have asked me if a change of discipline is in order and my reply is a firm ‘no!’ I love my dressage and Action Man certainly won’t be competing in the Young Rider title next year. However, I do absolutely see the value in dabbling across the disciplines to develop my skills as a rider and jumping a little at the lower heights has certainly given me that. I want to be a versatile rider and I feel these competitions and the preparation for them has certainly contributed to that. Thank you to those who lent me horses or gear, walked courses with me, answered my rookie questions and made my transition back into the jumping saddle a lot of fun!
So there you have it – three months in thirty minutes! I hope you have all been loving the arrival of spring and the nice riding weather and are looking forward to the Saddleworld Dressage Festival, Victorian Junior and Young Rider Show Jumping Champs or riding down the road next weekend. For me it’s time to hit the books big time for the ‘last sprint’ in my year 12 race and I can’t wait to be out and about again on the other side – bring on November 20th!