As I sit down to write this I am watching the beautiful city of Munster disappear out of the train window as my visit to Grand Prix rider Briana Burgess ends and I head back to Dusseldorf. In the last two months I have visited two of the biggest horse shows in the world – Hagen Horses and Dreams and Chio Aachen. I have also had the chance to interview Lyndal Oatley and to visit Briana Burgess – two of our Australian riders who are competing at this highest level of international competition. Having seen these shows and spoken to these riders I wanted to write about what life is like for the Australian riders over here following their dreams and competing in the best shows the world has to offer.
When I arrive at Briana’s picturesque stable in Munster I am greeted by happy, friendly faces all-round. The sweetest dog gallops out to greet me and when I find the entrance to the stables Briana smiles from ear to ear as she welcomes me in for a tour. She introduces me to her team of horses – with everything from four year olds to grand prix competition horses – and we walk around the work areas, as well as the huge paddocks out the back. This property is a competitive rider’s dream: just minutes from the vibrant city of Munster but so peaceful you feel like you’re in your own little wonderland, and conveniently located in one of Germany’s most horsey areas. The stable is set up to house jumping and dressage horses with an indoor arena and two outdoors: the larger with a full set of show jumps and the second left bare. To top it off there is a track running around the paddocks which can be used to break up the arena work and keep the horses fit. Talk about the perfect set up?!
Briana’s groom Abbey comes down into the stable and it’s like being in a home away from home – a bubbly, friendly-faced Australian who is proud to walk me through the well-managed stable. Abbey has come over to work for Briana for a year and her jobs include attending to the daily needs of the horses, grooming at competitions and riding some of the young horses. Abbey is hard working, positive and clearly enthusiastic about her work. When I watch her ride I am impressed – she and Briana make a great team. Tomorrow Briana is heading off to Compiègne in France to compete and so she is busy with last minute preparations. The portable tack box is packed, she and La Scala have a last training session with Patrik Kittel and she is making sure the travel plan is organised.
Like any stable, there is never a dull moment and throughout the day there are a number of visitors including the farrier and students. Briana switches from her native tongue to fluent German and back again – a woman of many talents! She is always busy with horses to ride, lessons to give, preparations to make, people to meet and not a moment to spare and yet she is so generous and warm towards me and all her clients, like she has all the time in the world. From her relaxed, friendly manner through to the perfectly polished row of bridles, it’s clear every effort is made to create the best work environment possible and not a single corner has been cut. Briana’s stable is a haven for training equine athletes who clearly love their work and thrive in her training.
That night I had a blast exploring Munster with Abbey and her aunt Robyne who was training with Briana. It was great to share stories and laughs from our respective European riding adventures over beautiful food at what is quickly becoming one of my favourite restaurants – Vapiano. As I went back to my hotel that night and prepared to head back to Dusseldorf in the morning, I was filled with a warm feeling I can only liken to a sense of being ‘home.’ It’s a long and sometimes lonely journey to travel to the other side of the world in pursuit of your dreams and this is something I think bonds all Aussies over here closer together. Briana has created a dressage safe-haven and has opened it to other Australians – inviting Abbey to come and experience Europe and training riders who travel over and stay with her for boot-camp. She has earned her own place on the international podium and is paving the way for other Australians to join her journey and make their dreams a reality too. Our future as a competitive nation in this Euro-centric sport is looking bright with trailblazers like Briana.
The Oatley name has been synonymous with top quality Australian dressage for a number of years and Lyndal Oatley is one of the best performed Australian dressage riders on the international stage. I had the opportunity to interview her and find out a little more about what it’s like to be in Europe following your dream. I asked Lyndal when she knew that this was what she wanted to do. “The Sydney Olympics was when I knew I wanted to focus on dressage. I sat there and wanted to ride against those people in the arena and really put everything into reaching that goal” and so she has – moving to Europe and establishing herself as a formidable international competitor. Lyndal has now competed in two World Equestrian Games and one Olympics on horses Sandro Boy 9 and Potifar. Lyndal notes that she was scared because she wanted to achieve her goals through her own “hard work and…merits – and it was daunting as [her] cousin Kristy is one of the most successful dressage riders ever so [she] did not want to ride her tail coat.” She wanted to achieve her dream because she had earned every percent she received, through putting in the hard yards herself. Looking back on where she has come since those Sydney Olympics, there can be no doubt that Lyndal has put in the time and hard work to achieve some incredible results and hold her own as one of our best ever performed riders.
It seems I was not the only Aussie spellbound by Aachen – Lyndal said she loves “the atmosphere and excitement of Aachen – there is no other show in the world” quite like it, plus the “competition is always on the edge!” Making it one of her favourite destinations on the competition calendar. Her other favourite is “Falsterbo as it is the show that feels closest to a show at home – relaxed, the sun is out, it’s by the ocean and the swedes are great fun and make a really fun crowd to ride in front of!” But is it really the same as being back home in Australia? “I miss everything about home…I miss my family, and not being able to drop by for Sundays or spontaneous dinners. I miss the culture, my friends, my animals and of course the food.” She promises she still calls Australia home – “I am Australian! It’s who I am and I never want that to change, no matter where I am based” and we’re proud to call her one of us. Since speaking with Lyndal she competed at Copiègne in France with impressive results in the Grand Prix on Sandro Boy and also on her up and coming superstar mare Diva in the CDI2* Prix St. Georges. At Falsterbo she won the seven year old championship with Diva and came fourth in the Chio, scoring over 75% and setting a new record with the highest ever score for an Australian rider in a Chio. I know everyone back home and around the world will be keeping an eye on Lyndal in the race to Rio and I wish her all the best.
Speaking to these athletes at the top of their game with an Olympic Games firmly in their sights has given me more insight and perspective on what it takes to be at the top. What ignites the desire to make dreams a reality and the day to day actions that keep them making new personal bests and re-defining their limits. Both of these inspiring ladies have shown me that if you really give it your all and reach for the stars you might just catch one. It’s safe to say that another very big box on my bucket list has been ticked off. The opportunity to go ‘behind the scenes’ with two leading Australian athletes who are kicking goals and putting Australia on the international dressage map was the chance of a lifetime. Keep flying our flag on the way to Rio ladies – come on Aussie come on!
Until next time,