Finding meditation on the top of a horse

Rocky cuddles aachen

An article written for Dumbo Feather 

Originally published 18th April 2017

“How one athlete discovered the power of meditation, much to her surprise.”

I have never been the type to pull out my yoga mat at 7am and spend 20 minutes finding clarity. I’m more a leap out of bed, scramble for peanut butter on toast and start training kind of girl. So no-one was as surprised as me to find that meditation would become an important part of my life.

After finishing high school, I deferred university to pursue a career as a professional equestrian. I’d competed at a high level in youth competitions but I was in no way prepared for the chaos that was about to become my life. I would leave the house at first light and be outside sweating my way through as much work as I could until it was dark— and then a little longer, until my eyes could no longer make out the ground from the sky. Then I’d go back inside, eat dinner and fall asleep. Six days a week.

One day I was riding down the road, stressing about what to cook for dinner and an upcoming competition, when the young horse I was on got a fright and leapt to the side. I was thrown high into the air but luckily landed on top of the horse, saving my face from meeting the gravel. It was a shake-up for me — literally and figuratively.

I swore right there that while riding, I would never think of anything other than exactly what my body was doing in every moment.

The process of learning to focus on the present and channel my energy was gradual. I paid close attention to my coaches when they pointed out when my reactions were too slow or strong so that I could identify when I was slipping into auto-pilot. I read biographies of athletes who had overcome amazing hurdles to try and understand how they found clarity and focus.

Eventually, I started a diary so that at the end of each day I would write down one time I achieved the quiet, one time I missed the mark and what I could learn from these moments. After a few months of (very slow) improvement, I was writing less in the diary and finding the focus easier every day. And that’s how it happened–I became a meditator almost by accident.

I began to ride with complete focus on the physical processes running through my body: the shifting of a seat bone; adjusting the pressure in one leg; the pace of my breathing. It didn’t happen suddenly, but over time I was able to channel the outside world into such silence that I never heard the commentator as I competed. All I heard was the blood pumping in my ears and the shortening of my breath when I began to tire.

Once I found this cone of quiet during exercise, the change flowed naturally into the rest of my life. I wasn’t erratic, racing from one place to another. When I dismounted, I left the training session behind me and anything bad that happened out there didn’t make me irritable at home. Burning my toast didn’t mean that all my horses were going to go badly that day. Suddenly bad events were just that–bad events. Not a bad life. Because I had that space to tune everything out other than the raw physical process of exercise, my mind had a chance to reset itself.

Today, I use this quiet space to stay calm in the melting-pot of competition stress. As I drive to the venue, I start focussing on blocking out the noises around me. I don’t want to listen to gossip as I get ready–I only want to hear the sound of my breathing.

Once I’m warming up, I focus my eyes on a point just above my horse’s ears. I want to be able to see where I’m going without letting myself get psyched out by the competition. Then I start to actively fill my thoughts with what my body is doing. It feels strange at first to think “left heel down; more pressure in right fingers” but, after a few minutes, my mind is so consumed by the mechanical processes that there’s no room for nerves or self-doubt.

The final step is to blow a raspberry with my lips as the judge signals for me to enter. I know this probably seems strange, but it makes sure my face muscles are relaxed and releases any last lingering bits of tension. I can’t imagine competing without this ritual anymore. It keeps me comfortable and focussed in the most demanding events. It’s my sanctuary from the stress of competitive sport.

It wasn’t until years after that initial shake-up, while reading the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness, that I would come to label this mental rejuvenation as active meditation. Meditation has become such a buzz word that we can lose sight of the fact that it is, at its core, a very personal experience.

For me, meditation is not about emptying your mind of one load of stressful decisions so as to refill it with another. Nor is it a tool to be used only in the event of a life crisis. Meditation is a way to control what you think and when, and how you will react to these thoughts. It’s a way of keeping yourself grounded so you can respond to the chaos around you from a position of wisdom and reason, filling your heart with love instead of angst. Meditation is a tool to being proactive–not reactive.

Through forging my own path to the calm and empowerment that comes from meditation through movement, I found a way to meditate that fits me. Sport gives us a beautiful opportunity to nourish our spirits and bodies simultaneously and we so rarely harness that.

That I, the girl who never sits still, can find quiet solace in the middle of the competition arena is testament to the incredible capability of the human mind to create sanctuary.

Why Do You Ride?

I was sitting at lunch with my mum the other day discussing love, literature and the art of making the perfect salad dressing when she asked me a very poignant question: why do you ride?

At first this seemed like such a simple question it was silly to even ask – because I love it? Why else? But then it got me thinking – why is it, in my heart of hearts, that I choose to ride horses? I could fill my hours with plenty of equally worthy pastimes such as playing soccer, reading, writing poems or finally learning how to bake a soufflé but instead I choose over and over again the dusty arena, muddy paddock and endless hours of travel and cleaning. Why?

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What about this is at all appealing?

That night whilst reading Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” I came across a passage describing two different types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. With Extrinsic motivation, “people act to win external rewards or avoid external punishments” whereas intrinsic motivation occurs when one acts for their own satisfaction. Studies have found that rewarding people for an activity will often cause them to stop doing it for fun. This is why parents are encouraged not to reward their children for reading as they will only ever read for reward and not for pleasure.

Happiness Project
Highly recommend having a read

I could easily recognise that my motivation for riding was not extrinsic. I do not ride to win blue ribbons. Firstly: dressage competition is subjective and you would send yourself completely crazy if your happiness rested upon another person’s opinion of your shoulder in from the ten strides of it they can see properly. Secondly: there is no way I could ever justify spending thousands of dollars each year on agistment, feed, farriers, rug repairs, worming, dentists, vaccinations, competition entries, lessons and petrol (just to name a few) in the name of winning a strip of satin worth $2. I’m no commerce student but even I know that doesn’t add up.

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Surely this isn’t what it’s all about?

Having established the motivation was intrinsic, I then wanted to pinpoint exactly what it is that draws me to riding, and so I wrote a list:

  • The bond with my horse – is there anything quite as special as the feeling of being loved completely, openly and unconditionally by a creature so powerful it could kill you but so gentle it looks to you for guidance instead?
  • The adrenaline – the rush of wind against your face as you cut out a stride in the jump off and that feeling of flying
  • The ability to improve endlessly – competing in a sport measured not just in the number of goals scored but instead in the degree to which you performed a movement to a judge’s satisfaction provides the opportunity for (almost) unlimited improvement…a very tempting prize for a perfectionist!
  • The reward that comes with training new skills – the tired old saying is true: knowledge is power and the reward from increasing your own knowledge and using this to improve your horse’s training is huge

I stood back, looked at this list and felt truly perplexed. I love all of these things and on first reading I would have just said all of the above and moved on. However, the perfectionist in me wasn’t satisfied with a throw away answer like that.

For the next few hours these ideas bounced around in the back of my head but nothing sat perfectly just yet. Something was missing and, as my grandmother would have told me, “you will find it as soon as you stop looking for it” so I saved this unanswered question in the memory bank for a rainy day.

Lucky for me we’ve had an unusually wet summer and today turned out to be just that day. As I headed off to ride in the rain I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and it hit me hard and fast:  I was having a bad hair day.

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I wasn’t joking when I said it was a bad hair day!

Smirk as you may – a bad hair day is no laughing matter and can seriously damage your confidence and put you on the back foot. But I looked at my reflection, smiled to myself and thought “it doesn’t matter.” That’s just it – I ride because for those precious hours that I spend in the saddle, nothing else matters. My horse does not care about all the little things that course through my overactive mind in the hours I spend surrounded by humans:

  • I’m looking a little pudgy around the face today
  • My hair is going that horrible shade of orange again
  • These breeches are so last season
  • There’s a hole in the toe of BOTH my socks
  • And they don’t match
  • That pimple on my nose is the size of Mt Kosciusko
  • My lecture notes are illegible
  • I need to put on that load of red washing
  • I lost my sunnies…again
  • My facebook post didn’t get very many likes

All of these insecurities and shortcomings are completely irrelevant to my horse. She cares if I have carrots. If I scratch her between her ears just how she likes it and if I am clear and consistent in my training. It doesn’t matter if I failed my last assignment, if my car is dirty or if her bandages don’t match.

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On the flip-side of that coin is that she doesn’t care how long it took to drive to this show, how expensive my entries were or how on-point my outfit is. If I ride badly, she goes badly. My childhood instructor used to tell me that “a horse is only a mirror of its rider” and it took me a very long time to realise just how true this is. Of course there are external factors beyond your control – the wind, warmblood-eating wheelie bins and other horses in the warm up – but ultimately riding is a question of how complete and clear your training is and whether in pressure situations the horse is more influenced by what scares it or by your training.

Rocky cuddles aachen
Thanks for keeping me honest, grounded and inspired little man

Riding is a blank slate. It comes down to my focus, performance and training and nothing else. Fashion, money, how cool you are or how many Instagram followers you have will never make your horse go better. And that is why I ride – for the exhilarating, sometimes frustrating but always grounding experience of competing in a sport where the only advantage is better training and a clearer head. To achieve maximum performance you must be truly ‘present’ and in that moment of time – exercising mindfulness. Riding instils passion and passion is what drives us to dig deeper, work harder and aim higher – to better ourselves and be the best version of us that we can be.

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THIS is why I ride

As a wise teacher (my facebook news feed) once told me: “set some goals, work hard for them, clap for your damn self.”

Riding is a great leveller and for that I am forever grateful.

Happy riding!

Mia

What Went Down the Centre Line

By the time you read this I will have completed my second dressage competition and first attempt at FEI with my new team mate Remi Rockefella. We won’t have won or placed. There will be no blue ribbons for us today and no chance we will be coming back for the final on Saturday – but I will complete my final halt, drop my reins and give that horse the biggest hug possible to thank him for the opportunity to be a part of one of my favourite classes on the Australian dressage calendar. If I know myself at all there will be tears of joy and relief; and then we will go home and go back to the drawing board and see where we can do better next time.

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My biggest shout out to my super-human mother through this whole thing! Photo by Gone Riding Media

As I sat down and thought about everything that goes in to taking a horse to compete in the prestigious Aachen Challenge, I decided that the best way to describe the journey is to look at everything that will be cantering down that centre line with me: from top to bottom.

The Helmet:

Purchased at CHIO Aachen on my recent seven and a half month long European Riding Adventure, my Uvex helmet represents for me an incredible opportunity I was given and a horse show that changed the way I saw competitive horse riding. When I was offered a position as a working student in a German stable a year ago I never could have imagined where it would take me. In June this year as I stood in the world-famous Aachen stadium and watched the best jumping and dressage horses in the world compete at this most prestigious event I understood what it was all about – this crazy dream. The reason we get up at 5am and fall off and get back on and fail over and over and over again without ever doubting if this is what we want to do. There is something magic about a horse and a rider in perfect union that tugs at the heart strings and captures the imagination for life.

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The tails:

Given to me by my dear friend Simone Pearce – these trusty Pikeur tails have competed in some of the biggest shows on the European calendar and seen Simone right up to Grand Prix. Their buttons have been moved and changed a number of times and even the colour of the points has been altered, but when I ride in them I picture Simone on her trusty Little Lion who I had the privilege to ride whilst in Germany and I’m filled with a sense of pride to wear them and gratitude at knowing that I have great friends behind me every step of the way in this trying dressage journey.

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Photo by Gone Riding Media

The stock:

Hand-made for me as a gift from Veronica Ray of Helmet Hiders, my stock reminds me of the years I spent eventing as a teenager. From when I was twelve to sixteen I dragged my poor, ever-suffering mother to countless one and two day events with my super little stock horse ‘Wilson.’ At each event we would do an okay dressage test, then I would try and kill myself by throwing myself at solid obstacles I was terrified of before finishing off with a usually-messy show jumping round. Needless to say – eventing was not for me. We retired Wilson to dressage, competing him up to FEI Junior level, and he has since been sold on as a show horse.

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A flashback to my eventing days

Whilst eventing didn’t work out for me, it was an incredible way to meet people and many of my good friends now I know from this time. Veronica is one such friend. Mum and I met her at Wandin Park when I was about twelve and she made my silks for me when I was fourteen. We saw her at countless events and she became a very dear friend to us over the years. This stock was made for me when I was riding as a professional young horse rider in Adelaide and was so homesick it hurt. I would talk to Veronica about her experiences with her daughter riding dressage horses in Canada and the stock is a little piece of home and my eventing background which I cherish no matter where in the world I find myself.

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Photo by Gone Riding Media

The breeches and gloves:

White Kyron full seat breeches and Like a Glove white gloves, both from Horse in the Box. The first time I went to Horse in the Box I was fifteen and looking for a smart pair of breeches. I had been selected onto the Hamag Victorian Young Dressage Rider Squad, was completely out of my depth and knew I needed to present myself a little better if I was going to fit in. Erika (the owner) could not have been more helpful and put together a smart outfit that made me feel one million dollars without the price tag. One year later I was short listed for Young Dressage Ambassador of the Year and we went back to Erika for another outfit. Kyron breeches are without a doubt the best fit, quality and price on the market and I have never looked back. Horse in the Box became my first sponsors in 2012 and have continued to dress me in the most current, comfortable and stylish European Fashions. I can’t thank them enough for their support and it is fitting to be wearing them in this special competition.

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Photo by Shannon Fiesley

The shirt:

Equiline, purchased whilst I was living and working in Holland. The time I spent in Holland was beyond incredible. It developed my understanding of how to train a dressage horse, introduced me to the idea of training for grand prix, opened my eyes to the standards of international competition and, above all else, I met people and horses who made Europe ‘home’ to me.

I fell on my feet when I arrived in Holland. With no understanding of just how lucky I was at the time, I can’t thank my mum enough for suggesting the stable and to Johan and Penny for giving me a chance and working tirelessly to train and mentor me. Without the months I spent there I would never have been able to ride an elementary/medium level horse in a Prix St Georges competition with our eyes set on CDI-Y in the New Year. I can hear them both in the back of my head as I ride this test : “Keep your legs still” “Is he reacting?” “Can you trot?” “Can you walk?” “More chewing”

This chapter of my life will forever remain one of the most precious and the countdown is on until I can come back and keep learning!

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Sharing a Magnum with my favourite horse in Holland – Aluna

The saddle:

Last September as I packed up my belongings into the back of my car and headed off to my new job at the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre, I never could have imagined what awaited me. What was going to be a temporary position to fill in some time turned into life-changing experience that has opened more doors for me than I can name. Working at Dr Andrew McLean’s AEBC I learned how to ride and train ethically, how to retrain many behavioural problems and to work WITH a horse, not against it. I broke in my first horse, made beautiful friends and began to understand who I want to be and how to get there. Without the things I learned in my time at the AEBC and their continued support (and this saddle, which I purchased from them whilst there), there is no chance I would be cantering down this centre line today.

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A view from ‘the office’ when I was working at the AEBC

The bridle numbers:

Hamag, given to me as a present from an eventing friend when I was fourteen. These trusty bridle numbers have seen EVERYTHING. From pre novice eventing to the FEI Junior at the Australian Young Rider Dressage Championships and even being borrowed for the Grand Prix show jumping at Dressage and Jumping with the Stars – these versatile little numbers (pun completely intended) have been there done that and never let me down. Not too much bling but not too boring either, they’re an essential and it’s impossible to leave for a show without them.

Top boots:

Given to me for my eighteenth birthday from a group of friends putting in so that I could be a real dressage diva with my very own pair of boots (up until then I was using a borrowed pair). They took me weeks of deliberation to design and it was an agonising few months as I waited for them to come from Holland but when I opened that box and put them on for the first time I was in love. They remind me of a very exciting time in my life and the friends who shared those milestones with me.

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Photo by Shannnon Fiesley

The Horse:

Remi Rockefella, affectionately known as ‘Rocky’ or ‘The Rockstar,’ is one of the sweetest, most giving little horses I have ever had the privilege to ride. Rocky’s owner Jane Veall has been a friend of the family since my pony club days. When I came home in October and said that I would really like a horse to ride in the CDI-Y competitions in my last year as a young rider (2016), Jane offered me the ride on Rocky. The only catch was he had never competed above elementary level dressage and had spent the last few years as a champion show hunter so was ‘a little rusty.’

We made a deal: I’ll ride him once. If I can get a flying change we’ll give it a crack. I think he must have been listening that day because the little trooper warmed up for ten minutes, came across the centre line and popped three perfect  changes. “Okay!” I said, “Let’s enter.”

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Photo by Gone Riding Media

If only things had continued to be that easy…as it turned out we didn’t get sequence changes again until the last ride before the Aachen – nothing like the last minute to bring out your best! Yesterday we had our last ‘test run’ and I couldn’t believe the transformation in this horse. Perfect changes, good half passes and a real crack at the pirouettes. What a little champion!

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Photo by Gone Riding Media

Whilst I know our test will be far from perfect and things are bound to go wrong, I can’t thank Jane enough for trusting me with her beautiful horse and supporting our progress together on the bad days as well as the good. We have come a long way and this is only the beginning – look out Rocky! You might just have to keep doing ‘this dressage thing’ a little longer my dear.

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With Jane after it was all done and dusted – Photo by Gone Riding Media

Evidently a lot has gone into bringing one horse to do one test – thank you to the super horses and people who have made everything possible for me. The bigger the dream the more important the team and I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings!

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Photo by Shannon Fiesley

Wishing everyone a safe, happy and healthy New Year.

Happy riding!

Rocky cuddles aachen
Thanks little man xx you’re the greatest
Photo by Shannon Fiesley

Hartpury – A Horse Lover’s Heaven

In the world of competitive dressage, we often hear people discussing the balance between getting an education and following our passion. When I was in high school, I competed regularly in interschool, pony club, young rider and open EA competition which put a huge strain on my schoolwork. As I head to university next year, I will again have to juggle my education and my horses and already I have started to map out how I am going to make this work and what sacrifices I will have to make.

6, 817km from my home in Melbourne is a school which may have found the perfect answer to this conundrum – Hartpury College. Located just outside of Gloucester in England, Hartpury was established after World War Two as an agricultural education centre with fifty students. In 1990 the school began a period of rapid expansion, including introducing a large variety of further education courses. The first Equine Studies course opened in 1992, followed by the first degree of Equine Science in 1994. In 1999 the first Master’s Degree program opened and the first PhD student began at the school in 2004.  Today, Hartpury is internationally renowned as one of the top educators in the equine industry and with coaches including Carl Hester and graduates such as Charlotte Dujardin, it is becoming an increasingly popular university of choice for students the world over. I was very lucky to visit the college for a few days and learn more about the courses, facilities and students.

IMG_3783One of the older buildings at the picturesque Hartpury College


Hartpury offers four levels of study under the equine bracket including bachelor degrees, diplomas and postgraduate studies. The bachelor degrees cover a wide range of topics: Equine Sports Coaching, Equine Sports Science, Equine Business Management, Equine Performance and Equine Sports Therapy are just a few of the options available. All up, there are twenty one study options designed to set people up for successful careers in the horse industry.

IMG_3782The campus incorporates the natural world as part of college life


What Hartpury have created is a university which combines quality education with state of the art equine facilities and the opportunity to include training your own horse as part of your study. Equine-focused university courses are nothing new and can be found the world over. Whilst they pose a great opportunity to learn more about the science behind our sport and provide students with the skills to excel in the industry, they often require many hours in the classroom, a long way away from the competition arena. Often the top candidates for such courses are also top competitors and so again they find themselves choosing between study and riding. Hartpury’s Academy Program solves this problem by allowing elite competitors to combine their riding with their course.  The Hartpury Equine Academy aims “to support and develop high calibre riders seeking to build a competitive career in one of the four Olympic disciplines whilst continuing their academic education.”

IMG_3767Students have access to incredible facilities, including this full sized indoor arena

Riders apply for the academy before the academic year commences and, if successful, are placed into one of three squads: elite squad, elite development and development. The standards are high with applications requiring a full competition CV as well as riding in front of selectors. Most members of the Elite Squad are members of the British team and compete at international level (at least juniors level dressage and show jumping and CCI/CIC** level eventing or above). With Nick Burton as the Academy Directory, Corrine Bracken as the jumping coach and Carl Hester for dressage, the standard of training is world class. An example of a member of the Elite Squad for dressage is Olivia Oakeley, a member of the British Junior and Young Rider teams as well as the Dressage World Class Development Program. A typical day for an Olivia runs as follows: arriving at the stables at 7am to feed her horse, muck out his box and give him fresh water and hay; heading back to her room to get ready for the school day; her classes (which include the lectures for her academic studies as well as a lesson with either Nick Burton or Carl Hester); taking her horse to the horse walker for his afternoon leg stretch; extra classes in strength and conditioning, sport psychology and nutrition; and finally a late night check in the stables before heading inside for the night. There are no grooms and the riders are responsible for not only the exercise but the day to day care and maintenance of their horses. Evidently – having the equine program running in conjunction with the academic side of the college and the facilities being so accessible creates a system where riders don’t have to compromise on either.

IMG_3763One of the stable blocks at Hartpury

As my bus drove into Hartpury College and I got my first look at the campus with my own eyes, the first thing that struck me was the sheer size of the place. I grew up watching movies and television programs about boarding schools in old English castles and this was like stepping straight into one of those. The school boasts 360 hectares (889.5 acres) of perfectly manicured lands. The Hartpury Arena is a 70m x 40m indoor with seating for 600 spectators, its own restaurant and bar, as well as classrooms lining the long side which can be used as hospitality boxes during events. This arena is home to international competitions for each of the Olympic disciplines including the Festival of Dressage. There are also three outdoor arenas (including an 80m x 60m competition arena with adjacent 60m x 25m warm up); three more indoors (60m x 25m, 60m x 21m and 25m x 35m); a cross country course up to FEI 3*** level; a horse walker and a non-slip trot up 40m x 4m with 12m diameter trotting circle. The school has stabling facilities for 230 horses, including those of students in the Academy and school horses for the College students to learn on. The stables were very big, many of them looking out of the barn and allowing the horses plenty of fresh air. It was great to see students from courses in other faculties taking classes in the rooms adjacent to the indoor watching the horses training as they walked past – what excellent practice for the horses and riders to get used to noisy crowds and lots of spectators!

IMG_3764One of the outdoor arenas


IMG_3786The beautifully maintained cross country course

Whilst the riding facilities were beautiful, it was the world famous Hartpury Equine Therapy Centre I was most excited to see and it did NOT disappoint! First stop: the aquafit treadmill. Unfortunately there were no horses in the treadmill during my visit, but it was great to see it all the same. The therapy rooms are set up like classrooms with whiteboards on the walls so that students can learn about the machines and how to use them to rehabilitate injured horses or assist in the training and maintenance of competition horses. In the aquafit treadmill classroom I learned that walking in water is aerobic exercise and the average heart rate during water treadmill workouts is sixty beats per minute. The next room was the high speed treadmill. This very impressive marvel of modern technology allows horses to gallop in a room hardly bigger than your average lounge room. In here I learned that the peak air flow rate in a thoroughbred can reach seventy litres per second (that’s up to 2,000 litres going in and out of the lungs per minute) and that the maximum oxygen uptake of a thoroughbred horse is twice that of a Tour de France cyclist. The resting heart rate of a thoroughbred is twenty five to thirty beats per minute and the peak heart rate is two hundred and twenty beats per minute.

IMG_3772The Aquafit Water Treadmill


IMG_3777The High Speed Treadmill


The Therapy Centre also contains a gym room with a simulated horse to help riders work on their balance and target key issues in their performance, alongside standard gym equipment for cross training. There is an equine solarium and thermography facilities. Thermography is a non-invasive method of measuring a horse’s body temperature. Skin overlying muscle increases in temperature during muscle activity. Using this principal, thermography uses different colour gradients to indicate varying temperatures so that we can see which muscles work the hardest whilst a horse is performing a particular action. For example, Hartpury students have found that the hindquarters of a horse become very hot within seconds of beginning to gallop on the high speed treadmill. Students with their horses at the college have access to these world class facilities and can book their own horse in to be used in demonstrations in the therapy centre. Horses come from overseas with vet recommendations for treatment on these state-of-the-art machines and one of the most famous users of the centre is Valegro. Living only a short distance away, Valegro attends the therapy centre regularly to use the aquafit treadmill. In the viewing room for this machine, there is a beautiful trilogy of photos of this famous Hartpury regular.

This trio of images of the therapy centre’s most famous patient lines one of the walls


Another thing which struck me about the facilities at Hartpury was the relative smallness of the Equine Centre compared to the rest of the school – the horses are important but only one part of England’s premier sporting college and the facilities for the other sports are of equally high a standard. A driving range, nine-hole golf course, ‘power’ gym, cross-training gym, shooting range, indoor fencing facilities, three grass soccer pitches, three grass rugby pitches, two rubber crumb all weather pitches and an indoor hall which can be used for netball, soccer, futsal and badminton are just some of what’s available. During my visit to Hartpury, the Rugby World Cup was being held in England and the school was the team base for Scotland. This is a testament to the international standard of their facilities. Furthermore – what an opportunity for the rugby students at the school to see some of the worlds’ best in action and be up close and personal with such a high calibre of competition!

IMG_3789Some of the sports facilities

Sports students have access to the Human Performance Laboratory which includes Monark cycle ergometers, a Woodway treadmill, a Cortex on-line gas analyser and Servomex gas analyser. Using this technology, the school staff use scientific tests to monitor the students’ athletic performance over their time at Hartpury. There is also a rehabilitation centre including massage beds, physiotherapy facilities and cold and hot spas for post-game recovery. Similarly to in the Equine faculty, the general sports courses include diplomas, degrees and post-graduate courses. Harptury also offers tertiary education in agriculture and veterinary nursing, as well as high school courses designed to accommodate students wanting to work in either sport or agriculture. These courses combine the regular high school curriculum (maths, English etc.) with practical units such as horticulture, agriculture, horse care, small animal care and woodwork.

IMG_3790One of the many sporting fields

In amongst all of this cutting edge technology is a talented Australian rider and one of my oldest and dearest friends – Molly Parkin. Molly moved from England to Australia when she was eight years old and has been prominent on the Australian equestrian scene since she was a tween. Her passion lies in eventing, in which she has competed up to FEI 1* level and represented Victoria at the Australian Interschool National Championships. She has also been a member of the Victorian Young Rider Dressage and Show Jumping Squads and competed at a state level in both disciplines.

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Molly competing in Australia in eventing – Photo by Emma Price Eventing Photography


In 2014 Molly visited Hartpury with her parents and set her sights on commencing a foundation degree in Equine Science with the option of a third year top-up in September 2015. True to her word and never shy of a challenge, I was able to visit Molly at Hartpury as she moved into her new home and started her studies. It was the middle of September and the beginning of the British academic year so a very exciting time. First year students have the option of living on campus and so Molly has opted to live in a self-catered college house which she shares with seven other students. The shared house has individual bedrooms and bathrooms, a shared kitchen and a surprising sense of ‘home.’ Living with a mix of students, some coming from close by and others from as far as Canada, studying courses ranging from Veterinary Nursing to Sports Science and aging between eighteen and twenty means there is always something to talk about and learn from each other. I loved spending time with the students who are all passionate about their own things – from eventing to cobs to soccer. There is something about passion which is infectious and exciting to witness, whatever the sport or discipline.


IMG_3793Some of the student housing

Now two weeks into her studies, Molly says “the facilities are excellent and the lecturers are very welcoming. They have made it very easy being international!” Having lived in Australia for the past ten years, Molly applied for and was granted her Australian citizenship the week before flying out to England. She attended a citizenship ceremony in London where she said her pledge and received the ever-essential jar of vegemite. She will spend the next two years completing her studies at Hartpury. After that, Molly is not yet sure what she wants to do but is interested in either dentistry or events management. She “hope[s] to use the contacts gained by being [at Hartpury] to help [her] in [her] career. “ Whilst I’ll miss her at home, I know we have a great ambassador for Equestrian Australia in Molly. Walking into her room to see Tim Tams on her desk and hearing her housemates call for her help every time there was a spider made me giggle – you can take the girl out of Australia but never Australia out of the girl!

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Molly receiving her Australian Citizenship at the High Commission of Australia in London

Happy riding!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Wet Weekend in Warendorf

Young horse shows are forever the topic of debate. Do they encourage good training of our dressage horses from the very start, fast-tracking them towards success in the higher grades? Or do they lead us to breed a new type of horse: the young horse class winner – a horse who is flashy and eye catching at five years old but does not have the ability to train through to Grand Prix? Whatever your opinion on young horse shows – the Bundeschampionate is undeniably one of the most popular in the world and each year thousands of people flock from all over the world to Warendorf to see the German young dressage and jumping horse championships. The dressage classes are held for three, four, five and six year olds with horses and ponies separated into their own competitions. For three and four year olds, mares and geldings also compete in a different class to stallions.

Bundes Logo

To produce a quality young horse requires a different skill set to riding at Grand Prix. Young horses are a different kettle of fish to their older, more educated counterparts. They make mistakes. They wobble and lose balance and get a fright. To ride inexperienced horses in the big atmosphere of a major show requires patience, feel and a good rapport between horse and rider.  Since the World Young Horse Championships at Verden there has been much discussion about the type of horses we are breeding and what is being rewarded in these competitions.

My interest in particular stems from my having recently broken in my own young dressage horse and so I am deliberating whether the Young Horse competition is a suitable pathway for us.

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Some of the jumping action at Warendorf

Having attended a number of young horse competitions in Australia, including PSI Dressage and Jumping with the Stars for many years, I was really keen to get to one in Europe to see first-hand how the horses and judging compare. Even more than this, I wanted to see some of Europe’s famous young horse riders in action. My first job after leaving high school was as a young horse rider and I have continued to have a great interest in and admiration for the riders who dedicate their careers to the art of producing a horse from a wobbly, nervous breaker into an international competition superstar. It is no secret that a horse is a mirror of its rider and the results do not lie: it is the same riders producing winning horses year in and year out. As Carl Hester is quoted as saying, “sometimes you have to give up the opportunity of a lifetime for the horse of a lifetime” and this is why finding the right young horse rider is half the journey in producing a winner in these classes.

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Walking into the grounds at Warendorf I was first struck by the sheer size of the place. It is HUGE! … far bigger than any of the other major shows I have attended. Warendorf is very spread out with the dressage and show jumping competition areas separated by an enormous trade village. Whilst this made for great shopping, it consequently made it tricky to watch both disciplines. Unfortunately, despite being beautifully nestled into gardens and woods, the venue was neither waterproof nor suited to the number of spectators in attendance. It rained for much of the day I was there and without any undercover viewing areas it was quite difficult to see much in these conditions. On top of this, the dressage arena had only a relatively small grandstand on either long side and so spectators were crammed into every nook and cranny to see. When you’re only five foot tall, it’s nearly impossible to get a good vantage point in these conditions. I did my best to see as much of both disciplines as possible, and managed to watch closely a number of the horses in the six year old dressage final.

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One aisle of the enormous trade village

Heiner Schiergen rode Damon Hill son “Daley Thompson.” This elegant horse entered the ring with a lovely open gullet which was pleasing to see. Sadly, as the test continued a lack of balance was evident and caused a few problems. “Daley Thompson” fell through the downwards transitions and became tighter and more closed in the frame during the lateral work and the canter. The changes weren’t established and this cost them quite a few marks. The soft, harmonious picture which entered the arena had been lost through the laterals and spoilt by a lack of balance by the end. They finished with 8.0 for trot, 7.5 for walk, 8.0 for canter, 6.5 for submission, 7.5 for general impression and a final score of 7.5 for thirteenth place.

Next up was Lisa Lindner riding the “Quarterback” son “Quotenkönig.” This liver chestnut with bling showed much more flow than the previous horse and the trot work had great impulsion. The rhythm and frame remained consistent through the lateral work and there was good balance carried through to the walk. The walk pirouettes lacked a little ‘march’ but weren’t bad by any means. Canter was my favourite pace for this horse, with most of the changes obedient and correct (although one change right was a little late behind). The canter half passes were well executed and there was a standout consistency in the contact and frame which made this a very pleasant combination to watch. 8.5 for trot, 8.0 for walk, 8.5 for canter, 8.0 for submission, 8.5 for general impression for an overall score of 8.3: a good score which had them placed second so far and would see them finish fifth. Interestingly, “Quotenkönig” was placed fourth in the five year old final of the 2014 Bundeschampionate.

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Yvonne Reiser and “Sunlight”

“Sunlight” for Yvonne Reiser was a big, leggy bay. Although he seemed a bit large and long, he was extremely light on his feet. I really liked the soft, open gullet in their trot work, even if there were moments where “Sunlight” lost his balance a little in the medium trot. The walk was active and showed clear lengthen and shorten which is too often neglected. The canter work was nice, with obedient and expressive changes both ways, however the point of balance was not so consistent at canter. The poll was dropping in some of the turns and through the half pass which was a shame. Great medium canter and back to the better frame for a strong finish. 8.0 for trot, 7.0 for walk, 8.5 for canter, 8.5 for submission and 8.5 for general impression leaving them on a final score of 8.1 and third place so far. This was undeniably a very attractive combination and “Sunlight” has a presence which holds him in my memory as a horse I will be keeping an eye out for in the future. They finished the competition in seventh place.

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Yvonne Reiser and “Sunlight”

The next horse into the ring is one I have seen a lot of talk about on social media coming into and since the event. “Lady Loxley M” owned by Carola Koppelmann and Franz-Josef Münker and ridden by the former is a strikingly beautiful black Rhinelander mare by “Lord Loxley.” She came into the competition in Warendorf in a strong position, having won the qualification class held at the Holtkamper Dressage Days in Bielefeld-Holtkamp in May this year with an impressive score of 8.3. What a classy mare! Cadence, power and maintaining a good rhythm and balance throughout the test. Her medium paces were effortless, especially the trot, and she has a clear adjustability which made her a cut above the rest. The walk is active and ground covering. The changes were not the most expressive of the class, but were all obedient and correct. 8.5 for trot, 9.0 for walk, 8.5 for canter, 9.0 for submission and 9.0 for general impression to beat their qualifying score and finish on 8.8 overall. This score had them in second place so far, a position they maintained throughout the competition. A great score and well deserved – this was a classy, well-polished pair who made a lasting impression.

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Carola Koppelmann and “Lady Loxley M”

Next into the ring was the current leader with her second ride for the final, Norwegian rider Isabel Bache and “FünfSterne.” On first glance, this eye-catching horse was every bit ‘my type.’ Bright orange with bling to boot and decked out in Equiline, what more could a girl ask for?? “FünfSterne” has an eye catching trot with expensive front legs and a textbook uphill way of going but today was a little tighter through the back and straighter in the legs than “Lady Loxley M” just before. I noted with interest that “FünfSterne” is ridden in a drop noseband. The changes were clean and obedient both ways but the canter half passes could have used a little more expression. Nonetheless it was an extremely professional test and Bache presented the horse expertly. The shining feature for this combination was the consistently uphill, open and easy frame. 8.0 for trot, 7.5 for walk, 8.0 for canter, 8.0 for submission and 8.0 for general impression to finish on 7.9 and be in fifth place so far. Bache’s second ride finished in eighth place, coincidently the same position they finished in last year in the five year old final at the 2014 Bundeschampionate.

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Isabel Bache and “FünfSterne”

Ines Knoll rode the striking grey “FBW Fairplay H” by “Fürst Honestein” on whom she won their Bundeschampionate qualification event on 8.5 in May this year. Poor “FBW Fairplay H” was subject to the return of the rain and whilst he worked very well despite the conditions, there were a few moments of head tossing which spoilt the marks for submission. This horse has a real ‘look at me’ presence and it was easy to see how he had qualified with such a great score. Sadly, today he was just a little too long in the frame and slow off the ground to be up amongst the top horses. Some moments of discussion re the contact and trouble with the changes both ways were too costly to recover from. 7.5 for trot, 8.0 for walk, 8.0 for canter, 7.0 for submission and 8.0 for general impression left them on a score of 7.7 in provisional seventh position. At the conclusion of the competition the combination were in twelfth place, a little disappointing after their fifth place finish in the five year old class at the same event last year.

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Ines Knoll and “FBW Fairplay H”

By now the rain had set in and seemed to be here to stay, so I decided to call it a day and make a dash for some shelter. Unfortunately I missed the winner, Isabel Bache on board “Fasine” who from all accounts were exceptional with scores of 9.0 for trot, 9.5 for walk, 9.0 for canter, 9.0 for submission and a perfect 10.0 for general impression to finish on 9.3, 0.5 ahead of “Lady Loxley M” in second place.

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The sea of umbrellas crammed around the dressage arena

After a lengthy drive and train trip home (a five hour journey in total), I finally made it out of the rain to the safety of my bed to reflect on what I’d seen. Germany’s big sister of Australia’s Dressage and Jumping with the Stars was incredible. The sheer size of the venue and the crowds were overwhelming and the trade village had everything from custom boots to spas for both horses and humans. The six year old class pleasantly surprised me. I have come to expect great venues and beautiful horses, but what I liked about what I saw at Warendorf was that the riders seemed sympathetic to the young horse mistakes made due to inexperience.  That’s right folks – even the best young horses in the world make errors. Some of the best six year old horses still hadn’t mastered the changes. Wobbles in the contact or losing the balance in the corner are things that can happen to all young horses.

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Some impressions from the expansive trade village

What I liked even more was the evidence that the judging also supported these young horses.   A horse could struggle with its changes and still score an 8.0 for canter, or have a few whoopsies in the balance but still finish in the top ten. What had happened in one movement was the past and was left behind as they moved on to finish their test. After the final halt every rider patted and hugged their horse and the whole crowd cheered. If young horse shows can be used as a chapter in the book of a horse’s learning journey, and not the final pages, they can help shape better horses at the top level. The best riders presented their mounts such as to show off their natural talents but also the training foundations they have laid for the future, with the FEI always in mind. Mistakes are part of training and they were neither masked nor punished. THIS is what I see as the future of young horse shows – a platform to celebrate training and anticipate what is to come as these horses grow and develop. A crucial stepping stone in the long road to Grand Prix.

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Carola Koppelmann congratulating “Lady Loxley M” on a job well done

There are many factors to be considered when breeding and training horses for the future of our sport. That being said, I was happy with what I saw at Warendorf and am hopeful for what we will see in the international Grand Prix classes in five and ten years’ time if these young horse classes can be used as part of the process, not the final goal.

Happy riding!

The Global Champions Tour – Welcome to the Future

Walking into the Tops International Arena for my first of three days at the Longines Global Champions Tour of Valkenswaard was a feeling I can only liken to that of seeing Aachen for the first time – but better. My good friend from back home, Paige Jardine, had invited me to come and watch her compete in this international show and I was dead excited to see her ride in one of the most famous show jumping competitions on the globe. To top it off, the GCT of Valkenswaard was the grand opening of the brand new, world class Tops International Arena and a huge number of Australian riders were competing. The stage was set for a brilliant weekend of show jumping!

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Soaking up the atmosphere and the Friday morning sunshine from the main stadium

The brand new arena is truly futuristic. The product of many years of planning and an intense year of building, it is the brain child of Jan Tops – the creator of the Global Champions Tour itself and husband of one of Australia’s leading riders, Edwina Tops Alexander. There are two competition arenas: one sand and one grass. Three sand warm up areas (known in Europe as ‘paddocks’) allow competitors to do their flat work undercover before moving into one of the two jumping paddocks (one for each competition arena). The jumping paddocks also feature televisions with live feed from the respective competition arenas so riders warming up can watch their class. Both competition arenas have 360˚ spectator viewing points.  The VIP building has fully windowed sides which form the long side of both arenas and allow special guests to watch all classes from the comfort of their tables. There is a raised boardwalk which ends with the entrance to the VIP building and also acts as a way for spectators to cross the horse walkways without being in the way of riders. From this boardwalk the arenas can be viewed from above which provides an awesome vantage point. To complete the picture, there is an enormous undercover grandstand on both short sides of the grass.

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Some snaps from around the brand-spanking-new grounds

When you’re at a horse show for four days you want to be comfortable, don’t you? Never fear – that’s been taken care of. Free wifi is available around the grounds so you can make those necessary Instagram uploads and take the snapchats of Bertram Allan sitting in front of you (we all know you do it – don’t even try to deny it). Each stable block is fitted with a two-horse wash bay, toilet and shower so there is never a queue and – perhaps the greatest part of all – the toilets are FREE! That’s right folks – no forking out 50c every time you want to use the facilities like every other European show seems to require. A variety of food trucks were brought in for the GCT including home-made ice cream, Thai street food, burgers and gourmet sandwiches. The catch? No cash allowed. To make any food or drink purchases you had to first cash in your money (Euros) for casino-chip-style pieces known as ‘coins.’ Each worth €2.50, these are the only form of currency accepted in the food stands. Whilst at first this seemed to be a hassle it proved a really efficient system as it saved counting money or change and holding up the queues.

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Some of the many luxurious stables

No detail was spared in ensuring the GCT of Valkenswaard was a competitor and spectator friendly event, right down to the staff. It was incredible the number of staff working tirelessly to keep the show running smoothly and maintain the pristine grounds. People picking up manure in all arenas, (what is the word for people who check tickets/tell you where to go?), car park attendants, constant shuttle drivers between the show hotel and the competition grounds and even a street-sweeper style system whereby a machine simultaneously picked up manure and swept in the paved walkways running from the stable area and truck parking down to the competition facilities. As all the ground is paved, everything stayed dry underfoot despite the rain over the weekend. The entire grounds were lit at night, including enormous floodlights on the riding areas, and when it rained the crowds were able to shelter in either the undercover grandstand or even stand inside the merchandise store and watch the competition on the big screen. In a nutshell – if Aachen blew me away, the Tops International Arena knocked me dead. In my travels of Europe so far I have never experienced a more user-friendly venue where every detail had been planned to a tee. Hats off to you Mr. Tops – you have exceeded all expectations and set a new standard of excellence in the professional equine industry.

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A few more happy snaps…

Not only does Jan Tops have an inspired vision for the future of our sporting venues, he is also creating a completely new type of riding competition – the Global Champions League. His vision for the future of the Global Champions Tour is that teams will be created to compete for owners, such as is seen in the professional sporting leagues of football, basketball and soccer. These owners can then co-ordinate their riders for training and competition in the hope of winning the teams ‘league’ competition. We had a sneak-preview of this style of competition on the Friday night of the GCT. Fifteen teams of two riders were invited to compete, with a team named after each city to host a leg of the 2015 Global Champions Tour. The course was set at 1.55/1.60m and consisted of two rounds. All riders jumped in the first round, and their combined penalties and time determined the top eight teams to go through to the second round. In 2016, fifteen teams will compete in such a class on the Friday night of every GCT. It is expected that this evolution of show jumping into a league will create fascinating new rivalries and nail-biting, spectator-friendly competition.

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Edwina Tops-Alexander jumping in the Friday night teams competition

In this premier of league-style show jumping, teams were competing for €200,000 prize money and competition was fierce. The world’s top names including Edwina Tops-Alexander, Ludger Beerbaum, Luciana Diniz, Lauren Hough and Henk van de Pol were lining up for a great night of jumping. In the end it was a nail-biting finish between Team Chantilly (Edwina Tops-Alexander and Henk van de Pol) and Team Madrid (Harrie Smolders and Rolf-Göran Bengtsson). Both riders from Team Madrid jumped clear in the second round, but Smolders picked up one time penalty to add to their 0.0 score from round one. As the only team so far with no jumping penalties they were in the lead but could not yet be confident of a win. Edwina Tops-Alexander jumped clear in the second round and team Chantilly had no penalties from round one, meaning that when van de Pol jumped as the last rider to go team Chantilly would take first place if he posted a clear round. If he had one time fault they would be equal with Team Madrid, but if he knocked one rail they would slide into second place.

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Edwina Tops-Alexander on her way to a clear round to put team Chantilly into a strong position at the end of round one

All eyes were on van de Pol as he entered the flood-light grass stadium aboard “Spartacus TN.” You could feel the tension in the air and the crowd behind me was muttering “COME ON” as he seemed to be travelling very slowly and one time fault would be one too many. Clear over the first three fences – the big screen keeps cutting to close ups of Edwina Tops-Alexander watching her team-mate decide her fate. Clear to fence seven but the dark brown stallion isn’t in any hurry. As they canter down to the last two fences all eyes are darting between the clock and the horse. Will he make it in time? Can he finish what Tops-Alexander started? The track finishes with a square oxer on a direct related line to a vertical and “Spartacus TN” takes the back rail down over the oxer. The whole crowd cries out in angst and the big screen reveals Tops-Alexander throwing her arms down in disappointment. So close but yet so far – first place for Team Madrid and Team Chantilly finish second. This new style of competition created a tense, exhilarating final and encouraged a new level of teamwork and sportsmanship, with riders walking the course with their teammates and standing ringside to support them. I thoroughly enjoyed this premier event and look forward to seeing where the Global Champions League will take our sport in next year’s season and into the future.

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The Tops International Arena lit up like the MCG after the night-time competition

So I’m sure you’re wondering how someone working in a dressage stable found themselves at the Global Champions Tour in the first place? Well, let me introduce to you my good friend Paige Jardine. I was lucky enough to meet Paige a number of years ago at the training weekend for what was then known as the Young Ambassador of the Year Award (now Young Rider of the Year), which she won for show jumping. Originally from Mildura in Victoria, Paige has come a long long way from the young girl I met down at Werribee Park and have since attended show jumping squad and competitions in Victoria and South Australia with. In January she packed her bags and headed over to France to base herself with a fellow Australian who needs no introduction: Amy Graham at Haras du Ry. In her eight months in Europe she competed at twenty shows with two different horses, including two stages of the GCT. Naturally, when Paige invited me to come to Valkenswaard with her for what would be her last show before she went back to Australia I leapt at the opportunity.

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Paige with groom Fabio outside her stable

“Albert S” would be Paige’s mount for the GCT of Valkenswaard and they started in three 1.35m classes. Albert is an eleven year old Holsteiner gelding by “Almani” who Paige leased throughout her trip. Day one and she was up in the first class which meant a 9am course walk. I walked behind Amy and Paige, listening to them discussing how the track would ride for this particular horse and trying to learn as much as I could – set him up out of the corner and be careful not to go too wide; sit and get the horse back and waiting early so you can push him up to the oxer not hold him into it; the ground is good – it should ride well. As I stood in the middle of that enormous grass arena and looked at the pristine grass surface, the brightly painted fences and the brand-new grandstand I was spellbound. To ride in front of an international crowd, not to mention live television cameras, in a venue like this would be a dream come true for so many and here was my gorgeous friend out here walking the walk and making her dream a reality. You’re not in Mildura anymore Paige!

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Paige and Amy talking last minute strategies as she walks to the stadium

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Photo by Sportfot

Albert warmed up well and I was more than impressed with how Paige is riding. She and Amy make a great time – so professional, cool and confident. An absolute pleasure to watch. The whole operation runs like a well-oiled machine. Fabio, Amy’s groom, presents the horses fit for the show ring. Paige has come on tenfold as a rider and absolutely holds her own in this highest level of competition. Amy is a supportive, insightful and positive trainer. She explained to me the system she uses for measuring her distances and how she goes about setting each horse up in the warm up to maximise performance in the ring. For day one it was a super round but sadly one unlucky rail. Unfortunately Paige and Albert had four faults again on days two and three, but in a true testament to the positive professional rider she has become, at the end of each round it was all about identifying what worked, what didn’t and what needs to be improved. Where to from here? Paige is now home in Australia with her eyes firmly set on returning to Europe to continue her hard work and with the skill set and introduction to the European Show Jumping world that Amy has given her, there is no doubt in my mind Paige will one day wear the Australian flag.

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Kisses for a very sleepy Albert after a job well done

Valkenswaard proved to be full of Australians – so much so that we wondered if there were any of you left at home?! Edwina Tops-Alexander had a super weekend; highlights including a win in the CSI5* 1.55m Grand Prix and second place in the Friday night’s Global Champions League team competition. Julia Hargreaves posted an impressive sixth place on a relatively new ride, “Blinky Bill 6”, in the CSI2* 1.45m class. In the same class, Jamie Kermond and “Yandoo Oaks Constellation” were seventh and Scott Keach and “Fedor” were third. Amy Graham and her very new mount “Carmen DC” also competed in this class, with one rail in the first round. This combination is certainly one to watch, making easy work of some tricky lines after only ten weeks together. Shall we call that pure girl power?! Eliana Dery, another young Australian based with Amy Graham, competed the UBER cute mare “Symphonie D’Utah” for two clear rounds and seventh place in the CSI1* 1.20m class. Suzannah Willis placed tenth in the same class on “Anssioso Z” and went on to claim sixth place in the CSI1* 1.25m class the next day. Georgie Harvey, who is based with Julia Hargreaves, had a number of horses at Valkenswaard including “Campino 344” who placed twelfth in the CSI1* 1.35m class. There were plenty of Australians in the crowd to cheer on our riders, including the familiar faces of Sam Williams and Dave Lever.

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Hanging out with one of my heroes Amy Graham in the warm up

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Amy and super mare “Carmen DC”

Walking away from Valkenswaard on Sunday afternoon I would have to say that no, I was not impressed. I was not inspired, excited or amazed by the future of show jumping which is being established today. No, I was completely and utterly, 200% blown away. Astounded. Spellbound. I thought I had seen what made Europe special. I thought I understood why so many of our top riders leave home soil to base themselves over here. But the truth is I had only just scratched the surface. It’s not only the prize money, the fancy horses or the flashing cameras. It’s not blue ribbons and Gucci bonnets that get our best riders out of bed in the morning (though I’m sure they help…). But it goes much deeper than that. It’s a vision. A dream. A belief that we can make tomorrow better by the foundations we lay today. A future for our sport which is global, spectator-friendly, cutting edge and professional.

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Paige helping Eliana Dery and “Symphinie D’Utah” get ready for their class

Thank you to Amy and Paige for inviting me into your team for the weekend and taking the time to ensure I understood the who, what, when, where, how and why of all the goings-on. I was so proud to see a friend from back home in the middle of that stadium, all eyes on her. I once heard it said that it takes a town to raise a child and a whole country to get one rider to the Olympics. But I think it’s more than that. I think it takes a global community to continually better our sport, raise the bar and challenge our riders to create athletes for the Olympic podium. Amongst this world of ever-higher standards and cutting-edge technology, I am proud to say that I belong to that open-armed, smiling-faced group of Australians you can always find laughing, learning and lending each other a hand. I think the stage is set for Australia to really come into its own as a competitive show jumping nation. Our expat community over here grows constantly and feels like a home away from home which will push our top riders to new heights and bring along the others with it. Now that we have qualified for Rio, let’s utilise this atmosphere to knuckle-down and put our best hoof forward in 2016.

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Julia Hargreaves and “Vedor,” who were also part of the team to qualify Australia for Rio last week

Until next time,

Happy riding!

The Aussie Girls Making Magic in Europe

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.

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One of Briana’s gorgeous team members – “Klaus”

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?!

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The terrifying ‘guard dog.’ Beware – you may be licked to death!

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.

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The outdoor arena and some of the horses enjoying the afternoon sun.

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.

Briana La Scala
Briana and La Scala at the Fritzens CDI in 2014 – photo by Lyndal Oatley

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.

Briana La Scala Compiegne
Briana and La Scala at Compiègne 2015, the show they left for the day after my visit

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.

Lyndal Pirouette
Lyndal making magic in the dressage arena

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.

Lyndal trot
With this quality of work – its no surprise Lyndal is paving her path to Rio!

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,
Happy riding!

Rotterdam Rises to the Occasion

If there has ever been a horse show venue that looked like it was pulled straight out of a fairy-tale picture book, it would have to be Rotterdam. After an hour on the train to Rotterdam Central and then fifteen minutes on the metro out to the station closest to the venue, I popped out onto a main road which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. With nobody around and my Dutch non-existent, I followed my instructions from the Chio Rotterdam website which said to “turn right from the metro station and take the first big turn.” After about 500m I saw a small yellow sign which read “CHIO ‚ß”and I could breathe a sigh of relief I was in the right place.

It turns out the walking route to the stadium was through a pedestrian-access only housing area which suddenly opened to the drop off point for the shuttle busses coming from the car park. I was offered a ride to the front gates in a golf cart and as I whizzed along the pavement catching the envy of all the other spectators who had to make the 1km journey on foot, I caught my first glimpse of the show grounds. All I could think of was I hope the driver has brought me to the Chio and not the botanical gardens! The front entrance was tucked behind a beautiful lake and surrounded by trees. A small temporary office read ‘tickets’ and after purchasing tickets we stepped out onto a boardwalk with the trade village running along either side.

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What’s a great show without an even better trade village?!


First port of call: the information tent to pick up a program. My ticket gave me access to the InterChem Arena which housed the Grand Prix Special CDI3* and the Grand Prix Freestyle CDI3*; as well as the Rotterdam Arena in which the main classes for the day were held: the O’Seven 1.45 speed class and the Rabobank Championship of Rotterdam show jumping, as well as the Interchem Grand Prix Special CDIO5* and the Interchem Grand Prix Freestyle CDIO5*. My love of two disciplines found me once again torn between what to watch and so I developed a plan to try and see the best of both: I would watch the jumping up until my favourite riders were on in the CDI3* Freestyle, then I would watch that, head back for the Championship of Rotterdam jump off and then finish the day with the two CDIO5* dressage classes.

The O’Seven prijs was a Table A competition (one single round against the clock, the lowest time winning) held at 1.45m high with €7,000 prize money. The course gave riders the option of riding hard in a hope to win or taking longer lines to school less-experienced or confident horses and there were clearly a number of combinations who took this second option. First on course was Gert Jan Bruggink on the ten year old Chin Chin Gelding “Anderson VDL.” I fell instantly in love with this big, scopey bay horse who oozed class and talent. Their round was tidy, quick and super professional. However, they had an unlucky rail which would see them pushed well out of the placings in the class of forty starters. The next horse to catch my eye was number four, “Emerald” – an eleven year old chestnut stallion with lots of bling and a total WOW factor jump, ridden by Harrie Smolders. This little horse was MEGGA and with the expert riding of Smoulders, they caught my attention as a real combination to watch for the future. Sadly today they were too slow to be in the prize money, picking up two time penalties.

Harrie Smoulders Emerald
Harrie Smolders and “Emerald”


Next out was in it to win it – Abdel Said of Egypt on his eight year old Quadrillo mare “Hope van Scherpen Donder” rode like the wind to post an impressive time of 60.12. The bay mare took being tidy behind to a whole new level and they were clearly a very confident, established combination. Number ten was the next to light my fire – “Zidane” for Alexander Zetterman delivered the most confident round of the class. The eleven year old KWPN gelding by Sam R was quick on his feet, ground covering and super classy. Zetterman rode with expert timing and the cleanest, neatest turns I saw all day. They posted a time of 60.49, less than half a second behind the current leader, Abdel Said of Egypt. Ten riders into the class and the pressure was mounting!

Number thirteen, “Willow” for Kent Farrington was another eye-catching combination. The twelve year old grey KWPN gelding was turned out impeccably and Farrington’s seat is beyond enviable. Sadly though, the handsome horse struggled with his changes today and this cost them time and a rail. The Irishman Darragh Kenny was up next on another son of Chin Chin, this time the nine year old KWPN stallion “Chin Quidam Vdl.” What a BEAUTIFUL horse! Elegant, scopey and handsome – what more could you want?! With a super tidy, clear round and a fast time of 61.26 they were looking good at this stage of the competition.

Kent Farrington Willow 2 Kent Farrington Willow
The impeccably well turned out Kent Farrington and “Willow”


Number twenty, Siebe Kramer of the Netherlands rode the horse I wanted to take home: Zsa Zsa. If I have a type, this eleven year old KWPN mare, another one by Sam R, was it. Effortless in front, small, chunky and springs to boot – please mum can we have her?! Number twenty five was next to make me sit up and take notice – Marta Ortega Perez of Spain on the twelve year old Cassini I daughter “Clever Girl” were an irresistible combination. What a tidy mare! She showed a super shape over the fence with presence galore. Sadly, a rail and a time fault saw them finish in thirty first position. They were followed by the Frenchman Patrice Delaveau who is nothing short of an artist on horseback. His thirteen year old Quick Star stallion “Orient Express” is clearly a super talent and Delaveau is in a league all of his own. It seems like he never asks the horse to do anything, they just flow as one from one obstacle to the next – the kind of ease that is spine-tingling. They posted a clear round but were quite slow with a time of 76.78.

My prize for the best lower leg of the class goes hands down to Karina Johanpeters. She jumped a lovely clear round on her ten year old black stallion ‘Lucero Ls La Silla’ but was too slow to be in the prize money today. Last but certainly not least, Pius Schwizer on ‘Baros,’a nine year old by Casco, finished the class off in absolute style. WHAT A RIDER! It seems like he never shifts in his seat and I could swear the fact that he had to ride like the wind to finish in the placings never even crossed his mind. With a steady lower leg and his weight sunk deep into his heels, Schwizer and ‘Baros’ glide patiently around the course, the horse bubbling up underneath him over each fence. With turns so quick, smooth and effortless they would make a moto GP driver jealous, this was a round to remember! Clear with a good time of 61.42 would see them finish in the placings, but still wasn’t fast enough to take top prize. The final scoreboard had Abdel Said of Egypt first, followed by the uber confident Alexander Zetterman for Sweden. In third place was Leopold Van Asten of the Netherlands, then Darragh Kenny on the irresistible ‘Chin Quidam Vdl’ for Ireland. The master himself, Pius Schwizer, took fifth place and Willem Greve on the super tidy ‘Girlpower 111,’ another for Holland, came in sixth.

Abdel Said Winner
Winners are grinners! Abdel Said at the prize-giving ceremony


With the first jumping class for the day complete, it was time for a healthy dose of dressage! I headed back to the boardwalk and followed the signs through the woods to the InterChem Arena to watch the Grand Prix Freestyle CDI3*. Diederik Van Silfhout rode for Holland on the nine year old liver chestnut Royal Dutch Warmblood gelding ‘Bonzanjo.’ The Jazz son was eye-catchingly light footed and active. Passage was a highlight for this combination, being extremely even in all four legs and demonstrating a very good rhythm. Unfortunately their piaffe let them down today. It became grounded at times and the transitions were too jumpy and erratic. Van Silfhout rode expertly to his music and ‘Bonzanjo’ demonstrated a beautiful elastic contact and soft frame, making for an overall impressive picture and a score of 75.7 and third place. In second place was the man I think earns my prize for the best dressage seat I have seen so far in my travels – Hans Peter Minderhoud, again for the Netherlands, on the fourteen year old Florestan 1 stallion ‘Glock’s Flirt.’ What can I say? WOW that horse can trot!! Better-than-textbook piaffe; passage half-passes; and extended trot that looked like the handsome horse’s legs went on for days; I was in heaven. And then…they walked. Ground covering, active and – what do we have here?! – for once walk music that wasn’t reminiscent of being in an elevator!! I tip my hat to you sir – a harmonious, fun and inspiring display of dressage with absolute world class riding. The canter was their weak point – the pirouettes being quite flat and the two-tempis at time lacking straightness – but this was easy to forgive when the rest was just so good. One final passage-half pass to finish a job very well done. What an honour to witness such a master at work. They crossed the 80% landmark to finish in second place.

I feel like a broken record but it was another Dutchman to finish off our top three placings and make it a trifecta for Holland – Edward Gal and ‘Glock’s Voice’ claimed first place on a score of 81.65. Since I first became truly interested in dressage, it has been a dream to watch Gal compete in the flesh and I grin as I write that after all these years it was no disappointment. If you were to look up the dressage-rider’s-dictionary definition of ‘flow’ – you would see this test. The big black horse looked like a fairy-tale creature as he entered the arena to dark, suspenseful, orchestral sounds and a strong drum beat that hushed the awe-stricken crowd. The thirteen year old De Niro stallion has the hind legs dreams are made of. As he came past me in half-pass I could have sworn they came right up under his chest and when they danced in the passage I fell in love – I didn’t know a horse could move like that. Extended canter straight into canter pirouette – the elasticity and power flowing so fluently from the hind legs, over the back and up through the shoulder was out of this world. Of course no test is ever faultless, and ‘Glock’s Voice’ kicked out in the final transition from canter to trot. Nonetheless: a convincing, deserving win to say the least.

Edward Gal Glock's Voice
The man, the myth, the legend…in the flesh and everything I could have hoped for!


With the CDI3* Freestyle over, I rushed back to the Rotterdam Arena for the Rabobank Championship of Rotterdam. Forty eight horses started in this 1.55m class with €40,000 prize money where all clear rounds would jump off and the winner would be determined by the lowest score in the jump off alone. The first clear round for the class came from number three in the draw, Ben Maher riding ‘Sarena’ – a nine year old bay mare by Calvaro. I have a MASSIVE combination-crush on these two. The mare is powerful, confident and scopey and Maher is balanced, patient and cool as a cucumber. Such a chic pair to watch! A clear jump off and a time of 40.44 put them in a strong position at this early stage. My prize for the most impressive young rider in the class goes to Patrick Stühlmeyer who rode a very impressive round on the twelve year old Lando stallion ‘Lacan 2.’ Stühlmeyer gave the horse a positive, uncomplicated ride and allowed him to show off his evident natural talent. An unlucky rail unfortunately kept them out of the jump off.

Ben Maher Sarena
Ben Maher and “Sarena”


When number forty four in the draw, Doron Kuipers, rode into the arena ready to jump off for Holland the grandstand nearly shook. The clear favourite from the host country was nearly three seconds faster than the fastest time so far with 35.93 seconds and so found himself in the lead with some very healthy breathing space. The stand erupted with infectious cheering and applause and the Dutchman waved his helmet in the air to share in the celebrations of a job well done. I was crossing my fingers AND toes when combination twenty five entered the ring – Jamie Kermond and ‘Quite Cassini.’ The eleven year old Holsteiner gelding by Cassini I has been jumping his heart out lately and after seeing them deliver an on-the-money double clear for third place at Hagen I was praying they could pull another super performance out of the hat. Every time I see the dream team from down under they look better and better. Confident, clean and effortless – they performed a SUPER clear round with a time of 38.02 seconds which put them into second place so far. As they cantered past the finish line and Men at Work’s “Down Under” blared through the speakers I couldn’t have been prouder to be Australian. I collected a few strange looks from the people sitting around me as I screamed ‘Go Kermo’ and I couldn’t help but think that with such consistent performances of late, this combination is in very good form for an individual placing at Rio.

Doron Kuipers Zinius
You couldn’t miss Doron Kuipers in this great orange jacket!


Kermo Jump Off 1 Kermo Jump off 2 Kermo Jump off 3 Kermo Jump Off 4 Kermo Jump Off 5 Kermo Ron 1

My apologies for the poor quality of my photography skills/phone camera but here are a few snaps of the Aussie superstars in action!


Pius Schwizer was again a stand out for me – this time on board ‘Psg Junior.’ The nine year old Cornet Obolensky stallion unfortunately had two rails and a time fault in the jump off. At the end of the day, Billot Mathieu and ‘Shiva D’Amaury’ won the class for France with a time of just 35.68 seconds. In second place was Marc Houtzager on board ‘Sterrehof’s Uppity’ for Holland. Third place also went to a Dutchman: Doron Kuipers and ‘Zucces,’ followed by Lucy Davis and ‘Barron’ for America. Kermo finished in fifth position and behind him were Kent Farrington and the lovely “Blue Angel.”

Kent Farrington Blue Angel
Kent Farrington and “Blue Angel”

Doron Kuipers Highest Placed Dutch Rider Zucces
Doron Kuipers and “Zucces” receiving a special prize

Kermo 2
Jamie Kermond – a representative Australia can be very proud of

The evening dressage session began at 5:40pm with the Interchem prijs Grand Prix Special. Ten combinations started with representatives from America, German, Sweden, France, Belgium and Holland. The standout winner was Diederik Van Silfhout with “Arlando N.O.P” – a ten year old approved KWPN stallion by Paddox. This horse carried himself in a lovely frame which looked soft, open and easy and the test was very rhythmical and flowed smoothly. The trot half passes were super with an average score of 8.4 and the passage was absolutely standout – what a back end!! – another average of 8.4. The extended trot was soft and ground covering. With a trot tour like this we were off to a great start! A very soft transition into walk and some nice, relaxed work shown here. Canter half passes were again very soft. Not as much x-factor as the trot but a good average of 7.7. Two-tempis very nice and even, 7.6. The ones were lovely: straight, even, soft and perhaps deserving of a little more than just 7.5. “Arlando N.O.P” sat very nicely into his pirouette left with a clear increase in collection for 7.7. The pirouette right was not quite as special: 7.6. The final trot work pulled some more big scores: 7.8 for the extended trot; 7.9 for the transitions between extended trot and passage; 8.4 for the passage – what a test! A very convincing win on 77.098%. Van Silfhout and “Arlando N.O.P” demonstrated a clear mastery of the work, developing an air of softness and ease which none of their competitors showed and which made them a combination worth keeping an eye on.

Diederik Van Silfhout Presentations
A lap of honour for Van Silfhout and “Arlando N.O.P”


With the Grand Prix Special over it was time for the class everyone was buzzing with excitement for – the Interchem prijs Grand Prix Freestyle. Tonight our competitors danced for judges from France, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Germany in the hope of winning this prestigious event. First out was Laurence Vanommeslaghe for Belgium on the sixteen year old Hannoverian gelding “Avec Plaisir,” by A Jungle Prince. Funky music with a hint of symbols and drums had the crowd wanting to dance along. The trot was good – active half passes but unfortunately the back end a little lacklustre in the extended work. The piaffe, however, was nice and the final passage very nice, only the transitions were not always perfectly smooth. The walk work was super with an extended walk which stretched down and took the neck beautifully forward! The canter work was the highlight for this combination. Very impressive light and shade in the music which beautifully accented the pirouettes and straight-as-a-ruler one-tempis. Unfortunately “Avec Plaisir” was opening his mouth slightly at times which was damaging for their score today and they finished on 72.30%.

Presentation from President Stables
A presentation from President Stables during the break


Next up were Bernadette Brune and “Spirit of the Age Old” for Germany. This eleven year old Oldenburg stallion is by Stedinger – now based in Australia and standing at Revelwood Warmblood Stud. Unfortunately today the extremely handsome “Spirit of the Age Old” woke up on the wrong side of the stable. He was very muddled behind in his entry, performing a combination of tranter and piaffe. The extended trot started MEGGA bad also ended with problems behind. A nice canter pirouette but more problems in the half passes – too much tightness and jumping on the spot to produce the work this horse is capable of. Brune decided to retire – fair enough – and give this beautiful horse another chance on a better day. You can’t win them all!

View of arena
Right up close to the action! These automatic scoreboards giving instant scores for each movement were super exciting and useful throughout the dressage classes.


Number three in the draw was Kathleen Raine for America on “Breanna” – a fifteen year old Hannoverian mare by Brentano II. A sweet walk entry and then straight into the one-tempis – WOW!! A very impressive start to make the judges sit up and take notice. With Michael Jackson-themed music the audience was interested from the word ‘Go’. “The Way You Make Me Feel” starting playing and I felt excited. A nice trotting horse and some good music and we were on our way – the huge crowd nodding along. This is what I love about the freestyle!! Unfortunately it seemed like “Breanna” ran out of gas today and by the end of the test the work was a little laboured, especially the canter pirouettes. This is a nice horse and they have potential to be a real combination to watch, however today they finished with just 70.075%.

Charlotte Jorst Kastel's Nintendo 2
Charlotte Jorst and “Kastel’s Nintendo” in the Grand Prix Special


Claudia Fassaert rode the elegant De Niro Oldenburg mare “Donnerfee” for Belgium. What a fun soundtrack! A mash up of instrumentals of dance hits including KC & The Sunshine Band’s “That’s The Way I Like It” and Lipps Inc’s “Funky Town.” Extended trot into passage on the opening centre line showed off this mare’s super talent for the trot work. The piaffe could still get a little stronger but it’s well on its way. Something about this mare’s front legs in the trot tour is irresistible. Her walk is active, ground covering and elastic. A very nice canter half pass into counter canter which turned across the arena for a pirouette over the centre line was interesting and well executed. One final set of extended trot-passage-extended trot was the cherry on top and a perfect finish to a job well done for 74.00%.

Grand Prix Freestyle

The second American combination was Arlene Page and “Woodstock.” Our first KWPN for the class – a twelve year old gelding by Havel. This sporty, modern liver chestnut was a very nice type and quite light on his feet. I LOVED these canter pirouettes – even, light, soft, collected, balanced, waiting with an ease of effortlessness and lots of height in the wither. What more could you want?! The passage was very nice and springy, it seemed as though every time Page’s leg breathed against “Woodstock” he bounced up off the ground underneath her. Unfortunately “Woodstock” trotted in his changes and by the end of the test was tending too downhill. Their music was very nice, but there was a real air sense of ‘I’ve heard this before’ which spoiled it a little. Page has an enviable seat, making for a most elegant picture overall, and they finished with a score of 73.825%.

Next in was my self-confessed favourite and my second opportunity to watch him and drool today – Hans Peter Minderhoud for Holland. This time ‘HP’ rode the thirteen year old Jazz son “Glock’s Johnson TN.” From the minute he entered the stadium it was clear the crowd adored him and he was met with foot stamping and cheering galore. As soon as HP raised his hand and the music began to flow from the speakers I knew why I had felt such a sense of déjà vu with Arlene Page’s music just before: she had used this same track. Luckily some awkwardness was avoided as HP had created a new soundtrack combining music he has already used in previous kurs. Elastic, rhythmic passage in and out of the first halt and I had fallen in love all over again. The piaffe is so natural for this horse – confident, even and rhythmical. A real standout! A textbook – perfect canter half-pass ‘zig zag’ into SUPER extended canter made me want to get on and feel this beautiful horse for myself. He has a way of cantering that looks so soft and bubbly it’s almost too good to be true. A score of 81.050% was well deserved and at this stage in the competition they really were a class above the rest.

HP Glock's Johnson
The stuff dreams are made of – Hans Peter Minderhoud and Glock’s Johnson TN


I didn’t envy Paulinda Friberg of Sweden who had to follow such an incredible performance. Friberg rode the fourteen year old Donnerhall mare “Di Lapponia T.”  There were lots of things I really liked about this test. Their music was very dramatic, with a strong base, which created a really good atmosphere. “Di Lapponia T” was beautifully open in the gullet and had a consistently soft frame. The piaffe was quite good and I really liked the extended canter. Overall, the mare has three impressive paces and the kur was well choreographed with a good soundtrack. I took particular notice of the seamless transition in the music between the trot and the walk – I didn’t even notice it had changed! There was also a dramatic crescendo from the final pirouette into the tempis which was stunning. The mare hopped a little in the final piaffe and the pirouettes needed a little more jump but overall: A super super mare and a great picture for a score of 76.325%.

Grand Prix Freestyle 2

Second last In the draw was the name on everybody’s lips : Edward Gal with “Glock’s Undercover N.O.P.” – a fourteen year old KWPN gelding by Ferro. Having already witnessed the magic that is Gal this morning I was practically bursting with excitement to see him again tonight. The beautiful black horse is impressive to say the least and as they entered the ring there was complete silence from the crowd – and here lay the problem: there was complete silence from the speakers too. For a minute I thought perhaps it was just my hearing letting me down but it became clear that Gal had chosen to have music so quiet it was barely audible so that “Glock’s Undercover N.O.P.” could experience performing the kur in the large stadium in a less adrenalized state. Unfortunately this spoilt the test considerably as the star feature of this class is that it is ridden to music. Nonetheless, “Undercover” clearly has more talent in one hoof than most horses in all four legs and I have NEVER seen piaffe like that. I don’t think I really imagined piaffe could BE so elastic, energetic and fluid. When this horse does extended canter his front legs are up around his nose and he has undeniable charisma. Moments of tension, such as lack of immobility in the halt, tightness in the jaw in the changes and hurried pirouettes, combined with the lack of music produced a real air of walking on eggshells, so to speak, which made the big scores we have come to associate with Gal impossible today and they finished with 77.90%.

By now I was starting to think HP had it in the bag and nobody could touch him out the front with his plus 80% score. Last but not least was Patrik Kittel on “Watermill Scandic” for Sweden and this sixteen year old KWPN stallion by Solos Carex was about to bring his absolute A-game. A bold canter entry into a square halt. The opening passage-piaffe-extended trot revealed just what “Watermill Scandic” had that nobody else had demonstrated so far: mastery. This big, brassy chestnut horse may not have the knees-around-face movement of “Undercover” but he also had none of the tension and none of the mistakes. He made childs-play of technical choreography and produced a nearly faultless test. His trot rhythm is so perfectly even you could set a metronome to it at any given moment. The canter is scopey, balanced and supple and the pirouettes were very good. Textbook one-tempis and some final trot work to finish off – what a performance! Kittel wowed me not only with his seat, his choreography or with his horse’s talent but with his training. The hours spent perfecting that piaffe. The number of times he would have ridden the one-tempis straight at the mirror to ensure they were perfect. The thousands of passage-piaffe-passage transitions it would have taken to make them that seamless. They finished in first place on a score of 81.875% and it couldn’t have been more deserving. Today it was a true case of practice makes perfect and it was a perfect win for Kittel and “Watermill Scandic.”

Statue
A fun piece of artwork under one of the grandstands


As I gathered my things and joined the enormous crowd pouring out of the stadium I was buzzing with inspiration and a re-fuelled love for this crazy sport of ours. There is nothing like the best in the world to make you remember what is so magical about the rhythm of a horse’s heartbeat. Today I saw incredible training, horses with more talent than I knew was possible, seats I would sell my soul for, bling to drive a magpie crazy, riders who made our sport into an art and sportsmanship to be proud of. I saw the Australian flag flying high for Jamie Kermond and some of the riders I have dreamed about for years. My inner child was well and truly fed and Rotterdam I thank you. You certainly did not disappoint! I truly believe there is no show quite like Rotterdam – emerging from the woods like a scene from a fairy-tale to reveal world class sport. What a dream come true!

Rider's Party
The rider’s party kicking off with a live band, plenty of champagne and a great dance floor!


Until next time,
Happy riding!

 

Aachen – More than Just a show

Growing up competing horses in Australia, we are always hearing about the magical world of ‘Europe’ – where it seems grand prix horses grow on trees, prize money falls like rain and every second rider has a gold medal. I think most of us dream of having the opportunity to experience this world for ourselves but very few of us are ever lucky enough to make it a reality. My mother always told me to “create my own luck” and so in March this year I packed up my things, put my horses out in the paddock and got on a plane to Germany. I was working at McLean Reitsport in Germany through to the middle of May when I took a few weeks off to travel. At the beginning of June I moved to Belgium and am now working for and training with renowned Dutch-duo Penny and Johan Rockx at ‘La Fazenda.’

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Cuddles with Simone Pearce’s beautiful ‘Little Lion’ in Germany

One of the things I was 150% convinced I would get to whilst on my ‘European riding adventure’ (as it has come to be called) was Chio Aachen. This year the show fell in the weeks I had free to explore Europe, so off I went. Everyone has always said that it’s the best show in the world but I had already seen Hagen Horses and Dreams so it would have to be pretty good to impress me THAT much more. Well, I can safely say that even after everything Hagen had to offer, Aachen completely and utterly blew me away. I didn’t want to miss any of the action so I bought tickets to the dressage and the jumping and caught a train down to Aachen on the Friday night so that I would be there first thing when the gates opened at 8am on Saturday. When I walked out of the train station I immediately knew I was in the right place – there were huge bronze horse statues out the front of the station and every bus stop had instructions on how to get to Chio. Luckily the bus stop right out the front of my hotel ran regular busses to the venue so a 7:35am bus saw me waiting at the gates at 7:45. As I waited for the gates to open with the handful of people who came off the same bus as me, I was beginning to doubt if many people would come. The enormous venue looked deserted and I hoped that all this build-up would be worth it. In only ten minutes the line grew from five people to fifty and by 8am there were over 100 excited spectators anxious for their first look at Aachen 2015. In the end, 45,000 people attended Aachen over the three days of competition.

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The picturesque entry to the main stadium

I walked through the gates and headed straight for the show jumping warm up. The classes didn’t start for another hour and the shops were still opening up, so it was the perfect opportunity to have a sneak peak at the competitors before the Preis der Soers – the first competition for the day. Well I nearly had to pick my jaw up off the floor – if I though Hagen was star-studded I had another thing coming! Warming up for a big day of competition was absolute show jumping royalty including Bertram Allen, Daniel Deusser, Marcus Ehning, Rodrigo Pessoa, Kevin Staut, Hans Dieter-Dreher and Lucinda Diniz – just to name a few! The Preis der Soers competition was a single round with placings determined on penalties and time, with no jump off. It was set at 1.50m with €30,000 prize money and a special prize for the best performed German rider in the class, presented by the start and finish line and fence judges. The class was won by Frenchman Patrice Delaveau on the holsteiner stallion ‘Lacrimoso 3 HDC’ and second place and the special prize went to German young rider, 21 year old Laura Klaphake on the eight year old hanoverian ‘Cinsey,’ owned by Paul Schockemöhle.

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Delaveau and ‘Lacrimoso 3 HDC’ on their way to winning. Photo by Dirk Caremans

The second competition for the day was the Sparkassen Youngsters Cup Final for seven and eight year old horses with €10,000 prize money. The first round of this competition was run on the Friday and all horses who finished on Friday were eligible to compete on Saturday. The seven year olds jumped first, competing in reverse order of their points from Friday’s competition, over a 1.40m track. The eight year olds followed, also in reverse placing order, but with the fences raised by 5cm. All horses who jumped clear in the first round then went on to a jump off to determine final placings according to time. Every once in a while a horse catches your eye and captures your heart all at once – Scott Brash’s ride Hello M’Lord did this for me. The beautiful bay gelding jumped with an effortlessness and an ease that I doubt I will ever forget. Brash rode like the ultimate professional he is and it was a performance that really stuck with me and reminded me that it is not only your wins that will be remembered, the combination were placed fourth, but that every time we ride we have the opportunity to create real magic. The class was won by Christian Ahlmann of Germany with a time of 40.23 seconds on the eight year old grey Cassini III stallion ‘Casuality Z’.

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Scott Brash and the uber classy ‘Hello M’Lord’

The Winning Round was next up and this was an opportunity for the horses competing in the Rolex Grand Prix the next day to have a warm up class. With €60,000 prize money this 1.55m competition was very hotly contested. Each rider could start only one horse and in the first round competitors rode in reverse order of the World Rankings as at the start of the event, with those not in the rankings starting first according to a draw. The best ten athletes from the first round qualified for second round, where all scores were reset to 0 penalties and placings were determined according to penalties and time from the second round only. My favourite rounds in this class went to Denis Nielsen, Christian Ahlmann, Ben Maher, Bertram Allen and Daniel Deusser. These were not necessarily the rounds that were clean, or the fastest or with the most spectacular horses; but they all looked effortless. There is something about watching a round which flows in perfect harmony between the horse and rider, like water flowing smoothly down a river, which I find just magical. The class was won by David Will for Germany on the fifteen year old chestnut mare ‘Mic Mac du Tillard’ with zero jumping faults and a jump off time of 45.61 seconds.

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David Will and ‘Mic Mac du Tillard’ enjoy a victory lap

By now the huge main stadium which housed the show jumping was packed out and the crowd was 100% behind every rider – feeling their pain when they took a rail and cheering like crazy for every clear round. The last class for the day was the Jump and Drive. A jump and drive consists of a show jumping round and a driven obstacle course. The rider starts first and jumps a course of eight obstacles. After the last fence they dismount, give their horse to a groom, run to the drivers’ waiting area and get on the back of the vehicle. The driver then has to complete a course with ‘marathon-type’ obstacles with the rider joining the team to help balance the vehicle. Ten riders and ten drivers were invited by the organising committee to form teams and compete. Looking at the program earlier that day I had thought that perhaps I would give this class a miss and head home for an early night as it was starting to get quite late, but the stadium was only getting more and more full so I thought I would stay and see what all the fuss was about – WOW OH WOW! Being front row for the Jump and Drive was what I can only describe as a cross between a rock show and a football game. The competition was fierce. The jumping riders were taking tighter and tighter turns and when it came to dismounting they were throwing themselves off the horses at canter and hoping the grooms would catch them. The carriage horses were cantering full speed in front of a roaring crowd, through water and tight turns, and the times were getting lower and lower.

Most of the teams came from one country but where there were carriage teams with no rider composite teams were made. When Bertram Allen and Boyd Exell entered the arena the crowd went WILD! Naturally so, what a dream team! Exell is the world’s leading driver with two WEG gold medals to his name and Allen is in top form at the moment, taking the show jumping world by storm. Together they proved to be unbeatable, posting a time of 142.27 seconds to win the class, nearly six seconds ahead of second place. As the Australian flag was displayed on the big screen and Exell performed his lap of honour I was swelling with pride and cheering like crazy and I understood exactly why everyone loves Aachen. I walked away at the end of that day on a total high and keen as mustard for the next day.

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Concentration faces! A great photo of the jump and drive by Dirk Caremans

Sunday morning I was back at the stadium bright and early, this time to watch the Deutsche Bank Preis Grand Prix Kur CDI5* (dressage to music). The top fifteen combinations from Saturday’s Grand Prix CDI danced for judges from France, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and England in hope of taking home the €150,000 prize money. Anticipating another huge crowd I got to the stadium bright and early to save a front row seat – I was not missing any of the action! The first horse entered the arena and I was a little girl in a lolly shop – Thomas Wagner’s Abanos x Lord Sinclair Hannoverian gelding ‘Amoricello’ absolutely lit my fire! Representing Germany, they rode to a mash up of Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World’ and U2’s ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ that had the whole crowd dancing and cheering for more. The horse was perhaps a little green and made a few mistakes that damaged the score, but showed MEGGA talent. Wagner made riding look like art and it was electric to watch. A disappointing score of 74.27 meant they were out of the placings but they were a combination to remember and I will definitely be keeping my eye on them in the future!!

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Thomas Wagner and the irresistible ‘Amoricello’

Fanny Verliefden of Belgium on her own Lord Loxley daughter ‘Annarico’ was next. The horse showed a softness and lightness which was absolutely standout, but sadly struggled with the changes and made too many costly mistakes to be competitive. Next to ride into the packed-out stadium was the young German girl, Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl on the Son de Niro x Jazz mare ‘Zaire 14’. This combination showed perhaps some of my favourite choreography in the competition and their music had textbook light and shade to match. Sadly though, the horse was too tense and looked too strong and tight to be competitive. Jeroen Devroe of Belgium on Daniel Lousberg’s ‘Eres DL’ were next and also out of the placings on 71.60. Terhi Stegars of Finland followed on her and Tanja Kayser’s little black stallion ‘Axis TSF.’ This super sweet horse did a nice test, the highlight of which was a canter pirouette coming straight from walk. This looked very special and I made a mental note to remember that if I am ever lucky enough to compete at such a high level! They finished on a score of 73.55. Our first five horses were over and it was time for a short break. As the athletes were competing in reverse placing order, I couldn’t see what the next set of tests had to offer!

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I was very lucky to have such a great view, right up the front for all the action!

First up for section two was Michael Eilberg for Great Britain aboard the big bay Rufs x Mitjulands gelding ‘Marakov.’ Whilst this music wasn’t so much to my taste, the transitions between the light and shade and also between paces were standout! The textbook effortlessness that melts from one part of the test to another and leaves you surprised when you realise you have gone from trot to walk and on to canter without even noticing. The picture was seamless and harmonious, however a little spoiled by an unsustained halt to finish and a tough score of 74.77. Following this big bay was a super spunky little chestnut gelding by Quattro B, ‘Qui Vincit Dynamis’ ridden by Fabienne Lütkemeier for Germany. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of this combination was total WOW factor changes. They were such a highlight and paired with lovely music this test showed some super moments. Unfortunately these were spoiled by tightness in the mouth and this also spoiled the score, bringing it down to a 74.53.

Shelly Francis on Patricia Stempel’s Diamond Hit x Renoir gelding ‘Doktor’ was up next for America. With some lovely uphill work, good music and an entertaining performance they scored 75.35 to be in the lead so far. Diederik Van Silfhout of Holland rode a super test on the Royal Dutch Warmblood Hors la Loi son ‘Vorst D.’ This little chestnut was one of my favourites of the day. He showed a lightness in front and on his feet, matched with a quickness behind, that was very sporty and gave an impression of effortlessness. The piaffe was very good and a highlight for me, creating a test to remember. The score of 75.45 put them into the lead but was a little disappointing for such good work. The last combination of this second section were from the Ukraine – Inna Logutenkova on the Don Cardinale stallion ‘Don Gregorius.’ This horse was very nice with a good engine and an obvious work ethic. Unfortunately the combination were just too green for the competition and looked a little flustered, scoring only 72.07.

After another short break the tension in the stadium was rising and there was so much suspense in the air you could have cut it with a knife as the obvious crowd favourite, Isabell Werth, rode in and the fans jumped to their feet and roared with excitement and adoration. To see this many people so excited about an equestrienne gave me goose bumps – I have only ever seen this kind of outpour for singers, actors or AFL players and to be surrounded by thousands of people uncontrollably excited to see a dressage rider was a feeling I can’t quite find the right words for. That is a moment I will never forget! Werth rode Madeleine Winter-Schulze’s Don Frederico x Warkant gelding ‘Don Johnson FRH’ for Germany. A confident canter entry and a perfect square halt – she was off to a cracking start. I have to admit I liked the music in this test more than the actual work shown. There were perfectly timed, subtle changes in the music to mark the features of the test (piaffe, passage and extended trot and canter) and the modern twist on classical matched the big horse to a tee. Unfortunately ‘Don Johnson FRH’ was often downhill, and unsteady and tense in the contact at times and this, paired with some uneven steps behind in the piaffe and passage, and being a bit too slow off the ground, spoilt this test for me. Nonetheless, Werth rode very professionally and played to the gelding’s strengths in front of the home crowd with an impressive half-pass ‘zig zag’ in passage to finish for an extravagant score of 81.20 putting them way out in front. Werth has won the Grand Prix at Aachen ten times and at this late stage in the competition it looked like she might take home the title once more.

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Isabell Werth and ‘Don Johnson FRH’
Photo by
Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Following a performance like that is a tough gig to say the least but when Patrick Van Der Meer and ‘Uzzo’ entered the arena it was clear he was more than up to the job. The Royal Dutch Warmblood gelding by Lancet out of an Indoctro mare was spectacular. I was mesmerised by how beautiful and soft the whole thing was. The horse was light, straight and super correct. This combination showed, in my opinion, the best pirouettes of the class and very good changes. The music melted from one phase of the test to the next and Van Der Meer matched it extremely well. Perhaps the gelding became a little too light in the contact at times, costing them a few marks, finishing with a score of 77.05.

The sight of Steffen Peters and the imposing Laomedon x Florestan gelding ‘Legolas 92’ entering the arena gave me butterflies. The American combination is one of my favourite on the international circuit and it was a dream come true to watch them in real life. With 14 other combinations entering the stadium in a fancy passage or extended trot, it was refreshing to see them enter in a small, unassuming rising trot. Peters halted his horse, raised his hand for the music to start and magic happened. If I know one thing it is that Peters’ timing is an art. Every movement was perfectly in time with the music and he timed every aid and transition to keep his horse focused, calm and on-the-job. Some of the transitions in and out of piaffe and passage showed moments of weakness which was costly for their score, but the whole crowd was rocking along to Peters’ remix of ‘Ice Ice Baby’ which had been altered to include references to dressage and the final score of 75.00 was disappointing. Next in was the German Young Rider Sönke Rothenberger with the Fidermark x Worldchamp gelding ‘Favourit.’ This horse just oozed talent and was one of the best behind – it was easy to see why he had placed second in the Grand Prix CDI! The music was a good twist on modern and Rothenberger made it look so easy I just wanted to get on and ride myself. Perhaps a little too slow in the piaffe, but overall a super performance for a score of 77.37.

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Sönke Rothenberger and ‘Favourit.’
Photo by
Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

With only one rider left to go, Werth was still well out in front and I was beginning to seriously doubt whether anybody could touch her. Little did I know, Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfvén was about to bring her A-game. Riding the Don Davidoff son ‘Don Auriello’ for Sweden, Vilhelmson-Silfvén produced a very confident test which showed an ease and mastery of all the grand prix movements which was a cut above the rest of the competition. There was a harmony, flow and ease which can only come from a true confidence with the work which really stood out. The gelding was truly MEGGA in front and this, paired with good music, had the crowd cheering for a clear standout winner. The score of 82.48 was well earned and as she took her lap of honour I knew I had seen a display of some truly awesome dressage.

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Presentations for the Deutsche Bank Preis Grand Prix Kur CDI5*

With a grin so wide my jaw ached and an unmistakable skip in my step, I left the stadium to see what else my second day at Aachen had to offer. You can imagine my delight to find that not only was the Rolex Grand Prix about to start, but I was able to find a place right up against the edge of the arena under the big screen so that for every fence on the other side of the arena I could look up and watch the big screen for a perfect view. To qualify for the Grand Prix, riders had to have completed the initial round of at least one CSI5* competition so far at Aachen. There were two rounds and a jump off, with a maximum of eighteen competitors returning for the second round based on penalties and time in the first. All combinations with zero penalties were able to return for the second round. Combinations still without penalties after two rounds went into the jump off to determine final placings. With €1,000,000 up for grabs and the special Challenge Trophy of the City of Aachen to be presented to the winning rider, this 1.60m class was the highlight of the show jumping program.

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A sneak peek at the warm up before the Rolex Grand Prix

To make it even more exciting, this was the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Initiated in 2013, the Grand Slam creates a series of the Chio Aachen World Equestrian Festival, the Spruce Meadows “Masters” and the CHI Geneva whereby the rider who manages to win all three consecutively will be awarded a one million euro bonus on top of the regular prize-money. For two wins in a row, a bonus of five hundred thousand euros is awarded; and for two out of three wins (not consecutively) there are still two hundred and fifty thousand euros for the taking. Basically – a huge amount of money which attracts the top show jumpers in the world! Having won at the CHI Geneva, Scott Brash and ‘Hello Sanctos’ were under a lot of pressure to not only perform but to win the Rolex Grand Prix at Aachen. Brash is quoted as saying, “it will be very difficult…we are all athletes – we need goals. The Rolex Grand Slam gives us a goal and we will do everything in our power to claim the bonus.” Other international superstars with their eye on a slice of the Rolex Grand Slam prize pool included 2014 Aachen winner, Christian Ahlmann; number two in the world ranking list, Daniel Deusser; and Olympic gold medallist, Steve Guerdat, who won at Geneva in 2013 and had his sights set on winning the remaining two rounds of the Grand Slam: “I will do everything possible to reach this goal.”

Once again the crowd was alive and it felt like I was riding with every rider as they soared over the big, square oxers and raced around the tight turns. My favourite line to watch was the open water and then five strides straight down to a steep, airy oxer. This was a test of how well the horses responded to the riders’ aids to shorten and lengthen their strides as they had to lengthen down to the water and then shorten and sit up to make the oxer. Here is where we saw the greener horses struggle – whilst five strides is a ‘long time’ (as I can hear my jumping couch explaining in my head), quite a number fell victim to either getting too close and having to chip in a stride, taking the front rail; or cutting out a stride and being too far away, coming down on the back rail. The riders that stood out were those who looked like they did nothing – they never pumped their upper body or took a dramatic pull with their hands but, as if by magic, the horse came effortlessly back underneath them and made the related line seem like child’s-play. Some riders who ticked this box included Ben Maher, Daniel Deusser and Lucinda Diniz. In a nail-biting finish, Brash was able to make it two starts for two wins and so take home the bonus for winning two Grand Slam titles in a row and put himself and ‘Hello Sanctos’ one step closer to taking home the ultimate one million euro prize. The crowd went wild for the lap of honour and the beautiful big bay horse cantered around the arena like he knew that he was making history – it was electric to be part of that crowd!

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Scott Brash and ‘Hello Sanctos’ in the presentations

In what I was now coming to realise is ‘true Aachen style,’ nothing was short of spectacular and the Farewell of Nations which served as a sort of closing ceremony was to be no different. A parade of ponies were ridden around the main stadium, each one carrying a flag for the countries represented at the competition. Behind the ponies came the competitors, grouped according to their country. As each country was called out a greeting in their native tongue was announced and a piece of music representative of their nation was played as they waved to the tens of thousands of cheering fans. After each country had been called out and the last ‘thank-you’ had been delivered, all the riders rode one final lap of honour around the enormous stadium. The catch? Every rider pulled a white handkerchief out of their pocket and waved it in time with the music and the crowd followed. Almost immediately everyone was on their feet waving their white handkerchief, singing and cheering until the last horse had ridden out of the arena. Words can’t do justice to the power of this simple action to unite so many people and how moved I was to have been a part of it.

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A view of the Farewell of Nations from one of the grand stands, from the official Chio Aachen website

I stood on the edge of the stadium as tens of thousands of people put away their handkerchiefs, picked up their numerous shopping bags and started to walk towards the exit with a feeling I can only describe as pure elation. I was high on the adrenaline, the joy and the celebration of incredible horses and top-class sport I had just shared with so many other people just like me from all over the world. Chio Aachen – you, quite simply, blew my mind. I can’t pin-point whether it was the energy of the crowd, the quality of the competition, the atmosphere, the venue, the horses…I’m not sure what it was that made this show such a surreal, awe-inspiring experience. Something about the magic created by that show reminded me what it was like to be a little girl who fell in love with a pony and never looked back. Until next time, thank you Aachen for the memories and hats off to the organising committee for creating an experience like none-other on Earth.

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I was very sad to be leaving this behind – I hope I’m not saying goodbye, only ‘until next time!’

Until next time,

Happy riding!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Highlights from Hagen

When I came over to Europe, I promised myself that even though chances are I will never compete in any of the major international competitions in this lifetime, I was going to beg, borrow and steal to get to see at least some of them during this trip. On most occasions I’m really glad I have an interest in two different disciplines – I get to cheer for twice as many fancy horses and keep up with double the fashion trends! Unfortunately, when I started to plan out my competition calendar for my European Riding Adventure, I suddenly hated my love for two sports. The weekend of the 25th-26th April saw the Longines Global Champions Tour of Antwerp (GCT) and Hagen Horses and Dreams run simultaneously. The show jumper in me was desperate to see what all the hype of the GCT was about, but my inner dressage diva knew Hagen was an unmissable part of the circuit. Both shows were similar distances away and the main classes were on the same days. In the end, Hagen won out because it offered both dressage and jumping in one show and the GCT was put back on the wish list for later in the trip.

Hagen LogoVS. GCT logo

Hagen Horses and Dreams is one of the biggest shows on the international circuit, with approximately 67,000 visitors each year, and one of the features that make it so special is that each year it is hosted by a different country. This year Australia took the honours and I was buzzing with pride to see competitors and spectators alike walking around in merchandise covered with the Southern Cross and the Australian flag. Of course, no Australian-themed event would be complete without its share of kangaroos and there were plenty on show at Hagen! From the event logo to the signposts, the kangaroo took pride of place – the show jumping arena even displayed a large selection of native Australian animal statues for decoration.

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Loved the Aussie-themed merchandise!

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Even the catering area was getting into the Australian theme

I was lucky enough to see Jan Smith whilst at Hagen. Jan has been a driving force in Dressage Australia, especially with our young riders, and taught me on the Victorian Young Dressage Rider Squad so it was very exciting to catch up with her whilst she was over here representing Australia as a ground steward. Jan was on her way to Badminton Horse Trials after Hagen – another show on the wish list! As Jan said, whilst you are over here you may as well make the most of it and see as much of this highest level of competition as you can and after experiencing this level of show I can completely understand her point of view. There is something about the world’s best being all in one place that is just electric to be a part of. I want to take the time to thank Jan and the hundreds of other people who worked tirelessly to create such a big event. I was blown away with the standard of the facilities, the efficiency of the organisation and how ‘user friendly’ the whole experience was for spectators – talk about a dream team!!

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An Aussie invasion! Loved catching up with Simone Pearce and Jan Smith

I spent my Sunday at Hagen embracing my inner-show jumper watching both the Grand Prix and the young horse class. In the Grand Prix I had the pleasure of watching a number of the world’s top riders who I had only ever dreamed of seeing in the flesh, including Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and John Whitaker. A number of Australian riders were competing at Hagen, including Jamie Kermond who rode a cracking double clear aboard Quite Cassini in the Grand Prix for third place. The little bay horse was on fire and looked to be in fantastic form and the Aussies in the crowd couldn’t have been prouder of this super team, cheering like crazy when that perfect 0.0 score was posted. The Hagen Horses and Dreams official website reported that “The DKB Riders Tour is unknown territory for Jamie Kermond from Australia. He jumped to third place with…Quite Cassini which was also his first start at the CSI in Hagen.”

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Picture-perfect seats to enjoy all the show jumping action at Hagen

The ‘young horse’ class completely blew me away – these seven and eight year old horses jumped a tough 1.40m track like seasoned professionals. The riders varied from young riders right through to some of the world’s best and the Aussies were well represented here too with Phil Lever and James Patterson-Robinson both competing. This class was a real showcase of some of the up-and-coming jumping horses and promised a bright future for international grand prix classes. With horses jumping this well and succeeding at this level of competition so young, it comes as no surprise that the number and quality of horses competing in the biggest classes is always increasing.

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Pleaseeeee mum, can I have this one?!

Australian riders had a very important role to play at Hagen as part of the host country.  Many of our European-based riders were posting great scores in the competition arenas of both disciplines. Jamie Kermond was a stand out in the jumping with his third place in the Grand Prix. In the Grand Prix CDI dressage, two Australians made it into the freestyle. Briana Burgess and La Scala were placed 13th on 68.775 with Lyndal Oatley and Sandro Boy close behind in 15th position on 65.550. It is also worth noting that Mary Hanna’s ‘Boogie Woogie’ was placed 7th in the Grand Prix CDN with Malin Nilsson on 70.488 – a score not to be ignored!

Aussies were also prominent in the media-side of the event. The Hagen ‘mascot’ each year is a full size ceramic horse, decorated in the theme of the host country. This mascot is immortalised in a statue and images of it feature on all the tickets, programmes and signage for the show. Who better than to design the ultimate Australian-themed Hagen mascot, than Australia’s very own Katharine Farrell of New South Wales? Katherine is a member of the National Youth Development Squad and a very successful Grand Prix competitor with her elegant Luxor 118. It was very exciting to see Katharine’s horse ‘brought to life’ and I’m sure she dreams that one day soon she will be taking a horse she can ride to Hagen as well.

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Katharine’s Australian design featured next to a horse painted in the German flag in the show jumping arena

As if the sheer size and quality of the competition wasn’t enough, Hagen also brought the goods with respect to a super user-friendly show. Want a bit of retail therapy between watching your favourites? No problem, just hit up the huge trade village with everything from fence paint to brow-bands and every option in-between. Peckish? The indoor catering area with over nine different types of cuisine and rows upon rows of tables and chairs to sit out of the elements and enjoy a meal with a good view of the show jumping has you sorted. Want to know more about the show? It has its own newspaper! All t’s were crossed and all i’s were dotted, so to speak. As I sat down with my lunch in front of the show jumping I picked up a copy of the Hagen Horses and Dreams newspaper and opened up to an article about an Australian name synonymous with dressage – the Oatleys. “From Hooves to Hamilton Island – Australia’s Oatley Family” explained how Bob Oatley “decided to try to help lift the standard of our Olympic equestrian teams in the 1970s by bringing to Australia the first Hannoverian” and a number of his other achievements and contributions to tourism, sport, medical research and visual arts which led to him being awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO). It was a great piece, giving insight into another side of one of the biggest names in equestrian sport to come out of Australia, and also introducing the beauty of Oatley’s Hamilton Island to the international readership at Hagen.

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The indoor catering area

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The Hagen Horses and Dreams Festival Newspaper

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Loved seeing an Australian legend in the spotlight!

At the end of the day, the figures from Hagen came in at: 326 riders from 38 nations; 572 horses; 65,000 paying visitors; 14,000 sausages; 6,000L of beer; 5,000 bottles of wine; 3,800 burgers; 1,800kg of French fries; and 2,000 staff member meals. That’s one hell of a show!!

Now that I have been to Hagen, do I regret choosing it over the GCT? Not for a second. I LOVED the Hagen experience and even more so because it was a showcase of all things Australian. A spectator could want for nothing more than what Hagen presented, and the level of competition was on a level I had never experienced before. To see so many quality horses and riders come together was a dream come true and big inspiration to go home and work hard to raise the standard of my own riding. So the Global Champions Tour is still on the wish list and I am back to the drawing board with my competition calendar – stay tuned for the next instalment!

Until next time,

Happy riding!