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!

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

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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.

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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

Paige and Albert 1
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!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the Jumping Saddle for the State Championships

After nearly four months since our last show jumping competition, it’s safe to say I was very keen to get back out in the ring and the State Show Jumping Championships, held by the Northern Victorian Show Jumping Club in Shepparton, certainly didn’t disappoint!

With so long between competitions and Fergie having had time off due to a stone bruise in February we made the executive decision to drop back to the lower heights and just jump in the 90cm and 1m classes so we were looking forward to a relaxing few days away. We were lucky enough to have the help of turnout-queen Elouise Lando who had Fergie trimmed up and turned out to perfection and after a super jumping lesson on Tuesday afternoon we headed off on Thursday feeling in top form.

As I should probably know by now, nothing ever runs perfectly to plan with horses and to our horror just one hour into our two and a half hour trip we saw flashing lights behind us and were pulled over on the side of the highway. The man driving behind us had noticed that one of our float tyres was smoking profusely and was kind enough to pull us over, suspecting that our float axel was broken. Upon further inspection he found that the centre bolt of the spring attached to the axel had sawn apart and so we limped the car and float with one horse, two dogs, two people and four days’ worth of clothes, food, bedding etc on board the 25km to Seymour and prayed that we would find a mechanic who was still open late on a Thursday afternoon.

Whilst the first workshop we tried was closed, a local directed us to a float and trailer repair centre. We pulled in at 4:55pm and the men at Seymour Trailers were kind enough to work over time to help us. We unloaded Fergie and she stood very patiently in the car park as they jacked the float up, took the wheel off, replaced the spring and re-attached the axel. An hour later we were back on the road to Shepparton feeling very relieved and grateful – thank you again to Ashley from Seymour Trailers for your generous help! Needless to say we were well and truly thankful to pull into WB Hunter Reserve and tuck Fergie into bed ready to get up and ride in the first class on Friday morning.

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Finally ready to get back on the road to Shepparton with one of the fabulous team members from Seymour Trailers

The morning of Friday 14th March brought beautiful weather and even better show jumping! Alf Parsons was the course builder for the second arena across the three days of competition and he continually built kind, inviting courses which encouraged the younger horses in these smaller classes and provided the perfect opportunity for a confidence-building show for Fergie and I. The second arena was run on a velodrome and provided our first experience of jumping on grass. A credit to the Northern Victorian Show Jumping Club who had put a lot of time and effort into improving the surface of the velodrome, it rode very well.

Whilst many of the young horses were spooking at the carpet they had to walk over to cross over the concrete walkway into the warm up area, Fergie took it in her stride and was able to give a few others a lead into the arena. Once in the warm up she felt responsive and listening well. She maintained this in the ring and produced a good clear round to be through to the jump off. We were also clear in the jump off and placed third – a great start to the show after the rocky road getting there! In our second round for the day we were not so on top of our game and a lack of rider organisation RE our lead changes cost us a rail. Nonetheless I was thrilled with how Fergie jumped and walked away from the day excited for the rest of the competition.

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Thank you to Pryde’s Easifeed for sponsoring many prizes over the weekend – Fergie was very grateful for this one!

Saturday morning again promised a beautiful day but unfortunately Fergie and I were a bit too busy enjoying the sunshine and didn’t get organised enough for our fences and had a silly stop – my fault I’ll admit. Whilst this was a bit of a shame, the NVSJC kindly offered training rounds upon completion of the competitive rounds on the velodrome so we were able to jump around a course and remind ourselves what we are supposed to do! This round was clear and very tidy so both of our confidence was restored heading into the last day of competition.

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Hugging my superstar after a great training round

Saturday night saw the weather gods turn against us and boy did it rain! By Sunday morning the velodrome was too wet and boggy to provide a quality jumping surface and so the NVSJC committee opted to move the classes scheduled for this ring onto the sand arena. With the help of a number of riders we quickly set up a new course on the sand and competition was underway. The open 90cm-1m class was first up and Fergie felt super. She jumped a nice clear round and was called back for the jump off. We rode tenth of the twenty horses to jump off and with no clear rounds on the board so far, I opted for longer, straighter lines in the hope of a clear round. Fergs delivered a super clear round to put us in front of the competition. Ingrid Abrahams, Toni Scattergood and Melissa Froesch also jumped clear after us and so our slower time saw us drop to third place – a result I was thrilled with.

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Showing Fergie her hard earned prize money – extra carrots tonight!

As a reward for being such a superstar, Fergie finished the weekend in the Equissage trade stand as a demo pony for Katie – a job Ferg was all too willing to do! She loves her Equissage and was even helping Katie find the ‘right spot’ to relax all her muscles after a big weekend of jumping before it was back to the float for the final pack up and trip home.

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Fergie loving her equissage from Katie

I would like to thank the NVSJC for a great weekend of jumping. Your grounds were fantastic and consistently good courses provided for a top class show. Thanks also the sponsors of the show, including Prydes Easifeed, Horse Hay, Equissage, Equine Health Science and Wessel Drilling . Finally thank you to my super mum/groom/dog walker/pony holder/taxi driver/pole picker-up-er-er for putting in an enormous effort over the four days to get us there, look after us and bring us home – you’re the best! I loved being out jumping again and am looking forward to travelling down to Lang Lang for Port Philip Show Jumping Club’s Autumn Championships this weekend.

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Super groom all worn out from our big weekend away – the cat was sure happy to have us home again!

Happy riding!

Three Months in Thirty Minutes

I would like to formally apologise to everyone I ever doubted when they warned me that the second half of year twelve would be dizzyingly busy – you have been proven correct! In the last weekend of my last school holidays ever (wow it feels incredibly strange to be saying that) I’m cherishing some of the strange phenomenon known as down-time and intend to fill you all in on the past three months in thirty minutes!

July:

Wednesday 24th

I am incredibly lucky to have an uncle who manages The Border Mail up in Wodonga and, for my birthday, was spoilt with VIP media passes to Cavalia under the White Big Top in at Docklands. Mum and I were almost bursting with excitement as we headed into town for a girls night out!

Upon arriving at the venue I was struck by its castle-like appearance. With four towers extending over 35 metres high (the size of a ten-story building) and covering 2, 440 square metres it was truly impressive! After picking our chins up off the floor, we were directed down the red carpet and then into a special tent for dinner and champagne. I was very star-struck and, after summoning up the courage, introduced myself to stars including radio personality Kate Langbroek (whom I told it would make my week if she mentioned me on her show the following morning and, although she promised to, I must admit I slept right through) and Melanie Vallejo from Winners & Losers.

Cavalia entrance
The entranceway from the carpark to the VIP area

Kate Cavalia
Meeting Kate Langbroek


Melanie Cavalia
I was very excited to find I was actually sitting behind Melanie Vallejo

The actual show was an incredible mix of inspiring acrobats, impressive strong men, evocative music and, of course, beautiful horses. With the right balance of drama, danger and comic relief it was a true delight and I  thoroughly recommend you try and get tickets if you can (hint hint all those in South Australia!). The fusion of performance and horsemanship was something truly special and left me pondering how well Action Man would take to having me try and perform backflips whilst he canters in a circle – maybe we’ll work towards that over summer   😉

During the after-show VIP tour of the stables I bumped into Maggie McDonell from Hamag, EV’s super CEO Greg Pratt, Kerry Mack from Mayfield Farm, riders Will Enzinger and Julia Battams and many other familiar faces. Getting to see all of the talented equine performers being groomed, rugged and tucked in to bed was a very special experience and I loved seeing two of my favourites – Merlin, an 18hh six year old Percheron and the largest member of the cast and Troubadour, an 8hh miniature pony stallion and the smallest in the show – enjoying their dinner and the adoration of those who had just seen them at work. On speaking with a member of staff I learned there are over 45 horses in the cast, none of whom are mares, comprising of 11 different breeds, who have joined the team from all over the world throughout the nine years the show has run. I was also impressed by the sheer size of their tack room – I’m sure glad I don’t have to clean that many saddles, bridles and boots!

Troubadour Cavalia
Little Troubadour was a crowd-favourite during the show but he didn’t want to entertain anymore when I went to see him

To finish off a magical evening I was able to speak with some of the wonderful human members of the cast at the VIP after-party including Fairland Ferguson from the USA and the team of Moroccan strong men. They were all so friendly and clearly delighted to be part of such a great show –a tribute to the huge team of 120 permanent employees and 100 locals hired specifically in each city the tour visits. I take my hat off to the creative masterminds behind the show, especially Magali Delgado and and Frédéric Pignon who are in charge of all the equine choreography.

Cast
Meeting some of the strong men, acrobats and musicians from the show

Omar Cavalia
I was very excited to find someone almost as short as me in the cast – Omar El Ouazi from Morocco, one of the strong men

Friday 26th

After such a magical evening at Cavalia you would think my week couldn’t get any better – think again! Just two days later I was donning a dress and heels (a little different to breeches and boots) and heading in to The Palladium at Crown for the Courtney Fraser and Emma Booth fundraiser dinner. Elizabeth Wischer had organised a table for a few of the girls I used to event with and I was excited to catch up with this great group of riders and show my support for Courtney and Emma.

Palladium at Crown
The absolutely jam-packed dancefloor in The Palladium

I cannot express how phenomenal The Palladium looked when I walked in – Will Enzinger and his team had done an incredible job organising the event and it was HUGE! There were so many people, tables, decorations and donations it was almost overwhelming. I was so inspired by Courtney and Emma’s strength as they spoke about the accident, their recovery so far and their hopes for the future. The amount of support and love the equestrian community have shown them reminds me why it is so special. Its nights like those which show why all the hurried ‘good luck’ messages as someone goes into the ring are important – we need to have each other’s backs and foster that sense of belonging I felt sitting in that room!

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With eventers and old school friends Hayley Milburn and Evie Alexander

After a beautiful meal, an intense silent auction and as much dancing as my feet could stand I headed home incredibly excited by what I had seen and felt that evening. I was even more delighted to hear later that nearly $70,000 has been raised to support the girls in their road to recovery – what a remarkable effort!

Saturday 27th

And the week just kept getting better! The weekend of the 27th-28th July was the training weekend for the selection of the new Equestrian Victoria Young Ambassadors and I was asked to speak to the finalists about my experience as young ambassador and the art of public speaking, and then mentor them in preparing mini-debates.

I arrived at Werribee mid-morning, even though I wasn’t scheduled to speak until 5pm, eager to watch some of the lessons and catch up with the riders. After checking out the morning tea (one can never have too many muffins) and a quick lesson in the art of using Elia’s flashy camera I was let loose to capture some pictures of the day’s lessons. Two things soon became glaringly obvious to me:
1. The standard of young riders and we have in our state at the moment is VERY exciting
2. I am about as talented with a camera as I expect Mr Bean would be. Maybe even less.

Amber
Talented eventing rider Amber Cargill training some cross country

Selfie with Alicia
Catching up with dressage finalist and good friend Alicia Ryan

Angus Jumping
Angus Wright-Smith show jumping on Larry

Angus laughing
Its all fun and games until Mia tries to take a nice, serious photo – sorry Angus!

The dressage combinations were a mixture of old and new faces and it was nice to meet some new people including the lovely Rosie Cole. They shared the indoor with the show horse riders and I loved catching up with some of these girls who I had met at the training weekend last year. Whilst watching the show jumping lessons I was reminded of the importance of corners in setting up for the fence and a sneak peak at the cross country course revealed some lovely young event horses I can’t wait to see progress through the grades! Whilst I can’t claim to understand vaulting, or be brave enough to try it myself, I was very impressed with the skills of this group of riders who have only been part of the Young Ambassador Awards for the past two years.
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Michaela Bray riding the beautiful CJP Diamond Dazzler

Molly
Molly Barry training cross country

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The dressage selectors were clearly happy with the quality of riders they were watching

Each year as part of the selection process, the finalists are asked to demonstrate their ability to speak to an audience about a given topic. In the past, this has taken the form of speeches on a variety of things from what we would do as young ambassador and how we resolve conflict to how we would spend one million dollars. When Elia told me the finalists this year would be debating I must admit I was VERY jealous – as someone who has debated in high school I would have leapt at this opportunity! However, it appears I was quite alone in this reaction and most of the finalists were much more on the terrified side of things. I have to sympathise with them, debating is complicated and can be very daunting if you haven’t had much experience of it! This is where I was asked to help – to reassure them they would all live through the evening and were well and truly capable of formulating a good debate and teach them some basic rules and strategies.

After a little blurb about my strategies for debates – never say “I have convinced you” being my golden rule – the riders split into teams and were given topics. Some of the topics were very challenging including discussions on which equestrian disciplines would best suit Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott and whether a horse with sheer talent or pure courage is better. A pat on the back to each of the finalists – you all put together good arguments, conducted yourself well and barely needed my help in the end! I went home that evening very impressed by what I’d seen and excited to see who would be named in the final short list the next day.

Debates closer up
The finalists hard at work preparing their debates

Debates
Everyone enjoying watching the debates

August

Saturday 10th

The Equestrian Victoria Awards Night was set to be a great night – a new venue, a new look, lots of new awards and the much anticipated announcement of the new Ambassadors – and it sure delivered!

I arrived at the Werribee Racecourse and met Elia and Liara, the first ever EV Young Vaulting Ambassador, to put the final touches on the decorating. When all the chairs had bows tied around them, all the tables were set correctly and the photo booth was set up it was time for the guests to arrive and that for me meant a crash-course in using the eftpos machine (a job I gladly gave to Liara) and marking off all the arrivals.

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The great new venue for the EV Awards Night

Micky and Rosie Molly and Elysha
Catching up with short-listed finalists Michaela Bray and Rosie Cole (dressage) and Elysha Walles and Molly Barry (eventing) before their final interviews

The actual night was great fun! I loved sharing a table with last year’s ambassadors and a few young dressage riders. Congratulations to the new ambassadors Michaela Bray (dressage), Zoe Boulton (jumping), Jessika Hill (vaulting), Teegan Ashby (eventing) and Kristen O’Connell (show horse) – I know you will all make the most of being ambassadors and do your sport proud! Special mentions also to the young riders whose horses received awards for best performed retired racehorses Jacob Wells (BP Poet’s Corner, jumping) and Jordan Smith (Corona Gold, dressage) and to Joseph Patterson for being awarded EV Young Athlete of the Year.

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Being quickly interviewed before the announcement of the 2013 Young Dressage Ambassador, Michaela Bray

Once the awards were done and dusted it was all about having fun and catching up with friends. Whilst I have two left feet on the dance floor and I pray that one day I’ll learn to wear more sensible shoes, it was great to be surrounded by good songs and good company in an atmosphere a little different to a competition or clinic for a change. The photo booth was SO much fun and I never saw it without a big queue – everyone was getting into the spirit of things, consolidating friendships from the weekend and making memories.

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A bit of photo booth fun!

Whilst it felt strange to be handing over my ‘crown’ as it has come to be called, I am thoroughly excited about the future young ambassadors. Those who were named for 2013 are great riders with lots to give and have already begun to make their mark. Those in the top three (or four for jumping) I hope to see back up on stage next year as you have some fabulous ideas and I trust you will make great contributions. Those in the top ten for each sport are a perfect representation of why young riders should be cherished as the future of our sport – you are all very deserving! Overall, a great night to top off a memorable year – thanks again to Elia for all your work co-ordinating the entire process and I can’t wait to be back next year!

September:

Sunday 1st

It turns out I’m having to eat my words a fair bit these days! All those times I swore I’d never jump again – looks like I was wrong! During the July school holidays I got back into the Bates and had a little jump to ‘prove to myself I was really done with it’ and apparently I’m not because I found myself at the Euroa Show on the first of September as a competitor, not as a spectator! I’m going to blame this on having had the opportunity to attend show jumping competitions as a strapper earlier this year and the emphasis placed upon cross-training.

When I say competitor, I’m certainly not in it to win it but I had a lovely time jumping around the Junior 1.05m class in the back ring on jumping schoolmaster Kaboom. I think that’s a fabulous part of show jumping events – that you can go to a show and compete in an unofficial class, not having to be up against professionals, and then sit back and watch the ‘big kids’ do what they do best in the main class! I loved the atmosphere of the show and seeing people I used to compete against regularly when I evented 100 years ago, as well as meeting some new faces. There were not many familiar faces from the dressage scene, people referring to me as ‘the dressage rider’ and asking me if I even had a jumping saddle, however it was great to see Amy Lynch and Tori Stuckey who do compete in both dressage and jumping. Congratulations to Tori on winning the Bronze Class on Mayfield Noble.

Euroa
Sorry about the poor quality but evidence that I did in fact jump!

Kaboom was very good to me and helped me get my jumping legs back, jumping all clear to take home 7th and lots of smiles.

Friday 20th to Sunday 21st

Those who know me well know I never do anything half-heartedly and my brief return to jumping was no different! As soon as we were home from Euroa we were getting excited for the much anticipated Australian Show Jumping Championships to be held at Werribee Park  from the 19th – 21st September.

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My mount for the weekend, Duchess Royale, settling into her yard

This year the Championships introduced an unofficial back ring which again gave me the chance to pop around smaller courses (90cm, 1m and 1.05m) for a bit of fun. This time I borrowed Rebecca Thaller’s super little horse Duchess Royale who was SO much fun and – testament to Bec’s training – jumped every fence I pointed her at over the two days we competed despite my nerves and us being a very new combination.

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Having lots of fun jumping in the indoor!

One thing I can’t get over about the Championships is their atmosphere – there is a big screen showing the rider on course in the main ring and their penalties, the arena is surrounded by trade stands and the two-storey VIP area is more than impressive – you could be in Europe! When you’re standing there looking at the physical set up of the show you can understand why they were awarded EV’s Event of the Year. I loved the opportunity to watch classes ranging from 1.10m to Junior and Young Rider Championships and then the main class, the Senior title. The Senior class came down to a nail biting final on the 21st, which was won by Tim Clarke and the gorgeous grey mare Caltango, and the overall title went to Jamie Kermond and Caracus. It was great to be able to watch the country’s best jumping riders take on a challenging course on a sunny spring day in great ring-side seating – a testament to the organising committee and the weather gods.

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Tim Clarke, fellow NRG sponsored rider, and Caltango on their way to winning the Senior Final. Photo by Stephen Harman.

My highlight of the day was easily watching the dressage quadrille performed by Tori Stuckey, Kristin White, Fiona McNaught and Emmalee Weston riding Mayfield Miracle, Mayfield Be Brave, Ostra and Belcam Jazzmine. It was fabulous to see these great dressage combinations out amongst the showjumps, showing the spectators and competitors a little bit of what our sport is about and some of the popular ‘party tricks’ dressage horses are trained to perform. I also loved how impressed the people around me were by the dressage display and it gives me hope that in the future examples of this cross-disciplinary support will continue!

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Kristin White on Mayfield Be Brave and Emmalee Weston on Belcam Jazzmine during the quadrille. Photo by Equestrian Life.

Many people have asked me if a change of discipline is in order and my reply is a firm ‘no!’ I love my dressage and Action Man certainly won’t be competing in the Young Rider title next year. However, I do absolutely see the value in dabbling across the disciplines to develop my skills as a rider and jumping a little at the lower heights has certainly given me that. I want to be a versatile rider and I feel these competitions and the preparation for them has certainly contributed to that. Thank you to those who lent me horses or gear, walked courses with me, answered my rookie questions and made my transition back into the jumping saddle a lot of fun!

So there you have it – three months in thirty minutes! I hope you have all been loving the arrival of spring and the nice riding weather and are looking forward to the Saddleworld Dressage Festival, Victorian Junior and Young Rider Show Jumping Champs or riding down the road next weekend. For me it’s time to hit the books big time for the ‘last sprint’ in my year 12 race and I can’t wait to be out and about again on the other side – bring on November 20th!

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I have no idea who created this but it gives you an idea of what I’ll be doing for the next litte while!

Happy riding!

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

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

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

The fog in Kinglake!

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

Interschools
Enjoying some birthday cake between tests with Chantel and Kayla Thomas

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

Action Interschools Shannon EDITED
Photo taken and edited by Shannon Fiesley

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

The Tintern Team
Some Tintern Schools team members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whittlesea Prizes

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

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

Happy riding everyone

No Rest for the Wicked! (So I must be very bad)

Long time, no see…or no write in this case.

I know it’s been quite a while since I updated my blog and I apologise – juggling keeping Danson Wolkenaction in work and studying year twelve has proved quite a challenge lately! However, that being said, Action certainly hasn’t been put on the back-burner and things have been very exciting with him.

Since returning from my overseas trip earlier this year, Action and I have competed in the first two rounds of the Whittlesea Plenty Valley Dressage Club Winter Series, held at Yarrambat Park, with great success.

The first round was held on the 26th May. I was blessed with very civilised times, both in the afternoon, and so Action and I had a very relaxed morning to finish off our competition preparation. His socks were washed and then re-washed – the trade-off for a relaxing night in the paddock always seems to be a lack of socks in the morning – and then his mane and forelock were plaited (although having just been clipped the forelock plait left a little to be desired), tucked up in his dress rugs and bundled onto the float and off to Yarrambat Park.

WPVDC1
Getting Action Man prepped and ready to warm up

My first test was the Preliminary 1A. As Action had never been to this venue before and there were a lot of new things – namely the model airplane and pistol clubs which neighbour the grounds and can be heard from the competition area – I wanted to get on with plenty of time to let him soak up the new atmosphere. I was very pleasantly surprised by how well he took in this strange place (apparently I was more worried than him) and he felt super from the get-go in the warm up. This carried through to the test and I was really happy with what we achieved. The judges agreed with me and we scored 69% to win the class.

My second test, the Novice 2A, also went very smoothly. After another good warm up Action was on his best behaviour and really started to stretch and relax into his new-found competition mojo. Again the judges rewarded this and we scored 67.8% to win the class.

WPVDC 1
Well done Big Red!

Needless to say Action was spoilt with lots of Rewards after such a successful day and I was very proud of what we achieved. As soon as we got home we entered the second round of the series in hope that it might be a similarly super day.

The second round was held today on the 30th June and I promise you when I looked out my window at 5:30am this morning to a blanket of fog I was not thinking it was a good omen! However, they breed we horse riders tough and it was away from my electric blanket and into my freezing cold gumboots to go and get Action prepared for another busy day of competition.

It was a very pleasant surprise to pull into Yarrambat Park this morning to a beautiful bright sun and (dare I say it) t-shirt weather! Suddenly the day was looking up and I was really excited to get back in the competition arena.

WPVDC 2

Today there was considerably more atmosphere as the model airplane and pistol clubs were both in full flight! However, Action proved to me again how much of a nanna I am and a star he is by barely batting an eyelid at all of the commotion going on behind him as he warmed very relaxed and happy. My ring was running a little early but it appeared we didn’t need that extra warm up time as we pulled out a really calm test. A few silly rider errors cost us some marks but overall I was happy with how we went and we were awarded 68.5% and first place.

Now at this point things were just going too smoothly for me! I’d had three great tests, my horse was lovely and calm, the sun was shining and I had forty minutes until my next test so I had plenty of time to go for a wander around the grounds on a long rein before I warmed up again – or so I thought.

After taking a nice big walk around I came back to talk with mum about my first test when she asked when I was going to warm up again. I looked at my watch and saw I still had half an hour to go – or not. As it happend my watch had stopped and I had five minutes to trot over to the warm up ring, trot and canter a circle each way, practice one halt and present to the judge. Luckily, Action’s more onto things than I am and he didn’t miss a beat – impressing me with a calm, forward test I couldn’t have been happier with, 67.6% and another blue rosette to cap off two awesome competitions!
Maybe I should warm up like this more often?!

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There were a number of super talented young riders competing at the winter series and today my hat goes off to Tori Stuckey for wins in both the Intermediate 1 and Prix St Georges competitions on the stunning Mayfield Miracle and to Fern Wright for scoring an impressive 61.5% in the Under 25 Grand Prix on one of my favourite little horses to watch, Kamber Pryderi. Chloe Tsarouhas also deserves a special mention for her fifth placing in the Preliminary today and I was very excited to see Sophie Pomie – a fellow Tintern Schools student – placing in the Pony Novice today. Well done girls!

WPVDC 2
Catching up with young rider Matthew Sievers while he gear-checked in the afternoon

Now my superstar red-head is back in his paddock having a well-deserved rest and I’m onto the next thing – preparing for the Interschool State Championships starting next Monday, 8th July, down at Werribee Park and then looking to the final stage of the Whittlesea Plenty Valley Dressage Club Winter Series on the 21st July. No rest for the wicked!

Thank you to the WPVDC Committee for organising such a well-run, friendly event; to Equiscore for never failing to deliver quick, accessible results making competing so much easier; and to my super-mum for being no. 1 strapper!

P.S Welcome home to super-coach Jenny Bray after a well-deserved break in Bali. It was great to have you back this afternoon and I’ve certainly missed you!

Happy riding (:

2013 Hamag Victorian Young Dressage Rider Championships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YR State Champs 2013YR State Champs 2013

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

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

Photo by Ellen Dwyer

Photo by Ellen Dwyer

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

 

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

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

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

Allysse Smith and Fern Wright

Allysse Smith and Fern Wright

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

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

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

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

Photo by Ellen Dwyer

Photo by Ellen Dwyer

Good boy Danson Wolkenaction!

Good boy Danson Wolkenaction!

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

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

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

Riding with Matthew Sievers

Riding with Matthew Sievers

Happy riding!

Dressage with the Stars 2013 – What a Show!

They always say to prepare for all four seasons in one day when competing at Werribee Park and I have a theory that every year at Dressage and Jumping with the Stars it pours and blows a gale on the Thursday to get rid of all the fair-weather riders and then is perfectly pleasant for the rest of the show. I just don’t know why people say you can’t predict anything in our sport – my guess was spot on once again! Thursday saw us all hanging onto our hats, tying down our horses’ buckets and watching show jumps fall down left, right and centre without horses even in the ring and yet I found myself wearing a t-shirt and sunglasses for the other two days. But weather aside, it was a fantastic show and a great exhibition of some of the talent making its way into the competition arena these days.

This year my involvement in DJWTS was very different from anything I have done before and it was a great learning curve. As young ambassador I was asked to work in the Performance Sales International (PSI) tent, hosting Ulf Moller, Emile Faurie and the rest of the VIPs in attendance. This was a fantastic opportunity! Not only did I have a number of star-struck conversations with Emile about training young horses, what to look for when riding an unfamiliar horse and the experience of training overseas; I also learned a lot from the PSI team about their stallions and how their enormous operation over in Germany works. My ‘job’ was made all the more exciting with the cutest PSI team members – PSI Elvis and PSI Hi-Five the Rex rabbits, now famous on Facebook, who were perhaps the most asked after animals in the whole show. It was so much fun getting to talk about some of the best stallions in the world whilst playing with adorable rabbits and mingling with VIPs from Europe and Australia! I am very grateful to Lady Susannah Clarke for organising this for me.

PSI ElvisPSI Elvis and Rhiannon PSI Hi-Five

Ulf and Emile were very generous with their expertise and in addition to speaking with many visitors to the PSI tent, judging and riding the horses, they made time for a meeting with the Victorian Young Dressage Rider Program members. This was great as it gave the young riders a chance to speak with some of their idols in a comfortable, friendly environment and ask any questions they had without the pressure of a huge audience. Topics discussed included how you go about riding unknown horses, the language barriers for us as English speakers wishing to ride in Europe, the role of pony dressage in Europe and the use of spurs as a training tool. Ulf even offered the riders a position at the PSI stables if they were looking to work and ride in Germany! This is a wonderful proposition and I hope some of them do follow this up in the future. My thanks go to Jan Smith for co-ordinating the meeting and Horse Deals Magazine for supporting it. I’m sure it was a highlight of the show for those who attended!

Meeting Emile Faurie Victorian YR Program Members, Emile, Ulf
Meeting Emile Faurie The Victorian YR Program meeting Emile Faurie and Ulf Moller

I had a very busy time as in addition to working in the PSI tent I was also riding, grooming, spectating and hitting the trade stands – a most important responsibility! I took my own horse Danson Wolkenaction down to Werribee for the duration of the show to ride around although we weren’t competing for him to soak up a bit of the atmosphere. This proved to be a great experience for both of us and by the last day we were both much more comfortable with all that was going on, giving us a confidence boost for when we next hit the competition arena. I’ve been told that nothing is better for your riding than hours in the saddle and I believe the same stands for inexperienced horses – nothing is better for their competition education than hours in the competition environment.

Riding Danson Wolkenaction at DJWTS

I must admit, I have never actually ventured out onto Bruno’s Lawn at DJWTS to watch the show jumping so being involved grooming for this side of the competition was a big first for me! It never ceases to amaze me how different the disciplines are. Although we’re all fundamentally horse people and we share the same passion, dedication and love for our sport, there is such variation between what each of us does. Whilst I don’t think I’ll ever feel the urge to jump over obstacles as tall as myself in the middle of gale force winds with trade stands flapping all over the place down the long-side, I have so much respect for those who do. The jumping is a whole new ball game from the dressage and it was great to learn how their young horse competitions work whilst being able to watch some of the best horses in the sport strut their stuff. I saw some very brave riders and some even braver horses! The thing that struck me most about the show jumping was that they present an award for the best presented horse and rider combination. This is one thing jumping has which I’m sure the dressage riders wished we had! Although we may fight for the title a lot harder than they do.

Lachlan Brennan at DJWTS
Lachlan Brennan riding Snowy River Offsider

Whilst back in my comfort zone watching the dressage horses I kept finding myself thinking how much the quality of horses is improving. Our young ponies now look like small warmbloods with beautiful hock action and self-carriage which I was nearly bouncing out of my seat wanting to ride! Special mentions here go to Flowervale Boginov who was just beautiful to watch in the masterclass on Thursday night and the champion of champions pony Double S Dark Sun. The champion of champions final for the horses was very interesting to watch with three lovely mounts presented. I drooled over the four year old winner and reserve champion of champions Remi Frangelicca, the half-sister of my yearling filly, who was so free and easy in her movement and looked incredibly rideable that it was a dream to watch. However, hats off to the winner SS Dante who is a stunning horse and captivated the entire indoor with his great presence. It was a great end to the young horse competition!

Kylie Burton riding Flowervale Boginov
Kylie Burton riding Flowervale Boginov

Young horses aside, the FEI classes again demonstrated just how much we are improving as a sport and I saw some established combinations perform better than ever tests to really put the pressure on each other. In speaking with my friend Caitlyn Hulme who was competing in the Prix St Georges, I learned that the difficult weather conditions on Thursday were making for an interesting competition. Poor Caitlyn had a plastic bag fly into her and actually hit her and her stallion Beanie as she was competing – every rider’s nightmare! However, she was still all smiles at the end of the day, demonstrating her great sportsmanship. The Inter 1 freestyle was very exciting to watch and it was a close finish with Aber Hallo 29 and Adlanta Rose as the last two horses both performing beautifully. However, it was Brett Parbery and Aber Hallo’s night and they finished in first place overall – a very classy, exciting pair to watch.

Adlanta Rose
The beautiful Adlanta Rose, photo by Natasha Rogers

The FEI CDI-Y was a very close class with all starters qualifying for the freestyle. For many of the competitors this was their first CDI-Y and if this is how they go now I can’t wait to see them in a few years’ time! These young riders are very impressive in what they have achieved and should be commended on their hard work. DJWTS ended for another year with the Grand Prix Freestyle and wow – what a way to finish! I can genuinely say every combination has improved so much since I last saw them all together at the Saddleworld Dressage Festival, December 2012 and the marks reflected this too. The penultimate combination, David Shoobridge and 007 from Revelwood Warmblood Stud, were clear crowd pleasers and had the entire grandstand dancing away with them to score 73.575% and take out the class – congratulations! 007 is a real pleasure to watch and is featured in this month’s Horse Deals if you wanted to read more about him. I was sitting just a few seats from David in the stand as he received his score via Equiscore – which was a saviour throughout the show – and it was so refreshing to see his genuine elation and obvious love for his mount.


David Shoobridge and 007

My final important activity at DJWTS was carrying out a thorough inspection of the extensive trade village! It was great to catch up with Erika and her team from Horse in the Box, especially at their VIP sponsored riders’ event on the Friday night, and to see that they were always busy with lots of happy customers. Also, Angela Donaldson looked fabulous representing them in the Fashions on the Long Side event! My next port of call was with Michaela and Monique at Reiter.M who are always fun to catch up with. I was very excited by the new bling Nathalie breeches and to hear about all the wonderful ideas Michaela has to be revealed shortly! Also, welcome to the newest member of the Reiter.M team Ben Terry. I am very excited to announce that Skye Park Rugs are now supporting Action and I and that he looked extremely smart in his new rugs – thank you so much to Jess and Diane for this wonderful opportunity! We have been long-term users of their quality products and are very flattered by their offer to support us. The last stop on my trade-stand tour was at Redgum Saddlery, the Australian stockists for Fleeceworks. Fleeceworks have a beautiful range of merino products from saddle pads to noseband protectors and Action was very spoiled with a new halfpad and girth cover which are both irresistibly soft – thank you Kylie for all your help explaining how your great system works!

Action in his Skye Park rug
Action looking very smart in his wool Skye Park show rug

Every big show has its challenges and successes and Dressage and Jumping with the Stars 2013 was no exception. Although we all returned home exhausted, dusty and very excited to get into our own beds again, I had a wonderful time and am grateful for the opportunities I was given. Thank you to everyone who came and visited me in the PSI tent – even if it was just to see the gorgeous rabbits! To Briony, Lady Clarke and the organising committee – congratulations on another fabulous show. To all the young riders who competed – your sportsmanship and standard of riding was great to see. It was refreshing to be able to soak up a big competition without actually competing, although I’m looking forward to being back in the white breeches myself very soon.

Happy riding!