Why I Love My Equestrian Discipline
8 August 2018
Somewhere along the line, every horse lover has dreamed of having that perfect connection, that special moment where they become one with their equine partner.
The exhilaration, the freedom, the power and the bond between horse and rider are the secrets only equestrians share.
Add a dash of passion and a dollop of practice and daydreams start to become reality. Each equestrian discipline holds its own appeal and opens up the possibility of finding you and your horse’s happy place.
Cavalletti asked nine Australian horse riders — some just starting out and some competing at the highest level – to explain why they love their chosen sport.
Equestrian Discipline: Carriage Driving
Debbie was introduced to the Carriage Driving discipline about 30 years ago while riding an Arabian stallion at shows. Many of her fellow competitors were showing their horses in harness and Debbie thought that looked so very elegant. She started driving her horse Ros Tuli in 1986.
Debbie admits that not every rider feels comfortable making the transition to a vehicle, but she loves it — the carriages, the harness and the feeling of trust between horse and driver. Her advice is those who are keen should have the support of their partners and family as there a lot more to take with you, not just the horse!
While she’s had plenty of “magic horses” and significant achievements, Debbie says that to have been able to breed her own pony from a special mare has been the best possible feeling. She went on to show and drive Springwater Elmar Jack with great success.
Equestrian Discipline: Para-dressage
Kaye quotes the proverbial ‘they’ when she says, “once a rider, always a rider.” After a diagnosis of degenerative spinal disease, arthritis and fibromyalgia, ‘they’ may not have thought Kaye would ride horses competitively again. But after two spinal surgeries – the second where she had to learn to walk again – Kaye proved ‘they’ were wrong.
Since getting into ponies as a 4 year old, Kaye has only had one 12 month riding break and has continued to ride dressage after being para (parallel) classified. She has now competed in the UK and in Hong Kong on the Australian team. In 2015 she was honoured to be part of the high performance para dressage squad.
Kaye says para dressage has changed her life allowing her to mentor others, continue to feel competitive and happy to ride. Kaye believes, “RDA means ‘rider’s dreams available’”, with her next goal being the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Canada.
Equestrian Discipline: In-hand Showing
It may have taken 41 years for Kellee to buy her dream horse, but since Eleazar Oddyssey (Oddy) came into her life, they have been making up for lost time. She started in hand showing four years ago and made it to the Perth Royal Show – one of her lifetime dreams.
The bond between the pair is evident, with Kellee starting Oddy under saddle herself before slowly commencing endurance. This year has been one of many achievements, with Kellee and her horse graduating to 40km rides, completing the Blackwood Marathon, and being sashed Supreme at a local outing.
Kellee says Oddy always makes her proud, but she’s been very pleased to have appeared in two magazines this year, and even to have received a sponsorship.
Equestrian Discipline: Polo
Marnie Hamersley Smith
Marnie grew up watching her father and brother play polo, but it took her marriage to a professional polo player to start playing a few chukkas herself. The former eventer has now clocked up five seasons of polo and says that, “once you have had a hit you will be hooked for life”. She recommends that any horse lover with a competitive spirit and a fondness for team sports should give polo a go.
Working in the universal sport of polo has taken Marnie and her husband all over the world travelling with the horses. She says that polo has brought her many proud achievements, but it’s the story of a special off-the-track thoroughbred that she bought on for polo that makes her smile the most. This quirky but naturally talented mare now resides in China where she has won the Champion Pony prize, a major tournament, and is played by the top riders from all over the world.
Marnie says that any equestrian sport is all about the horse and polo is no different. She loves to watch them progress from (in many cases) ex-racehorses who get a second chance and go on to become superstars. She adds that, “It’s the horses, not the winning or losing that makes this sport so special”.
Equestrian Discipline: Endurance
Lisa’s story is one many women can relate to — after riding as a child, the ebb and flow of life meant Lisa had to take a 20 year break from horses. When she was finally able to recommence her love affair with horses, she said, “endurance appealed as aside from making sure your horse is fit and sound you don’t have to spend a fortune on fancy gear or spend hours prepping for 5 mins of riding!”
In her first year of endurance, Lisa and her Arabian mare were awarded the coveted Best Managed trophy twice — once for a 40km ride and once for a 60 km ride. Lisa believes that is doesn’t matter where you finish as long as you look after your horse. “To complete is to win” is the slogan.
Lisa recommends endurance to all horse enthusiasts and considers it to be an amazing sport where winning means nothing and looking after your horse means everything.
Equestrian Discipline: Eventing
At just 10 years old, Ella Shore made her eventing debut and now six years later is out competing with some of world’s most experienced event riders. Ella says she loves both the fun of eventing and the fact that riders need to be capable of competing in all three phases: dressage, cross country and show jumping. “Everyone will have their strongest phase and if you don’t perform as well as you would like in one discipline, you are still able to make it up in the other two,” she says.
Ella says her most special moment to date was being one of only two juniors competing at Perth’s 2015 ‘Eventing in the Park’. Not only did she win ‘Grand Prix’s best junior’ but she was especially thrilled when UK rider Harry Meade stopped to congratulate her and chat about her horse Eliva Kokoda.
In recommending eventing to other riders, Ella explains that it gives you a very broad range of skills: “The dressage element displays the level of training on the flat as well as how precise your horse can be. Cross country shows how brave your horse is as well as its level of fitness and stamina. The show jumping tests the horse’s agility and its ability to come back, wait and listen to you after galloping a cross country course.”
Of course, it also helps to be an adrenaline junkie, like Ella. “I love the thrill of being able to gallop the cross country jumping big fences!” she says.
Equestrian Discipline: Showjumping
Alison is candid about the fact that she has been an extremely competitive person for as long she can remember – “I have to stop myself all the time!” she admits. So, it’s not surprising that the challenges of professional showjumping have sustained her love for the sport.
She says of show jumping, “Peacock one day, feather duster the next. Just when you think you have mastered it, you are quickly brought back to earth.”
Alison recalls a career highlight, winning the 3star Grand Prix in La Bossiere, France, with her Warmblood mare Bickley Brook Bella. “I was completely dumbfounded. There were two previous world champions in the class so I was pretty pleased to win in that company,” she says modestly.
Even with such an illustrious showjumping career, Alison remains in awe of her mounts: “Horses are such beautiful animals, that they will head at these huge jumps is amazing.”
Equestrian Discipline: Dressage
Jacqui van Montfrans
Jacqui commenced her riding career on a pony that ‘came with’ the farm her parents bought, although the decision to follow dressage as her preferred discipline came much later. She evented until she completed her Level 1 General Coaching Certificate in 1989, but says a few too many spills in the jumping helped nudge her toward dressage.
Inspired by Rozzie Ryan, it’s clear that once the dressage bug bit, Jacqui was hooked. She explains that the competition circuit became her life, and her days revolved around putting her foot in the stirrup iron at least a dozen times a day.
Over the years, Jacqui’s competition career was taken over by her coaching career and nowadays she’s able to share her love of dressage through teaching clients all over Australia, every day.
According to Jacqui, dressage holds an analogy for life. She rattles off a few with ease: “Lose control to gain control”, “If it doesn’t kill you instantly, it only makes you stronger”, “When you most want to hang on is when you should let go”, “Sometimes all you can do is take a deep seat and a far-away look!” and last of all, “Keep Calm and X Halt Salute”!
Equestrian Discipline: Barrel Racing
After years of pony club and dressage it was actually a boy who got Michelle started in barrel racing. She remembers tagging along to rodeos and thinking, “I can do that, it looks like fun”. Michelle laughs as she says, “It sure is fun but it was a little harder than what I thought!”
Michelle admits that she also thought that if she gave dressage away and did barrel racing she wouldn’t have to trot circles anymore! “Huh!” she exclaims, “I not only still do lots of circles, but now I expect my horses to do perfect circles at the walk, trot and canter on a loose rein; that takes a bit of practice.”
“Barrel racing really is my sport,” Michelle explains. As a horsemanship clinician, Michelle notes that she seldom has the opportunity to teach barrel racing, but has been able to use the discipline’s exercises to teach riders flexion and control. “And all because I was sick of trotting circles,” she chuckles.