AOR Preliminary Horse of the Year Winner
by Ebony Porter and Georgia Rea
1. Were horses a part of your early life, or did you find them later in life? What challenges did this present?
We grew up in Sydney. My father had a pony stabled at Centennial Park as a child, so it was always in his blood. We were bought two APSB ponies when I was 7. We rented a paddock for them in Windsor and used to go every weekend and school holidays to ride. As we only had two ponies and there are five children in our family, whose turn to get on was always an argument. Looking back I am not sure how those ponies coped with the tears, tantrums and noise that five kids can make, but they did and we had a lovely family time together. Today, living so far from major towns or trainers, not having an indoor for training in 49 degree heat in summer and blizzards in winter, along with working a full time job with Health NSW leaves little or no time for not much else other than riding in the dark! This year we purchased two solar lights for the arena and they have so far proven to be a winner. Try riding your horse in the pitch dark. Their basic instincts are heightened and you really do learn to stay on!
2. Have you always, and do you currently own the horse(s) you are competing, or have you been given rides on coaches/friends horses or leased horses?
I have always owned and ridden my horses to compete on. Firstholme Instyle and my new addition, Robali Symphony are both previous hack/dressage combinations. They were purchased as long term good competition horses that hopefully will last me for the next ten years. I have never been offered or had the opportunity to ride a well-schooled dressage horse, it just never came my way, and besides I would have hated to bugger someone’s horse up and then have to return it. so I always made sure that they were mine and that the training that was completed on them was established and correct and that I was safe.
3. Who is your go to for any horse related question - regardless if it’s health, training or competition turn out advice - who has great advice anytime? (Your friend, trainer, local saddlery owner, body worker, farrier ...)
These days, my Husband Guy and I discuss everything about everything for the horses. He is the stable manager at Murrimba Stables, so he takes care of most things but always will chat if he needs clarification or has another thought that could be worth a try. I ride, Guy videos, offers feedback and helps me learn my test. Guy has never ridden a lot, so the education and training is left to me which is challenging when we are so far from instructor’s or others to bounce ideas off. I love the internet. I like searching events that have been held and looking at who’s wearing what and how they have presented their horses for competition. My farrier, Chris Zell and I have a great rapport when it comes to hooves, balance and corrective shoeing. I grew up at the vet hospital, as Mum worked there for 40 years and then I worked for a vet for 5, so I am clued up to all things veterinary. Andrew Litchfield at Orange Veterinary Clinic now has us on board and it’s a nice partnership.
4. What’s the first moment that comes to mind when someone has given you free invaluable advice or an opportunity you never could have afforded, in your equine journey?
Brett Parbery wrote, after the Olympics, that you need to be able to train your own horse and fix your mistakes. The coach Is not in the competition arena to bail you out when it all goes pear shaped.
Ian Francis told me a long time ago that luck was spelt WORK and that I needed to do the hours to reap the rewards. My motto to this day. Both gentlemen are so right.
I was very fortunate to spend time in the cutting and reining arenas. Cowboys really know how to ride and train horses. There’s no shortcuts, quick fixes or horses that cannot do so to speak. I have had a lot of opportunity to train with the likes of Robert Hearn, Warren Backhouse, Robert Mackay, Ian Francis and Mick Connelly. They all shaped my training programme and I today still use little manoeuvre’s or training tools that worked for them and now work for me. They are not taught or seen in a proper dressage lesson that is given these days. It’s what I would like to think has made me a horse person and a horse rider.
5. Is there an occasion you remember having to beg/borrow/steal to be able to work your horse/attend a lesson or competition?
From 13 years to 17, I cleaned 12 boxes before school every day for 6 days and on the 7th day I had a riding lesson for one hour on my pony, in Rain, Hail, Snow or shine, I made sure that the lesson went ahead much to the man’s (that owned the jumping stables) hatred of bad weather. I am super organised and make sure that all my boxes are ticked before the week of competition, that’s from having the car serviced to any items that need re stocking etc. so come Saturday we can just load up and go show!
6. Have you ever felt discouraged while competing? What encouraged you to compete again?
Without a doubt, any AOR will tell you that’s it’s hard to ride into an arena after a big professional has just ridden a super test on a fancy horse. Intimidating to say the least. My head space is slowly learning to block it all out and I never ever watch anyones’ test before I ride. I have learnt to be in my own little world in the warm up arena, where I warm up like I am training at home and like to carry it out to the competition arena. We as AOR only have to please ourselves, which is nice, where a professional has an owner to answer to. Their pressure is greater than mine.
7. How far have you travelled be able to compete at the SDI events? And why do you compete at SDC?
SIEC is a 6 hour drive from our front gate to their front gates. We travel Saturday to compete Sunday, and then drive home Sunday night. I take Monday as an RDO to get over the whole weekend, Its always a big weekend for all of us – human’s and horses and recharging before going back to work is a winner for everyone. Sydney Dressage Club offers me the availability to ride and compete at a high class venue and Definitely puts me in my place as a competitor. Gives me great ideas to work on when I get home before the next competition, and I get to ride up close and chat to the big guns of the industry. The club is one of the best I have ever belonged to. Organised, friendly and forward thinking with their ideas, it’s worth the drive and the money spent, four times a year. We are hooked and wouldn’t miss it for the world.
8. If you could offer some advice to someone just starting out on their equine journey, what would it be?
Spend the money and seek a good trainer who you trust right from the start. it stops costly mistakes with bad horses bought and having to be sold or rehomed because you got caught with an equine who is not suitable for you.
Go at your pace
don’t do what others think you should be doing
Make your own mistakes
enjoy the rewards that come with all your hard work.
9. Are there any developments you would like to see that would make dressage competition more accessible for the average horse owner / rider?
Well, I am highly impressed with the AOR Dressage Championship show that is being held for AOR. AOR classes are great, we are all on an even playing field. It would be nice if the draw at each event was done with all the professional first and then all the AOR. This would eliminate that dreaded feeling walking in as they are walking out. Judges would have a better understanding of the AOR riders competing on the day and the level that they are at as far as scoring. It would be nice for guest instructors at masterclasses to tackle some of the AOR and their horses. Our problems are always bigger and wider than a fully schooled horse. It would be interesting to sit and watch and see how they tune the combination. Dressage has come a long way and I believe that it has finally been recognised that amateurs are the bread and butter for the industry to move forward. We compete because it’s a passion, fun and a family orientated sport to do. Any new classes or events will always be snapped up and supported. The sky is the limit for us all.