I started riding as a three year old when my Mum took me to watch a neighbour having a riding lesson, I said to Mum, “that’s what I want to do” – she thought it was a passing phase but thirty years later and I’m still riding!
I come from a non horsey family. This meant that every Christmas I asked Santa for a pony, and every birthday I asked my parents for a pony, and on all occasions I was disappointed to wake up and not see one tied to the clothes line (as I had thought that was the best place to leave a pony)! I would be taken to a riding school for a lesson when I had badgered Mum and Dad long enough for them to cave in, but I didn’t get my first pony until I was 13 after ten good years of persistent nagging.
At 15 I decided that jumping really wasn’t my thing, and specialised in dressage. By this stage I had taught my long suffering pony extended paces, half pass, and flying changes. I didn’t have lessons really, as they were too expensive, so I learnt by reading and watching videos. I had a couple of schoolmaster types, horses that were really difficult to ride, one was obtained for $1 as he was known to be so difficult and the owner got tired of trying to sell him, and the other was very kindly loaned to me by my long time mentor and friend Julia Fraser, who saw me struggling with this difficult schoolmaster and said “what that girl needs is a good horse”. At the time I didn’t realise that this was going to be the beginning of something so significant in my life.
It was when riding Julia’s horse Leo Godonov that I saw my first horse of a lifetime, Leo Dreams Of Gold. He was just a foal and I just adored him from the moment I set eyes on him. I worked two jobs, sold all my possessions and managed to buy Rufus as an unbroken three year old. I decided to break him in myself, but didn’t really tell anyone for fear that I would ruin him! I took Rufus through the grades with minimal lessons, I probably had two a year until he was Level 5 when I started to have more regular lessons with Tina Thorowgood. Tina helped me get him through to baby Grand Prix level.
I really enjoyed taking Rufus through to, and competing at Grand Prix level. The difficultly of Grand Prix cannot really be understood until you actually put yourself out there in the public eye and ride through a test in competition. It was rewarding yet soul destroying, fun yet frustrating, challenging and nerve-wracking! It’s also highly addictive if you are a perfectionist like I am. I sold Rufus because at 14yrs old he had done all he could for me, and I had exciting young horses to start working with. I often think of him in his new home, and miss having him around, but I know he is much loved and treasured.
Since then I have broken in my two very talented young horses, Leo Donna and Leo Wispern – both of whom are closely related to Rufus, it’s a real family affair. I have broken in all my horses myself because I believe in starting them a certain way through kindness and fairness with no fear. I do not believe in teaching horses to learn to fight. Leo Donna is my next horse of a lifetime. To date I have had two lessons on her in the two years she’s been under saddle – this is mainly due to the expense of having lessons. Equestrian is such an expensive sport, that what I can do myself I do, that way I can spend money first and foremost on horse welfare, which is something that is very important to me, because I love my horses and they are part of the family, and I want only the best for them.
Leo Donna was highly rated by the international Young Horse judges at the New Zealand Dressage Championships, and I expect she will be my next Grand Prix horse.
Kieffer and Equiscan Technology
I have been a Kieffer addict for some time, always disappointed that it wasn’t readily available in New Zealand. My first Grand Prix horse actually had most of his education in a second hand Kieffer. I found the comfort of the saddle was second to none for myself as a rider, and I always found the saddle sat well on the horses back. The quality of Kieffer amazed me, my second hand saddle is still in use with another rider, it would be about twenty years old now and certainly doesn’t look it! Kieffer have been in operation for 168 years, they are true experts in what they do.
As I develop as a rider and horse-woman, I appreciate more and more the importance of saddle fitting. I am a big believer in the use of science and technology, and Equiscan is both of these things designed specifically for saddle fitting. We wouldn’t go to a shoe shop and have the shop person look at our feet and suggest a size and expect it to fit 100%, same with clothing, a size 10 in one shop can be more like a size 8 or size 12 in other shops, different fabric makes things fit differently, different cuts and designs have the same issues – my thinking has always been, why would it be any different for saddle fitting?
What I love about Equiscan is that it takes 98 points of measurement of your horses back. That measurement is placed into a computer system which generates a 3D image, from which the saddle is developed. Records are kept, which means that my horses can have ongoing monitoring for changes in their backs, which is expected as they continue to build muscle. Any changes in the horses can be easily ascertained, and the saddle fitter can modify the saddle so that once again your horse has a saddle fitting 100%. I can’t imagine a system better than this.
When the Kieffer Lusitano saddle, that had been made for Leo Donna using the Equiscan technology, was placed on her back it literally fitted on her like a glove. It was amazing. The change in Leo Donna on her first ride was extremely noticeable, she was far softer and fluid in her movement than she had ever been before, and those who had seen the before and after could recognise that as well. The saddle is a beautiful fit for Donna and myself, and I feel beyond grateful for the opportunity to be an advocate for Kieffer and Saddlery Warehouse.