NEWS > Dressage
Posted by Heather Stewart on 17/11/2018.

Pip Cassidy reports from the Australian Dressage Championships

It was with some trepidation that I boarded the Spirit of Tasmania for our trip to the Mornington Peninsula on Thursday 4th of October. The draw for the Prix St-Georges (all 32 of us) was, to say the least, somewhat daunting. So many professional riders, so many expensive, imported horses! While it is true that riding an FEI test at Nationals is an honour in itself, the prospect of coming last is not one to relish.

I was very lucky to be travelling with Peter and Bernadette Gibson, whose meticulous planning and positive attitude ensured safe and happy travels. After a smooth sailing we arrived at Cassia Montgomery’s beautiful thoroughbred spelling property at Bittern. Our boys thought they were in paradise! Large grassy paddocks, shelter sheds, a stunning indoor with fabulous surface, hot water washes, roomy stables and gravelled roads that circulated the paddocks, perfect for riding out. The weather was good, the horses settled beautifully and Peter Fischer came to give us lessons. What more could we want!

After 10 days of peace and luxury we loaded up and drove to Boneo Park. Even though there were still a couple of days until competition started the place was a buzz of activity. Trucks, floats, caravans, people everywhere. We found our stables, got the horses sorted, and unpacked the cars. Interestingly, both horses seemed to recognise their surroundings immediately with barely a spook or a snort. We had arranged a paddock to share so both horses could have plenty of time outside. We quickly fell into a routine of riding, cleaning and walking. Lots and lots of walking!

Both Bert and I competed in the PSG on Thursday. Peter Fischer came and gave us lessons each day for the three days prior to our tests and both horses were working really well. For me, Nationals 2017 was a disappointing event and I was hoping that the 12 months of soul searching and hard work would pay off. The day dawned grey and drizzly and I had a sinking feeling that I would warm up in a down pour as I did last year. Peter was there to get me organised and motivated and a contingent of Tasmanians were there to cheer me on. The few drops of rain came to nothing and before I knew it the steward was telling me it was my turn to go in.

It’s a funny feeling going into an indoor to ride a test. Three tables of judges and writers line the short side and there is a table with a judge and writer at E. I am the fish in the bowl with lots of faces on the outside looking at me, but I’m not alone, I have my best buddy with me. The music plays quietly, there is the rustle of papers and expectation and then the bell rings and we have 45 seconds to come down the centre line.  We halted (thankfully at X), saluted and I took up the reins. And they felt good! That first trot towards the C judge felt wonderful and I just knew that we deserved to be there and things would go well. And they did.  Apart from a disastrous final halt well before X (just to keep me humble) everything went as well as I could hope for on that day. A score of 64.9% and 14th place! As always there were many things to improve and many more marks to be had, but the comments from the judges were incredibly encouraging. The biggest thing for me to take away from Nationals 2018 is the confidence and conviction that Hugo and I are good enough to make the top half of a very tough, quality field of horses and riders.  We are good enough to continue our journey with success.

As Tasmanians we do suffer some disadvantages when it comes to competing on the “mainland”. We are a small, distant state and travel is expensive, time consuming and has risks. The vast amount of money spent on acquiring, training, maintaining and competing horses at National level is mind boggling. There are plenty of competitors with deep pockets and large ambitions. But we are there and we do not disgrace ourselves. Mandy Parsons continues to excite the selectors for Para Equestrian and is becoming a dominant presence. Linda Smink took a young, relatively inexperienced horse to an enormous event and put together flowing, accurate tests that promise much for the future. Bert Gibson achieved a top 10 finish in a large, strong Inter 1 class. The Tasmanian Dressage community has much to be proud of!

As always an enormous thanks to Sharni and Caitlin Radford for their help, level heads and commitment to the Tassie team. I encourage anyone who has thoughts of competing at Nationals next year to make a plan, commit to it, and work really, really hard to make the dream a reality.  It’s worth it!

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