2019: A Review
My year started, really, less than ideal. I was horseless for the first time in nearly 20 years and I had absolutely no idea of what the right course of action was. I knew where wanted to end up, but it was really a question of could we do it? Do I stay in Europe, or simply let the dream die and return home to Australia and immerse myself in a Law career?
The financial aspect of owning a horse is grim one. Add to that my desire to list my expenses and try to budget, and then you have instant regret. I strongly advise against ever working out how just how much your horse’s cost! I had also lost my job toward the end of 2018, and after a month or two of hunting, I successfully made it through the interview process of a German company based in Münster city.
Leaving the ponies behind; my husband and I finally went on our dream ski trip to Kühtai
I had been looking for a new horse since the sale of Lotus, and I had been continually let down. 2 failed the vetting, one was batshit crazy when it went to a competition and the fourth favourite had a rotated pedal bone. I looked at nearly 150 horses, rode about 30 and then tried 3 twice. On the verge of giving up, I rang my dear friend in the Netherlands out of desperation.
February dawned cold, grey and miserable as it reminded me of the approach of my birthday. The beginning of the month was spent overloading the trusty VW and heading off to the Netherlands to spend two days horse-hunting with my friend and agent. Somewhere in there, my husband and I finally went on our honeymoon to New York, albeit a year after our wedding.
I have to say, our Netherlands trip ignited that fire again. After months of inabilities to source a direction for my riding, I now felt like I was slowly unravelling the dream again. I picked it to pieces during the hours spent on the road, discussing it with the family and agonizing over the decisions to be made.
Late into the afternoon of day one, I wandered rather dejectedly into a barn on the edge of the Netherlands and saw a big (actually rather massive!) brown horse with an enormous tail. The rider introduced herself as Emma, and the horse was called Genius.
The first ride on Genius.
Genius arrived in Germany and I was stupidly excited. It was much harder than I had planned to get back into training. I was unfit, hadn’t ridden a horse in training for months and it showed. It was time to go to the gym! Genius went through an adjustment period that was to last several months. There were laughs, smiles, tears and lots of “oh shit, did we make the wrong decision?!”
Every tack item I owned was tried on Genius, only to realise it didn’t fit. Budgets were re-assessed; competitions plans were made and everything bought in giant-size. I waved a tearful farewell to my husband as he returned to Australia for the long-term and suddenly, I was alone again, after having company for several months.
My new job picked up and I was back to working, studying and training full-time with no time for anything else. The gym promise wasn’t looking good…
A series of mishaps meant we weren’t able to get to our planned competitions, and it was becomingly increasingly clear that the little faithful VW Polo was going to have to go. The training with Genius actually started to get worse. It was difficult, and he was turning out to be a little bit too much horse despite his loving personality. He was just big with little to no steering or breaks at times and I was struggling.
The flying changes were non-existent, half-pass was marginal and there was no way I could hold him together in his absolutely huge canter. Nevertheless, I loved him anyway and worked harder at the gym to build muscles and get fit again.
Budgets and plans were reassessed again. I started a second job to help things along.
Mannheim CPEDI*** came around quickly at the beginning of May. In short, it was not our show. The preparation was less than ideal with several niggling issues hampering our progress, but it was a successful outing for a number of other reasons. We completed the first two para tests and although we had errors, they were mistakes that I knew would improve with more training and getting to know each other over the coming months.
I learnt how Genius would react in a huge atmosphere, and I reassessed the training program and competition schedule based on the results of Mannheim. Anke and I packed up, drove 6 hours home and then started again as we prepared to head into the second qualifier in July.
Work was still full swing, where I worked 5 days a week (sometimes 6) teaching English, and 3-4 days a week at the stable. I wrote 4 thesis papers in 5 weeks, cried and studied and wanted to give up but was rewarded by finishing top of the class in International Environmental Law for 2019.
June was amazing. Lots of local shows, nice weather and Genius decided he actually liked me and started to really work with me during training. My parents arrived at the end of the month, where I bundled them straight into the car and off to a show for our very first M* debut. We placed 5th with 64% - despite me missing a flying change.
The training was going well, my gym sessions were beginning to pay off and we had our very first professional photoshoot with the amazing Anniek from the Netherlands. June was pretty much taken up by shows, work and more study!
July saw a few major goals kicked! The little trusty VW drove off to his new home in Poland and I felt an odd mix of sadness watching my reliable car leave. Although he wasn’t flash, he drove me around Europe for 3 years with no problems through ice, snow and rain and I always knew that no matter what, the little thing would start without fail.
I traded him in for a bigger car that was capable of towing a trailer with Genius. I then had to complete a series of lessons, tests and exams to gain a qualification on my driving licence that meant I was licenced to tow a trailer. Most. Stressful. Day. Ever. Although I passed, I was criticised for driving 5km/hr under the speed limit because “that’s not what Germans do!”
Überherrn CPEDI*** was the big event for July. Genius was incredible, although the conditions were tough in the arena with major rainfalls leading to the arena being 2ft under water. Both the team and individual tests were acceptable considering where we were at in our training, and then the freestyle competition was our first together. We set a PB of 71.2% that saw us gain a position on the long list for Tokyo 2020.
August was once again filled with lots of local shows, and training. Genius was learning to travel much better and our training program was working well. We went out several times again in M* and L** in order to work our way closer to an M** or S* start toward the beginning of 2020.
I flew home at the end of August for the first time in over a year and was able to see my husband for the first time since February. The trip home was also filled with lots of lessons, study and work (for my Aussie job!).
I welcomed a new sponsor on board, Beci Equi Couture based in Western Australia. After speaking with the owner, I was so excited to get to know the company and work with them to promote their brand across Australia and Europe. I have to say – their clothing has been invaluable here for my daily training!
I flew back to Germany in the middle of September and although I was sad to say goodbye, I was very happy to get back into the training. The small break had done Genius a world of good, and for the next three months, his training was to progress rapidly in the right direction.
I went back to work almost immediately, and also was faced with two thesis papers and oral exams for my Masters. Once again, I questioned why I was doing this…
October welcomed another sponsor on board – Maxwell Equestrian. Kira was amazing and so lovely to speak to and after working out the finer details, Genius was kitted out with training boots and competition boots to fit his massive legs and dinner plate feet.
We prepared for the upcoming winter season, heading to Ankum PSI at the end of October for the first of the series. Genius did well in the FEI individual Grade V test, gaining a 66.5% for the first ride of the test since Überherrn CPEDI***. Lots to improve, but early days!
We also had our next professional shoot with Anniek at the wonderful W-Stables. I have to say, the difference in Genius between the two photoshoots we did were incredible, and it really cemented home that our training program and competition plan was working. We began to train the pirouettes (goal kicked!) and also the sequence changes.
Winter was well and truly on its way in November, and I was very unimpressed with competing at 10pm every week in the dark and -5. It was worth it though, as we gained further scores for the FEI tests and in the end scored a 69.89% in the FEI Grade V Team Test. Slowly but surely, we are getting there!
My dear friend Sarah flew in to visit me in a flying weekend as she is now based in Ireland. We had been planning since c. 2004 that one day we would meet in Europe, and 15 years later we finally did. I drove her back to Düsseldorf airport late on Sunday night and watched as she walked through the departure gates with a mix of sadness and loneliness.
I took on more work to try and pay for my expensive horse and his habit of needing size 9 shoes.
December started off slow, with most competitions now on hold until 2020. The Christmas markets began, and I was ridiculously excited to be out in the rain and ice, trudging through the cobblestone streets on my way to source Glühwein (I don’t drink so actually it was hot chocolate!) and Bratwurst. Although the days are short, cold and dark, I love December in Germany with the festive feel and the buzz of excitement in my little town.
Genius began to wind his training down as he was to have a break over the Christmas period. I packed my bags and got ready to fly home for Christmas and New Year for the first time since 2015. I dug out my summer shorts that hadn’t seen the light of day since I lived I Australia, picked up Anke and sat on a plane for 2 days waiting to get home.
Most of the time was spent planning for the year ahead, once again looking at the budget and giving lots of lessons to contribute to my Tokyo fund. Christmas was quiet, and a two weeks later I once again waved a tearful farewell to home, friends and family as I boarded the Boeing 777 knowing I won’t set foot on Australian soil until 2021.
2020 is going to be huge, and regardless of the outcome, the journey will be incredible.