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A Parent’s View From the Sidelines

This story is from the August 2019 Horse Deals magazine.

Behind every child rider, there is a parent who supports their child’s chosen discipline. Any sport a child is involved in takes a commitment in time and money to realize the child’s dream. Add horses into the equation and the commitment in time and money doubles!

So who are parents behind the child rider? What are their thoughts on the benefits and life lessons that horses and riding provide to their child?

Sandy Natale

How did your daughters Aida and Paige commence their riding career?
It was quite an accidental beginning. We had bought a neighbouring farm that had some existing stables on it that had belonged to a harness racing family. My husband Vince initially wanted to bulldoze the stables to plant extra grape vines. Luckily my father-in-law Tony, who has an interest in breeding Thoroughbreds, put a stop to that and took to renovating the stables for his racehorses. In the meantime, I had been offered a free lease of a bombproof little Shetland Maggie to pop in the stables to let the kids play with. Well, that turned out to be the most expensive ‘free’ pony, as a passion was unleashed and it has ultimately led to everything that we are doing to this day. And as a side note, none of Tony’s racehorses never got to enjoy the fruits of his labour in renovating the stables, it has been overrun with show ponies ever since!

Before long Paige followed in her sister’s footsteps and has had ponies on and off since she was a tiny tot. In fact, the same Shetty came back to give Paige the same beginning that Aida had had.

Aida and Maggie at their first ever show.

Aida and Maggie at their first ever show.

What were your initial thoughts when you realised Aida and Paige were into horses?
My initial and very naive thoughts were that it would be a fun little hobby that wouldn’t cost us much, as we already had the stables and a float to borrow. That didn’t last long as the commitments increased and the need for more gear, bigger floats, more ponies and extra yards never really ended.

Did you have experience with horses prior to your child’s interest?
I always had ponies as a kid and went to pony club for years. I attended local ag shows but nothing near what Aida and Paige get to do now. I am on a constant learning curve.

Does your own personal experience with horses have an impact on your child’s sport?
I guess it does. If I didn’t have an innate love for horses I don’t think I could put in the effort it takes. And I continue to buy them the ponies I dreamed of as a kid.

What were your expectations of your child’s first pony and what did you end up with?
My expectations of a first pony is a scruffy old, hairy pony that has been around the traps for years and on its way out. This was NOT how Aida’s journey began! Aida started with the absolute best pony that has ever graced the show ring. Thanks to Bobby Hammet of Hamlot Park who lives five minutes down the road, our beautiful Ascot Forever Amber found her way to us. She was that kind, scruffy old pony on the inside, and a beautiful, graceful show pony on the outside.

That pony never put a foot wrong and gave Aida the very best start a child could ever ask for. There were never any confidence issues. Whatever Aida asked that pony to do she did, from pony club, dressage, 3DE, bush to show ring and always with success. There was never a more perfect pony. Unfortunately, Paige had decided that she would prefer ballet and Amber was sold.

Paige’s interest has come and gone over the years and so she has had many ‘first’ ponies as she has come and gone from the sport. I don’t ever pressure the girls, they make their own choices as to whether they ride or not and at what level.

Aida and Ascot Forever Amber. <br>
Photo: Carmel Pethick.

Aida and Ascot Forever Amber.
Photo: Carmel Pethick.

How do you juggle your time for horses between the rest of your commitments?
It is certainly a juggling act and one I am sure many horsey families battle with. Our horses aren’t at our house, so that is an added hurdle. Aida doesn’t get home from school until after 5pm, so winter is very tricky just with her schedule alone. I try hard to not let it affect the rest of the family as I don’t believe they should have to sacrifice too much for Aida’s passion. Aida leaves home at 7am for a 100km journey to school, so the horses are done after I drop her at the bus while my son Ethan and Paige are still in bed. Riding nights fit around our schedule of ballet, netball and Ethan’s football commitments. But because of Aida’s dedication and drive, we will always squeeze in a ride even with the most difficult of time restraints.

As for the competitions, everyone has the choice to come with me or to stay at Nonna’s and it varies from show to show. Vince will try to come if he can, but unfortunately, most of the show season clashes with our harvest and it is difficult to sneak away. We often have to travel such long distances that we have no choice but to be away for a few days for every show. Luckily for me, I work on call as an emergency teacher so I can avoid going to work if I have to be at a show. It is certainly getting easier as every year ticks by and the kids are becoming more independent. They can stay home if need be and Aida needs less supervision and is quite capable when we are at the stables. When we arrive, we all have our roles and we are a well-oiled machine. We all go about our business and help one another.

As a family what sacrifices have you had to make in order to fulfill your child’s passion?
The main sacrifice is time. It just takes so much time to prepare and compete. That being said, however, family comes first and if a competition clashes with a family event we will scratch or not enter. It is not our be all and end all. It is a sport and a hobby and there is life outside of it. If you miss an event, there will be another chance next week or next year.

Aida and Lily’s Pageant. Photo: Lisa Gordon.

Aida and Lily’s Pageant. Photo: Lisa Gordon.

What are the lessons provided with horse ownership?
The main lesson I would say is that hard work pays off. None of my kids are scared of hard work and will help to keep the stables clean and the ponies happy and healthy. I simply can’t do everything and actually rely on them to help. It’s a family effort. Also, you learn to take the highest of highs with the lowest of lows. Every showy will say that some days are diamonds and some days are dust (or as my husband so eloquently puts it. “Sometimes you’re the shovel and sometimes you’re the shit!”). Either way, it’s certainly a lesson in life and you learn to grow a thick skin and just enjoy yourself regardless of the opinions of others. It’s a lesson in doing something you love and not worrying about anyone else.

Horse riding is known as a high-risk sport, how do you come to terms with the risk factors?
Well firstly I try to buy suitable ponies off reputable sellers and I must say we have been very lucky so far. Everyone we have ever bought a pony off has stayed in our lives, and I will always listen to the advice of a previous owner or breeder. We have made some beautiful friends of the people we have bought ponies from. Secondly, I am always very careful about everything where safety is concerned. All my years at pony club have taught me that safety comes first. I’m happy to miss a class or a competition if the horse or the rider doesn’t ‘feel’ right. It really is about fun over wins for us.

Paige and Sandy at VASA. <br>
Photo: Angie Rickard

Paige and Sandy at VASA.
Photo: Angie Rickard

What enjoyment do you get out of watching your kid ride?
I love everything about it! The perfect workout on a well-presented pony will bring a tear to my eye. Watching all the hard work and effort come together and pay off is just the best feeling.

What advice can you give to other parents whose child may be interested in riding?
There are many ways to enjoy pony ownership. You can enjoy horses in your own way. Choose the path that suits your family and your circumstances. Competition isn’t for everyone and there is a lot of fun that can be had without the pressure of the show ring. But if you do choose the show ring, make sure you take the time to actually enjoy it. The hard work is done at home. Once you get to the show there’s not much else you can do so enjoy the ponies, enjoy the people, enjoy the wine and enjoy watching the kids have fun and forge new friendships. And most of all be kind to one another.

Aida and Lily’s Pageant winning Champion Child’s Large Open Pony at Grand Nationals 2019. <br>
Photo: Lisa Gordon.

Aida and Lily’s Pageant winning Champion Child’s Large Open Pony at Grand Nationals 2019.
Photo: Lisa Gordon.

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