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A Parent’s View from the sidelines • with Chris & Danielle Tomkins

This article is from the November 2020 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 realise the child’s dream. Add horses into the equation and the commitment in time and money doubles!

So who are the parents behind the child rider? What are their thoughts on the benefits and life lessons that horses and riding provide to their child? In this series, you will find out about the parent’s view from behind the scenes and at the sidelines.

Danielle, Chris and Holly on Princess Annie after they won the 2019 Australian Show Jumping Children’s Champion. Photo: Gone Riding Media.

Danielle, Chris and Holly on Princess Annie after they won the 2019 Australian Show Jumping Children’s Champion. Photo: Gone Riding Media.

How did Holly commence her riding career? Holly started riding when she was three years old. We bought a pony through Horse Deals from Victoria, sight unseen, and to our delight Tinkerbelle was exactly what we wanted in a first pony. She had a talent of walking and trotting a lot and only cantered if we accompanied Holly and ran beside her. Tinkerbelle was a good jumper, very kind with no dirt, giving Holly the confidence to continue jumping and find her passion in the sport.

What were your initial thoughts when you realised Holly was into horses? As we had horses of our own, Holly showed an interest and love for horses from a very young age. I was delighted, Dad not so much. As our eldest son was not at all interested in riding, Dad had visions of buying a large boat, fishing and cruising the Caribbean. However, after searching endlessly for a pony, eventually everyone had to join in, because we all know horses are very time-consuming and a family activity.

What was your experience with horses prior to your child’s interest? Both Chris and I grew up with horses. Riding from a very young age, Chris focusing on showjumping and myself on eventing. “Back in the old days,” it was a matter of getting horses from all resources. Ex-racehorses, horse sales and freebies. We accumulated quite a bit of experience between us and would like to think we are experienced equestrian enthusiasts with a lifetime of experience.

Does your own personal experience with horses have an impact on your child’s sport? Chris and myself rode and continue to ride into our more mature years. Our main focus to ride to the present day is to ensure as a parent and coach you are able to keep up with the never-ending changes within the sport and requirements as a competitor. As Holly is progressing into Juniors and Young Riders soon, it is our intention to educate young upcoming horses in which she can ride and be involved in their training and development to a higher level. We believe this will assist her in the future to develop her own skills in training young stock, considering it a necessity to stay in the sport with any longevity.

What were your expectations of Holly’s first pony and what did you end up with? Holly’s first pony was amazing. All we wanted was a quiet, trustworthy companion for which she was able to gain confidence, independently feed, lead and learn to saddle up. We believe it essential for Holly to value the privilege of owning her own horse and the commitment required to look after a living beauty to the best of her ability. Tinkerbelle was exactly what we ordered and couldn’t have asked for anything better. Tinkerbelle did seem a little hyper when she first arrived at our place and I did secretly think “what have I done”, but as days passed I think Tinkerbelle actually knew that she was transporting precious cargo. The most frustrating thing we thought, was that her fastest speed appeared to be trot. There were many afternoons trying to get Holly to canter, passing Holly a small crop after some months, Tinkerbelle would only canter a couple of strides at a time. Looking back I think Tinkerbelle was protecting Holly, and by only cantering in short spurts to start with, she was teaching Holly how to ride and balance a canter, and as parents that is perfect. Tinkerbelle’s first continuous canter was at a local gymkhana in the barrel race, cantering the whole course, probably tapping into Holly’s competitive nature and her will to do the best time possible. There was no gallop, just a steady canter. From there Holly started to jump around local show courses, loving every minute. The safest place for Holly was on Tinkerbelle’s back.

Holly and Tinkerbelle

Holly and Tinkerbelle

How do you juggle your time for horses between the rest of your commitments? Time commitment was never a problem for our family. As Chris and I had always owned horses, the time required was never anything out of the ordinary. As a family we always use the time travelling as our chance to get away and spend quality time together. Even though our son doesn’t ride, he enjoys the horses and is happy to clean stables and strap whilst we are away. As a family we enjoy seeing new places and sharing away time together in the truck. As parents we are grateful we can offer our children the opportunity to travel to competition, and in recent years have visited many states of Australia and what they have to offer on the way.

What are, or what do you think the life lessons and benefits of your child being involved with horses? Being involved in the health and care of horses, teaches many life lessons. Holly has learned to manage her time, commit to feeding up, develop unconditional relationships and appreciate the majestic presence of horses. I believe horses have shown Holly the importance of patience and the realisation that horses are not machines and require softness and connection. Holly has learned not all horses are the same, and to treat each one as an individual with respect. All qualities needed to make a rounded, confident person in all facets of life. Holly has also developed strong friendships within the sport. With some of her close friends being involved with horses and showjumping, they all share the passion and desire to ride. Being involved in horses gives Holly a purpose and sense of commitment. She is kept engaged and has developed the confidence to achieve her goals in and outside the sport. Horses can also be very sobering. Holly has learned that not everything comes easily and sometimes things will not go to plan. Valuable lessons in life, teaching children that you don’t always achieve everything you want in the first instance and it is OK to just achieve personal goals and sometimes lose.

As a family what sacrifices have you had to make in order to fulfil your child’s passion? As a family I don’t think we have had to sacrifice anything to continue in the sport, if anything it continues to keep our family connected and close. As Holly’s coach, Chris (Dad) spends many hours on the arena putting up and down fences, going through training exercises and living with Holly in the truck solo. Chris and Holly have developed a strong connection through understanding and learning from each other, whilst spending time together. Chris admits he only still rides to ensure that what he teaches can be backed up with action, and his daughter thinks he knows what he is talking about.

Horse riding is known as high risk. How do you come to terms with the risk factors? As riders, Chris and myself realise the dangers involved with riding. I think we agree the benefits far outweigh the risks. As educated parents we always try to ensure any opportunity Holly undertakes is within a safe environment and always ensure safety equipment is worn whilst riding. Growing up with horses is the best education in safety, and hopefully by offering Holly an environment full of horses and travelling, she learns necessary skills to help prevent and minimise accidental injury.

Holly and Princess Annie. Photo: Stephen Mowbray.

Holly and Princess Annie. Photo: Stephen Mowbray.

What enjoyment do you get out of watching your child ride? Any parent would agree that watching your children enjoying and achieving their goals is the most enjoyment you can get. It does not matter what it is your children choose to do, as long as they are happy, we are too. Watching Holly ride competitively however, I do admit, I get very nervous and only enjoy the moment after the finish line. Sometimes I can’t even watch her ride in the ring at big events. In 2019 Holly was competing for the title in the National Children’s Title at Boneo in Melbourne. It was the final day and the last competition. She was the last rider to go out. There was less than two rails in it and I knew she was really wanting the title, having lost it the year before. I think knowing how much she wanted to achieve her goal and take home the Children’s Championship, made me so much more nervous for her. That day I did not enjoy watching her ride, until the final clock stop. I was nowhere near the ring but out the back far away, internally self-combusting. Enjoyment… mmm… nerve-racking yes. Dad/coach was watching every minute, he says he never gets nervous, but the pacing back and forward as Holly witnessed, is not a usual trait.

What advice can you give to other parents whose child maybe interested in riding? To all parents out there looking to get their children into riding, as rewarding as it is, let me just say, you will need to dedicate most weekends towing a float, spending much of your hard-earned money on fancy things, buying a bigger parcel of land and buying a 4WD and float. That is until you start travelling overnight, then you will have to upgrade to a gooseneck or truck to stay warm and dry. But believe me, the benefits outweigh any negatives. As my father used to say when travelling home from an event together, “How many families do you know that are still travelling together well into their daughter’s teens and actually getting along?” Something we are and hopefully continue to do with Holly for many years.

Chris and Holly when Holly won 2016 FEI Australian Youth Bronze Tour Showjumping Champion

Chris and Holly when Holly won 2016 FEI Australian Youth Bronze Tour Showjumping Champion


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