This article is from the September 2019 Horse Deals magazine.
Delwyn and Precious Dreams at the Melbourne 3DE 2019 where they competed in the CCI3*-L.
Photo: Michelle Terlato
How would you describe yourself?
A down to earth, fiercely loyal, humble country girl who is very happy in her own skin doing what she truly loves.
Why do you have horses? How do you justify the money, time and dedication they require?
I love the connection I have with them mentally. I find them terribly soul searching. The sheer joy they bring me when I ride is such a unique, wonderful feeling.
I have always said that when horses become part of you, ultimately the life you choose, along with the many personal and financial sacrifices you make, become a lifestyle choice. Once the choice has been made it’s not a matter of feeling like I’m justifying anything, I’m living a lifestyle I chose long ago that continues to bring me a happiness and fulfilment I do not believe I would find elsewhere.
When did you discover your passion for horses and what was your early equestrian life like?
I grew up on a dairy farm at Poowong, a small town in Gippsland. From as early as I can remember my father would hitch up Boxer and Rosie, our draught horses who were our farm tractor. I would sit behind their collars and spend time with them. I felt like they invited me into their lives and they made me feel happy. It was from the age of six that I was totally bitten by the horsey bug. All I wanted to do was ride and ride I did, be it cows, calves, pretty much anything I could try to ride. Then at the age of eight my dreams came true and having craved for a pony of my own I was given the naughtiest little pony called Fluffy. We couldn’t afford a saddle but that didn’t stop me, so I became an excellent little bareback rider and Fluffy and I rounded up the cows before and after school. On weekends Fluffy and I were inseparable. I had a hessian bag with a packed lunch and off we go exploring, jumping fences and spending time in the forest. My childhood was not always the happiest, so this time with Fluffy enabled me to immerse myself in a safe place with just the two of us. It was in this safe place that I would dream of bigger things to come.
I was an original member of Loch Nyora Pony Club and I looked forward to rallies as this was the only form of coaching I received until I was 18 years of age. Pony club enabled me to have a go at all disciplines and I even did a bit of showing. But when I qualified to compete at State Champs at novice level (grade 1) I was so excited to represent my club. I was fortunate to be on the winning team and from this time forward I was well and truly bitten by the eventing bug. For me, eventing presented the ultimate challenge of training a horse to perform well across three phases and the trust and connection required between horse and rider was something I thrived on. Eventing is part of me, it runs through my blood.
Spring HT 2017
Photo: Equine Focus Photography
Why did you pack your competition gear away in 2012, and what influenced your return to competition?
In 2012 I finished my journey on a special horse called Grey Smudge. Smudgie had come into my life four years earlier at a time when I needed an equine friend more than ever. My personal life was not in a good place. He was special and I knew I had found my next horse who I could really take somewhere and we embarked on a journey with international dreams in mind. We went to 4 star but fell short of where I really wanted to be and at 55 years of age I felt that my competition years were over. I packed away my top hat and tails and focussed on work at home, training and educating horses and coaching the next generation of riders who I am always passionate about.
In 2013 I met my partner Julie and her little girl Sophie, a special little rider who had big dreams of her own. Julie loved hearing my stories of competing over the many years and encouraged me to get back out there again. She always told me that “age is just a number” and felt I still had so much left to give. She made me promise that one day I would once again wear my top hat and tails and ride not only for myself but for her too. So there you have it, I got back out there and in 2017 when I again donned my top hat and tails there were just a few tears of joy being shed.
You came back into the competition scene riding your gorgeous Precious Dreams. How did she come into your life?
I was looking for a new horse, something special with movement and potential to go through the levels. A good friend of mine Judy Gronn had always had a good eye for a horse and I contacted her to see if she knew of anything that might suit. Judy did know of a lovely black mare by Sirocco bred by some friends of hers, Nicole Vanatta and Charlie Pragnall. I went to look at the mare and liked what I saw. In the meantime, little Sophie had finished her journey on her horse Dreamy and Julie and I both felt the black mare would be perfect for Sophie. I had learnt about being a mother and putting your children first, so we actually bought the mare for Sophie which is the reason we called her Precious Dreams, after In Your Dreams (Dreamy).
A few months later Sophie broke her collarbone and I was riding Precious Dreams over this time. Sophie could see the connection I had with the mare and she suggested I keep going with her when another special horse came up for Soph. So there the journey began. We are so lucky to share Precious Dreams with Catherine and Judy Kerr. It’s a special journey and we always say how the “dreams are precious indeed”.
With the amount of eventing experience you have, are nerves and confidence ever an issue before competing?
I don’t think you would be human if you didn’t get a little nervous before competing, no matter how experienced you are. I believe nerves are required to get your adrenaline pumping, particularly before a cross country run.
Delwyn and Precious Dreams at Ballarat HT 2019 in the CCI4*-S.
Photo: Equine Focus Photography
You had a serious accident earlier in your riding career where you ended up in a walking frame for four months. Did this affect your overall outlook on riding?
Prior to having my accident where a horse flipped over on top of me and fractured my pelvis I actually thought I was invincible. I realised over the decades of riding so many different horses how my mindset was one that I didn’t really ever consider how fragile we as humans actually are. My accident was a redefining moment in time for me. I realised how precious life was and how lucky I was to be given a second chance. Riding was my livelihood so I didn’t really have a choice about getting back in the saddle. Was I apprehensive when the time came for me to get back on… yes. Was I physically still in a lot of pain but felt I didn’t have a choice as I needed to ride to earn an income... yes. But ultimately did I ever think I wouldn’t get back on a horse... no. Riding was and is part of who I am. I’m glad I got back on and as strange as it seems I’m also glad in a way that my accident happened. It taught me to take better care of myself and to make better decisions around safety and calculated risks. I’m a better person and rider for all of these factors.
How do you keep yourself and your horse as safe as possible out on course?
Years of experience has taught me a lot about safety and taking every safety precaution for both myself and my horse. There is so much that occurs behind the scenes prior to a competition that contributes to being safe out on course. The first one is preparation and training. Laying a sound foundation in training at home is paramount. Too many riders are in a hurry to get out and compete regardless of foundation training at home. Rushing through the levels is not something I advocate and establishing solid performance at each level is vitally important. When the pre-work has been done correctly in training prior to a competition, this eliminates much of the risk.
Of course on the day of competition, there are many factors that contribute to safety also. These include walking the cross country course several times and making sure you have a sound plan for how to ride each line prior to heading out. That being said you also have to be prepared to change that plan in a split second and trust that your horse is confident enough and sure enough to have your back in some moments on course also. Wearing good safety gear is also very important. From the time I started competing again in 2014 my partner Julie insisted I wear a level 3 back protector and air vest at competitions and during schooling. Heading out on course I know I have taken every precaution to keep myself as safe possible. Riding to the conditions is such an important factor in eventing and sometimes getting home safely is far more important than beating the clock home. Never make time your enemy.
Eventing is physically demanding for both horse and rider. How do you ensure you are both strong, fit and ready to compete?
There is a genuine art to having a sound, fit horse ready for competition. Working backwards from a key competition is the best way to start your planning. I map out a plan months in advance and plan which competitions will provide the best lead up to the pinnacle of the season, being a three day event. I never commence the season competing on a hilly course and if starting in summer always give consideration to the hard ground. Cross training is an excellent way of getting your horse fit and my horse does weekly water walking and hill work in the Bunyip State Forest. As for myself, I ride several horses a day and manage our 22 acre property so I tend to stay very fit through my daily activities. Good diet and sound sleep is also really important for me too.
Melbourne 3DE 2019
Photo: Michelle Terlato
What are the most influential words of advice you have been given?
“Never make time your enemy, enjoy your journey as much as you enjoy being at your destination”.
You get asked a lot “when are you going to finish?” What is your response to this and why do you continue to compete?
I’m almost 62 years of age but I believe I have never ridden better than I am right now. Some people may think I’m crazy to keep going but I absolutely love it and I’m out there still making my presence felt. As long as I wake up every day and cannot wait to ride my beautiful Precious Dreams I will keep going. It’s my happy place and something I share with my family and wonderful friends. Age really is just a number.
What are your future plans?
To keep loving what I do both on and off the horse. I love to give back to my sport and grooming the future generations of riders to love what they do and be safe whilst doing it.
I get as much satisfaction from training the horses at home as I do from winning a rosette at a competition. When a horse lets me in and gives their trust I see this as their ultimate compliment to me. I truly believe I was born to ride and I feel so blessed to continue doing this every day.
Sponsors: Rosehip Vital, Melbourne Equine Vet Group, The Dancing Horse Saddlery, Bombers Bits, Arc Equine, Jin Stirrup, Don Hoffman, Darren Lynch, Bestitiched Embroidery and Equine Focus Photography.
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