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Interview with Eventing Young Rider Teagan Christie

Teagan and Digby at the 2023 Equestrian In The Park. Photo: Vicki Tapper Photography.

Teagan and Digby at the 2023 Equestrian In The Park. Photo: Vicki Tapper Photography.

At just 16 years of age, Teagan Christie won the 2023 Grand Prix Class at Equestrian In The Park - a feat that has made history, given she is the only junior rider ever to do so.

Overcoming hurdles with her horse Digby, Teagan’s sheer determination, passion and skill have allowed her to reach heights she never thought were possible. Teagan shares her journey with Horse Deals.

Age: 16

Lives: Orange Grove, Perth, WA

Education/occupation: Just finished Year 11 at St Brigid’s College Lesmurdie. I work part-time at Kmart Maddington.

Family history with horses? My mum, Nicole, has ridden horses since she was six and owned them since she was 13. She didn’t event until she had her own property in her 30s. We have lived at our small horse property in Orange Grove since 2001. I have lived here all my life.

Tell us about your early involvement with horses. I started at Orange Grove Horse and Pony Club at six years old. Mum eventually became President for five years and Event Secretary. My first pony was a gorgeous little 11.2hh palomino Welsh X called Sunny, and my second pony was Fleur, the dressage diva, who would try her hoof at anything but really needed convincing cross country. Numerous times, we were winning after dressage and showjumping to have a fall or get eliminated cross country. It was almost like the further she got around the course, the less confident she became. Our one and only win at 45cm was a hard-fought battle won, after which Fleur was retired to the dressage arena.

What was your first competition, and how did it go? My first competition was an in-house gymkhana at our pony club on Sunny, where he shone in the hack ring but was a bit feisty in the novelties.

What are your top three most memorable wins? The Grand Prix win at Equestrian in the Park stands out as one of the defining moments in my equestrian journey. This prestigious competition, renowned for its challenging courses and high-stakes atmosphere, provided the perfect stage for me to demonstrate our skill and dedication in getting back to a top level after our setbacks this year. The Junior Diamond Class win at Equestrian In the Park the year before was an unforgettable chapter in our journey. After getting eliminated the year before, it was amazing to watch back on our ride and see how harmonious and in sync Digby and I were. Being crowned Junior Rider of the Year in 2022 marked the culmination of our exceptional year, which included placing third in the Junior 2-Star competition in Melbourne. These three memorable wins constantly remind me of my passion and dedication for riding.

Can you tell us about Amani Phantasie and your journey with him? My mum bought Digby as a weanling at six months old from a small local breeder in Brunswick Junction, Emily Marston of Amani Downs Performance Horses. Digby is a almost pure bred Trakehner by Highfield Vivaldi (imported by Anna Thompson of Primrose Court Warmblood Stud) and One Night in Paris (by Lutz).

Mum started him with the help of Don Hawkins, though she did fracture her cheekbone in the process! Mum got him up to prelim eventing with the help of Jess Manson, and Digby won two Young Event Horse Titles, one with Mum and one with Jess. Pre Novice was mum’s limit, so we offered him to Jess to ride, and she took him to NSW to be based at Prue Barrett’s and took him through the levels to 3-Star, winning at Sydney in Feb 2018.

In June 2018, we flew to watch him compete with Jess Somerfield at Melbourne, who had taken on the ride. Unfortunately he suffered a tendon injury at this event, so we got him trucked home. After rehab, at the end of 2019, he became my full-time ride. We moved up the grades quickly and had a lot of success early on. I went from barely making it around cross country at 45/65 to winning the Junior 1-Star leaderboard in two years.

A happy Teagan aboard Digby after successful 2023 Equestrian In The Park. Photo: Waylib Photos

A happy Teagan aboard Digby after successful 2023 Equestrian In The Park. Photo: Waylib Photos

What was it like travelling to Victoria and placing third at the 2022 Melbourne International three-day event? We had planned on travelling to Victoria in September 2021 for the Pony Club Nationals and Interschools to compete in 1-Star However, this was cancelled due to COVID-19. We were still able to compete in the Pony Club Nationals virtually, and Digby and I were named National Champions in Combined Training even though we competed up an age category so that we could compete at 105cm.

In December 2021, Sonja Johnson suggested to us that we travel to Werribee to compete in the Junior 2-Star. At this stage, we had not even competed at 2-Star level, so we did laugh it off….but after some thought, we decided that if we got the qualifications, we would go after the disappointment of missing out the year before. So, we came out at 2-Star at Capel in March 2022, came third and were the highest-placed young rider at Wayer in April and third and highest-placed young rider at Murray in mid-April 2022.

Having our three qualifications, we started making plans. Cindy and Riley Lyall took Digby across for us, not without some drama with the horses being attacked by camels on the first night. Digby still bears the faint scars in his face from this night and can smell a camel from miles away!

Honestly, we tried not to have any big expectations; Digby was feeling very well after his trip, though, hopefully not too well for the dressage! We were so grateful to have Sonja there to warm us up for our test, resulting in a PB at this level and placing us sixth. Cross country looked very doable. We felt well prepared by the events we’d done in WA, however there was some panic when I fell off in the warm-up when Digby spooked, blowing a canister of my air vest, and then we blew the replacement canister trying to fit it, so I had to borrow a Hit Air vest from fellow WA competitor, Tessa Sharman-Farrelly. We ended up going in with the seniors after getting this sorted and being checked by the medics. A bit flustered, we were so pleased with how Digby ate up the course, which resulted in more panic as we realised we had come in over 30 seconds under time… never being in this situation before, we thought we’d lost our place from speeding fines, so were relieved to be told by Jess Somerfield that they don’t apply at FEI….phew!

After XC we moved up to third. It was a long wait to showjump the next day, and the light was fading very quickly. There weren’t many clear rounds in the senior’s class, so we were all a bit concerned. Digs is normally a clean showjumper, though, so we just went in and gave it our best shot, and I was just thrilled to go clear and finish on my dressage score at such a major event. At only 15 years old, it was a huge achievement and a memory that will stay with me forever. I think it’s a dream of most eventers to have a photo of them jumping in front of the mansion, so it’s a dream come true for me.

In 2023, you were named the WA Junior Rider of the Year. What is the secret to your success? I was awarded the WA Junior Rider on the back of our success at Melbourne and our win at Equestrian in the Park later that year in 2022. This was a complete surprise, as I thought the standard of competition in all disciplines was outstanding, so I was very proud to win this award. To be honest, both of these results were not really expected, as we were quite green to 2-Star level at Melbourne and having been eliminated at our first attempt at Equestrian in the Park the year before. I can only say that my partnership with Digby, while strong, is always developing and I still have a lot to learn about the sport. The support we receive from the High-Performance Team at EWA is outstanding, from Zoom meetings to learn about various aspects of training and care for ourselves and our horses to the incredible coaches that they bring in for us from across the globe. We have a fantastic eventing season in WA, with super course builders locally and brought in from other states. We were very lucky during COVID-19 not to have our events too impacted. In addition, I am a member of the Yes-WA squad, run by coach Phillipa Collier, who supports us with clinics and, most importantly, at events, which I feel, as a young rider, is invaluable.

Congratulations on another win at Equestrian In The Park. What was it like to take out the Grand Prix class after your Junior class win the year prior? We were completely blown away by this result actually and still say to each other, we can’t believe it actually happened! This year has not been easy for Digs and me; after a failed upgrade to 3-Star in April, which in hindsight was the wrong event for us to choose, we then had a scare training, which resulted in a loss of confidence for us both. We were eliminated twice after downgrading to 1-Star, so since July, we have been working with Phillipa Collier and Sophie Warren to build ourselves back up again. There were certainly times when we thought our partnership was broken beyond repair; it has been a long, slow process. It only really felt like at Murray Grand Prix the week before, and the clinics with Laura Collett that were organised by Sarah Micallef and the team at Equestrian in the Park, in the week of the event, that we knew he was back at the top of his game, a placing would have been a blessing, to win…just unbelievable. It is exciting to be able to say I am the only junior to have won the Grand Prix, and we are the only combination to have had consecutive wins in the event’s 10-year history.

Crowned the 2023 Grand Prix Champions at the Equestrian In The Park, Teagan and Digby enjoy their lap of honour.  Photo: Vicki Tapper Photography.

Crowned the 2023 Grand Prix Champions at the Equestrian In The Park, Teagan and Digby enjoy their lap of honour. Photo: Vicki Tapper Photography.

We have to ask the question - what are you going to do with that cheque? I spent it three days later, buying my first car! I wanted a particular car that Mum and Dad said they couldn’t stretch the budget for, so I jokingly said, “I’ll just win Equestrian in the Park and buy it myself.” Of course, I was not expecting it actually to happen!

How do you deal with the pressures and nerves at the big events? I feel nervous in the warm-up, but once I’m out there doing it, everything else just fades away, and Digby and I, doing our thing.

Do you have any other rides? Yes, we have Osti, Digby’s younger half-brother. Unfortunately, he had an eye graft a few years ago, which does seem to affect his confidence at some fences, so we aren’t sure if he’s going to be brave enough to be an eventer, which is a real shame, as he’s a lovely fellow, with super movement and a nice shape over a fence. We will keep plugging away with him next year while I am in Year 12 and take it from there.

Walk us through a day as Teagan Christie. My days vary depending on the horse’s exercise program. I’m still at school, so my schoolwork and school days are a priority. However, between my mum and I, we get everything done together. I feel it’s important to socialise with school friends when I get the chance and do normal things such as working at Kmart and going to Rottnest and the movies.

Who’s your idol? Laura Collett, a reputable five-star eventer and Olympic gold medallist, is without a doubt my idol. Beyond her accomplishments, Laura is admired for her modesty, sportsmanship, and sincere affection for the horses who have supported her throughout her journey. She is well-liked by both fans and other riders because of her devotion to the welfare of her equine partners and the values of the sport. Laura Collett is an inspiration to future riders because of her story, which highlights the unbreakable bond between horse and rider as well as determination, passion, and a broader context outside of the sport. It was absolutely incredible to have had the opportunity to compete against and ride with one of the world’s best at Equestrian In the Park.

What are the best words of advice you’ve been given? Don’t rely on others’ failure for your success; concentrate on being better yourself, and the results will come. We never wait around and watch to see the results of other riders to know the outcome of our day or weekend; we walk back to the truck to look after our horses, knowing we have done our best and what will be will be. Hence, we did not know at Equestrian in the Park that we had won until they called us to put our rugs and garlands on!

Which horse has taught you the most as a rider and why? None of my horses/ponies have been easy, even though Digs was trained to 3-Star, he wasn’t established at it, and our year this year has shown me that one moment can mess things up, to then take a lot of effort to get back to where you were. There are so many different kinds of horses; mine all have had a good sense of self-preservation, which makes them careful, which is great, but also fragile at the same time. I love playing with Digby’s many buttons; we were Medium Champions at the Pony Club WA State Dressage Championships this year, where we won all three of our tests, including our Freestyle; this was lots of fun, as in Pony Club; we get to wear fancy dress! Fleur taught me to love dressage, but despite our many attempts at eventing, it just wasn’t her thing, and I had to accept that and enjoy the things we could do well together.

What are your future plans? Now that Digs and I are back on track, next year we will compete at 2-Star early in the year, then plan on upgrading to 3-Star at Murray, gain our qualifications and experience throughout 2024, and hopefully travel to Adelaide in 2025.

Teagan is proudly sponsored by Horseland Kelmscott, West Coast Vets, BetaVet Australia, Jinn Stirrups Australia, Nags to Riches.

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