STEPH SPENCER’S AMAZING JOURNEY

Redskin and I finished our three and a half month eastern states campaign at the Victorian State Dressage Championships in mid-December. Coming home with Reserve Champion Small Tour at Redskin’s first ever CDI, top 10 finishes in every class at Nationals, along with WA finishing 2nd in the State teams competition, riding in front of Carl Hester and 2500 people in a massive atmosphere.

The final stop before home was the Dressage Festival. Part of me just wanted to be home already in my own bed with my own stables and the rest of my horses, but the other half really wanted to prove how hard we’d been training over the past few months whilst based in Victoria, taking full advantage of the amazing coaches based there. 2nd in the Prix St Georges and to top it all off, the winner of the Aachen Challenge – I think a great decision to stay and perhaps I need to adopt the ‘take it as it comes’ and relaxed attitude more often!!

The Aachen Challenge is a very prestigious competition held annually at the Victorian State Dressage championships. The incredible prize includes flights, accommodation and tickets to Aachen CHIO in July 2017.

Riders from 16 to 25 years are eligible and all ride in the first round test which is an FEI Young Rider test which is Advanced/PSG level. In 2016, there were 15 entrants. The top three combinations go through to the second round the following day and have to swap horses. The evening of the first round, the top 3 riders are given the test to learn. This test is compiled especially for this event and contains all components of a PSG test. On the day of the final, each rider rides the test on their own horse first and then the real fun begins!

The horses stay in the same order (Redskin was the 3rd horse to go each time), as it is a very big ask of them to ride a test of that level 3 times in a short period of time.  Each rider has 9 minutes warm up and then 1 minute around the arena before having to ride through this test. It’s amazing how quickly that warm-up time goes. You have to basically have time to find all of the buttons plus schedule in a walk break for them before you head in. I must say, each horse was a real pleasure and really tried their best for each rider, we were very lucky.

The judges mark each test as normal and the winner is the rider with the highest combined percentage from all three horses on the second day. It really was amazing how much fun it was even though it was such a challenging and intense competition-I had the absolute best time!! The other girls really enjoyed Redskin so that was very rewarding and fulfilling for me to hear and watch. Obviously, the prize is a large incentive but to me, the final round is so challenging and looked like super fun that I really wanted to give it a go before I got too old!

It really was so important to have a super team to help and I was so lucky I had exactly that. Brandon Farrugia was chief ‘Redskin carer’, so he walked and patted him and made sure the other girls got on okay, Mum was ‘waterboy’ and eyes on the ground for me along with my good friend Shanon McKimmie who has actually won this competition herself twice!! Mary Hanna, my coach, was watching the other horses in the test with their own riders to give me a few tips, Chelsea Farrugia was checking the live scoring and Dad videoed all of my rides along with all of Redskin’s tests so I could look back and watch, which was a really lovely touch. So I can’t thank them all enough.

After a few days off for Redskin in a nice big paddock, while we packed up, Redskin myself and my parents all arrived home in time for Christmas and enjoyed a well-deserved rest before heading to Aachen in 6 months time!

The time finally arrived and I met Mum and Dad to enjoy the experience with me, which I think was so fitting given how much support they show me! Thanks to a lovely travel agent organised through Dressage Victoria, Marian had my flights booked in no time and we had very central accommodation in the lovely old town of Aachen.

Aachen CHIO-WOW. The whole city knows about this event, the Germans sure know how to organise! Everything was so easy and smooth to get to the competition and once you made your way there, you just sat and enjoyed. To be able to see the warm-up and training arenas so closely as well as the, relatively speaking, small dressage stadium, you could see everything. That’s if you didn’t get lost in the trade villages! The showjumping and eventing were also super exciting to watch if you could schedule a peek between some seriously amazing Dressage! But the one thing I absolutely loved and admired was the Carriage  Driving – wow they are just amazing how they can control 4 horses at once! I struggle with only one!!  Boyd Excell really is the master and it was amazing to see them all so close in action in the marathon (Cross Country) phase.

It was phenomenal to watch Laura, Isabelle and Sonnke battle out the top 3 places very closely in each competition. You are so close to the horses’ riders in the stadium, you can see every expression on their faces. The way they handled and reacted to mistakes or moments not quite going to plan was what I loved to watch and learn from. It would be nice if it was always to plan but even at that level, they aren’t perfect all of the time either! We were sat right behind C so the view was amazing especially watching the sun set over the stadium whilst some of the worlds best riders are showing their horses to the best of their ability in a very high-pressure situation.

Even the quality in the 4* competition was of super quality. We were spoilt!

To have the Australian Eventing team there and being so successful was also a real highlight to watch and be a part of.

I can’t thank Marcus Oldham College enough for this wonderful opportunity and experience. I can honestly say it was the most fun I’ve ever had in a competition and the prize just leaves you in complete awe.

Steph

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