Mary and Sancette, representing Australia at the London Games
It really is amazing, you thought that Sancette would never be sound enough to compete again – and here he is winning the big Grand Prix… are you going to re-name him Lazarus?
Mary is laughing happily: “He is just such a good character, and yes, he will always rise again.”
You had given up on him?
“I had given up. I put him out in the front paddock with a mare and foal, and old Porty (Port Said) and Sancette decided he was in charge and rounded them up all winter, and he ran them up and down the hill. He seemed sound, strong and good. He just exercised himself up and down the hill, when he came in, his feet were really hard, his legs were clean and he said, ‘come and get me, I’m ready to do it again.’ So we did.”
“You know he is my favorite horse. I just love that horse so much.”
Did it take you long to get him back in work?
“We were very careful. We’ve got this aquitrainer, it’s a treadmill in water. He built up to twenty minutes on the acquitrainer and he did that for six / eight weeks. Then we started the leg work, walking, ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour, forty minutes and by the time I got home they had him soft shoe trotting and a little bit of canter, lots of walking, plus the treadmill every day. When I got home he was as fit as a fiddle. Amazing!”
Had he forgotten anything?
“No. It’s amazing like that, they never forget.”
It’s depressing isn’t it, when you take them out of the paddock and they go as well as they did when you were riding them every day…
“Sometimes they go better!”
And Boogie Woogie, that’s another plus for you, he keeps going better and better…
“I’ve got my aim with him, and we are on track. I’ve just got to get those changes a bit more reliable and then it is all there. The judges like him and they want to give him the points, now it’s my job, I have to ride him better because I know he’s got what it takes to be at the top. I can only blame myself if it doesn’t happen.”
You are back in Australia for a long time? A short time…
“It’s still up in the air, I’m thinking of going away for a few months this winter, but I am trying to weigh up the stress on the horses, and what’s the right thing to do by them but still keep in the game and keep up the training. I think if you don’t do that, you slip behind quickly. It’s very difficult, that’s our problem living here, how do you get the balance? I love being home and I really enjoy the competition here, and of course my family is here – and the grand children. I want to be here, but I also want to do well and see how far I can push myself. It’s a balancing act.”
Is what you miss more the eyes on the ground, or the competition?
“It’s everything, it is every part of it. It’s the daily training, it’s having someone there who is incredibly supportive – incredible mental support, always lifting you up, saying, you can do it – which is something that lacks a bit here, everyone is busy here saying nobody can do it, that we can’t do it. I just get so angry when I hear that because if you don’t have positive thinking, you will do nothing. If you think you are bad, you will be bad. You have to have positive feedback and think positive or you will never ever get anywhere.”
“That’s part of it, and I love watching the good riders at the competitions. I think one of the most valuable days I had, I went over to Balve and watched the German Championships – watching all those top German riders, it was just imprinted in my brain. I loved doing that, and it really helped. That’s part of it, and then you’ve got to go out and compete against the best, you have to ride the best you can – all of those things lift you up.”
Mary seems to have discovered a new star with her mare, Calanta – a recent winner at Inter I level…
“I bought her a couple of years at ago in Holland, at that stage she was barely at M level, when I say ‘barely’ she was late one side in her changes, and had no extended trot. Patrik Kittel my trainer, said to me that he could not understand why I wanted to buy that horse – but when you sit on her, she gives you a very nice feeling. Eventually when Patrik got to sit on her, he could feel what I was talking about. She gives you this incredible feeling of power and elasticity. Even though she couldn’t do piaffe / passage at that stage, you had the feeling that she had them in her.”
“She’s by the Grand Prix stallion, Johnson – a good type.”
And you got a fairly smart trainer to work her in for you for the show…
(Mary is laughing since Calanta was ridden by Charlotte Dujardin in a masterclass, just a week before the competition…)
“I did! It was very helpful, so I thought I’d go back to the scene of the crime and see how it all worked out.”
You said you found Charlotte very interesting with her comments…
“Calanta is a hot horse, she’s a real Johnson. You can have someone say the words to you about how to handle a hot horse in real atmosphere, but to watch someone actually do it, and see it with your own eyes, that is imprinted on you. It really made a difference when I went to ride her in the same arena, I knew exactly how to deal with it. Of course it was perfect because I went back to the same place, but of course there was much less atmosphere because it was just a normal competition day. But she can still be a bit looky and get a little uptight about things, but I had it clear in my mind from Charlotte, what to do, how to ride her. Charlotte had shown me that it could be done, and how to do it.”
“So I took her to the competition early, and worked her in, and I was able to keep thinking about what Charlotte had said and how to handle it. When you feel the horse is getting upset and wanting to run through the bridle a bit, give the rein, don’t pull back at her. And you give the horse the security of a little more leg, and ride forward out of the situation – don’t try to pull back. Make sure the horse is going into the connection – these are all the things that were going through my mind. I was able to put all the things Charlotte told me to the test, and it worked perfectly.”
And you won?
“That’s not so important really, I don’t compete against others so much as against myself. I was just happy with the test, and yes, I did win but I went out to test Charlotte’s words and put them into action, and see how well the horse behaved when you rode her like that.”