This year for Equitana, I designed two freestyles for the Dressage Spectacular which were performed on the Saturday night. To open the Dressage Spectacular, I was delighted to be working with three of Australia’s most talented musicians, Elena Kats-Chernin, a Russian born composer who now calls Australia home, Chris Latham (violin) and William Barton (Didgeridju) to create the Equitana Symphony.
This routine was performed by our very own Maree Tomkinson riding her beautiful bay horse Lanzaro. I chose pieces Elena had written then arranged them around the choreography that I had designed. So many people were involved in this process and it was truly an incredible experience and something I have always dreamed of doing.
As Maree’s horse was still in quarantine, I called on the help of Charlotte Pederson who very kindly rode and filmed the routine on a similar sized horse, so that I could edit the music which was then sent to Elena’s copyist Peggy for notating, which is the process of putting the music on manuscript for the musicians to read. After many emails, midi files and singing over the phone, we decided it was ready for the musicians to rehearse. It was an epic effort for all concerned with Chris Latham flying in from Sydney, William Barton from Qld and the Melbourne musicians all meeting together for rehearsal, the day before the performance.
Maree and Lanzaro had only heard the music as a midi file, which is a very basic electronic recording and it is testimony to Maree’s untapped musical ability, that she was able to rehearse to this as well as understand all the phrasing and where it fitted with her choreography. She was further challenged on the night of the performance after warming up under the most appalling weather conditions with hail and driving rain, Maree and Lanzaro entered the arena, after William Barton’s didgeridoo solo, looking magnificent.
All was going swimmingly until someone turned on the big screen, and Lanzaro saw himself and took fright heading straight towards the musicians. He is a big horse and Maree is tiny. He looked like a freight train and as I began to fear for the safety of Maree and the musicians, she suddenly had him under control and back to business. She knew exactly how much choreography she had missed and where she needed to be. I am amazed by her professionalism and courage under fire. I don’t know if anyone else would have been able to do what she did. The remainder of the performance was full of grace and beauty and exactly what we had envisaged the Equitana Symphony to embody. It was great fun, especially working with the musicians and talking each others lingo. I hope to do more of this in the future.
The second performance was a freestyle that I designed for Danish rider Andreas Helgstrand. He closed the show with this incredible performance riding my old friend and most incredible Grand Prix horse, Whisper IV owned by Dr Kerry Mack. Whisper is such a showman and never lets me down, even with 4500 people watching at night with dried ice and a spot light on him during the entire performance. He was the perfect horse for Andreas. They just fitted each other.
I remember Andrea’s first ride on him. He was walking up from the stables and hadn’t even made it to the arena yet and he already had a huge grin on his face. Whisper is his kind of horse. The night of the performance was the first time Andreas had ridden him to the music and after having only watched it on video and listening to the music twice! Andreas has an incredible memory and I have never worked with any one who can memorise choreography so fast!
But I will never be able to express my gratitude to Dr Kerry Mack, who after having me call her at the eleventh hour, graciously agreed to bring Whisper with her for Andreas to ride, after his other ride had fallen through. She was already bringing her other amazing stallion Pzazz to compete on and to be able to do this at such short notice was truly a big ask. Andreas’s freestyle would not have been the spectacular that is was without the generosity of Dr Kerry Mack. My heartfelt thanks also go to Kerry’s groom Brya. She is unflappable and the horse, despite the short notice, was immaculate in every way.
For the Western Spectacular which was held on the Friday night, I helped Brett Parbery to design a freestyle which was based around a Western Theme. He rode dressage movements on the Inter 1 horse Welthill (owned by Beth Turner), wearing western clothes and it was so well received by the Western audience. I think they have finally forgiven him for defecting to dressage. That and the fact that he rode the worst bronc they could find for him and lasted the 8 eight seconds! Well done Brett. Now both Dressage and Western understand and appreciate you.
I gave two Education Sessions at Equitana on Freestyle Design, which was great fun. I have to admit that I was a little nervous about speaking in front of such a large audience, but after the introductions were over I settled into talking about the work I love and the nerves quickly evaporated. My aim was to educate and inspire and I received some very positive feedback. Thank you to my clients who I had never met that came and introduced themselves. It was great to meet you in person!
I was very fortunate to have the most entertaining and talented demonstration rider for my talks who added humour, beauty and warmth to our presentation. John Thompson and his mum Cheryl travelled all the way from South Australia to ride at my talks with their horse Elvis. Elvis is possibly one of the most affectionate horses I have ever met! John is on the Victorian State Squad with this horse who is super talented. They are a lethal combination so watch out for them. They will surely be making their stamp on Australian dressage.
During my Equitana experience I was lucky enough to have my dear friend and sister by choice Sally Alden by my side. She really “get’s” what I do, especially because she is a horsey person herself and also as an artist. She is an incredible photographer and her images are not just photographs but more works of art. All the pics on my web site are hers and she took these wonderful photos of the Dressage Spectacular for me. She is also coming to the Tassie clinic with me in January so I can’t wait!
This year I volunteered my services to the Australian Olympic dressage team, which meant I worked with Heath Ryan on creating a new freestyle for Greenoaks Dundee. We used an Australian theme which was loved by both Heath and Dundee’s Owner Clyde Wunderwald. Although Heath didn’t qualify for the freestyle he did ride an absolutely beautiful test and did Australia proud. Look out for this freestyle when Dundee returns!
In 2008 I volunteered my services to the Paralympians. I wanted to give them the best chance possible of winning a medal and guess what……we did!! Georgia Bruce won a bronze medal riding Carolyn Lieutenants horse, Victory Salute (Campaigned by Brett Parbery) in the Freestyle. She also won bronze in her Grade IV test so congratulations Georgia. What a fantastic effort. She only had 4 weeks to develop this partnership which makes it even more incredible.
I flew to Victoria earlier in the year to help out Nicole Kullen, Sharon Jarvis and Jan Pike. I also worked with Grace Bowman, the youngest on the team. Nicole just missed out on a medal in the freestyle by 1% but what an experience for all of them. Emma Bennett, whom I have sponsored for many years now, was reserve. Well done girls and well done to your trusty steeds, coaches, supporters and grooms.
This year I have given several clinics. The first of these was in Victoria in February at Christmas Hills hosted by Lyn Gilbert. What an amazing setting. The arena is built on the side of a very steep hill which looks over the rest of the valley, just stunning. Lyn and Malcolm looked after everyone for the entire weekend. Their warmth and hospitality made the weekend even more special. We had three riders all at varying levels of competition. We designed and choreographed an Inter 1 freestyle for Lyn’s daughter Hayley, who rode her beautiful chestnut mare Odiana K. The pair thrilled us all on the Sunday when they rode to her music for the first, time nailing every transition looking like they had been rehearsing for weeks!
Next to go was Alex, for whom we had designed an elementary freestyle. Riding her Mum’s horse at the time and to be later adapted for her own horse. The input from riding and non-riding participants was excellent and as the ideas flowed we came up with some really unique choreography. We then completed an Advanced test for Sue riding her lovely black gelding, who was attempting some movements for the first time like tempi changes and half pirouettes, which he performed reasonably well much to the delight of his owner/rider. A great weekend was had by all despite the heat with three really different freestyles coming together so beautifully.
The next clinic was in Maryborough, Qld where we had a record 10 riders. This was a number I had never attempted before but I didn’t want people to miss out. It was great because we had the most a diverse range of horses I’ve ever had at a clinic. There was a Clydesdale gelding, an Andalusian stallion, an Andalusian/pony X filly, a Warmblood stallion, a Thorobred gelding, a Grey pony mare, a Galloway mare, a Buckskin gelding, a Arab/quarter horse X gelding and a warmblood X gelding.
Most of the tests were Novice with an elementary and a medium being the exception. The facilities were fantastic. We spent the weekend in an indoor arena which had been purpose built at the showgrounds with its own sound system….just brilliant. Sunday was a fun day with everyone riding through their freestyle twice. The grins on the faces as people ride to their music for the first time makes all the preparation and working into the wee hours worth it. We then we spent the remainder of the time watching everyone’s test back on video which was a great way to complete the weekend.
I then ventured west as far as I could go to Western Australia in October. I left Perth when I was nine years old, so it was amazing to go back and have a look around. The whole city has changed and is very cosmopolitan. The strawberry daiquiri’s on Scarborough beach at sunset were really hard to take, as was the day at Fremantle markets and the Perth Aquarium where Gabby spent her time giggling at the fish! I did actually do some work while I was there with the Henty Riding Club organised and hosted by Jennifer Coffey.
Jen and her husband Paul did such an amazing job looking after us, that it was difficult to leave. When the clinic threatened to come to a grinding halt due to some major technical difficulties with my laptop, Paul came to the rescue with his laptop, which meant everyone had a freestyle to ride on the Sunday. I designed a Pas de Duex as well as a Novice and two Elementaries.
The weather on the Saturday was not what I remembered of the West, in fact it was more like Victorian weather, freezing cold with the wind driving the rain so hard it was coming in horizontally! We had to ride and film all the choreography on the Saturday, so I could edit the music overnight. This meant that the last person had to ride under the worst conditions. She rode as if there was no rain at all and the horse, true to his breed, an Australian Stock Horse, was brave in the face of adversity. I was filming under an umbrella that was threatening to turn inside out and while it kept the camera dry it did little to protect me, but we got it!! She told me later in an email after I had returned home that that was the first Elementary test she had ever ridden, which made her ride even more inspiring.
When we retreated to the safety of the club house I was treated to a lunch of hot homemade soups and other delectable goodies, as well as being able to warm and dry myself by the fire, but it was the warmth of the people who attended and hosted the clinic that warmed me the most. They were such a great bunch of people and were dedicated to their horses and their sport. They were so grateful and appreciative to have someone travel over to Western Australia and they were also very studious, taking notes and writing down choreography. On the Sunday, the two ladies who rode the Pas de Duex had such fun and rode perfectly to their music each time. Everyone else rode well to their music and it was also great to see such a diverse range of horses and their outcomes. Sunday is definitely my favourite day where all the hard work comes to fruition. Thank you WA for such a great time. I will defiantly be back!
The 1st clinic for 2009 has already occurred and was held in Hobart Tasmania at the beautiful property of Cheryl Lawerence and home of Snowy River Blackwood. The facilities and surrounds were just excellent with beautiful arenas surrounded by lovingly cared for gardens all of which were a real treat to work in. I was so excited about going there and I wasn’t disappointed. I was also hoping for some cool weather after coming out of 43 degree heat!
The people were just fantastic and better still, the kids came with me, as did my great friend and photographer Sally Alden. It was such an honour to have Sal along as she really “gets” what I do but she has never attended a clinic before so we were really excited about working together.
I had a Pas de Deux and as the horses were learning Spanish walk and bowing we went with a Spanish Zorro theme which was so much fun and the horse doing the Spanish walk really got into it! He is an ex race horse clearly enjoying his new life. His partner horse was not well so we had a substitute at the last minute which meant the new rider had to memorise choreography the original rider had had for weeks and she did almost immediately. She did an amazing job….thank you Miriam. I am constantly in awe of how well people work under pressure at these clinics.
We also had an Elementary with another thorobred who was a real sweet heart and very tall, 17hh, and a Grand Prix with the gorgeous Snowy River Blackwood.
Sunday started with the Grand Prix and wow it was fantastic. Lydia rode Blackwood to perfection and people were left either crying or covered in goose bumps (one of my favourite reactions!) Everyone rode with big smiles on their faces on the Sunday which is always the biggest thrill for me and the reason why I do the clinics.
I also included a session with a demonstration rider……thank you Belinda! Where I discussed, music selection, tempo matching, timing horses paces, filming and answered questions.
Thank you to everyone who made this clinic possible and kept the weather cool. I look forward to seeing you all again.
The Youth Olympics were held recently over the same weekend as the Tasmanian clinic which was the 17th-18th January. Once again I volunteered to help out with the freestyle component.
Our little troop of Aussies competed against 7 Nations from around the world battling it out in the stinking heat (typical Australian Summer). The dressage was held at the ever-immaculate SIEC Horsley Park.
Ended up winning Silver overall (Would have been Gold except one of the judges changed one of their scores!) but the really exciting news is that Victoria Welch won Gold with the freestyle I created for her. This was such a thrill for me and for her and a great way to top off an incredible weekend.
Comments were made about how good all the freestyles were for the Australian’s so that was exciting to hear too.
Congratulations to all the team and thank you to everyone who helped me when I needed it especially Sancha Butler and her help with pony tempos.
Freestyles – Design © 2015 Sandy
Morphett ~ Eques