ISSUE 56
JULY 2020
WHERE TO
NOW FOR EQUESTRIAN AUSTRALIA?
George Sanna
The legend continues
10 TIPS FOR RIDING
THE PRELIM TEST

PLUS: SUE-ELLEN LOVETT TELLS ALL, SOPHIE ADAMS IN THE UK, GOOD DRESSAGE PRESENTATION, EQUINE REHAB EXERCISES, RELAX WITH THE SHOULDER-IN, THE ONE-EYED JUMPER & MORE

AUSTRALIA`S BEST EQUINE MAGAZINE
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ISSUE 56

CONTENTS

JULY 2020
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A few Words

FROM THE
CHAIRMAN

Opinion

EA’S VOLUNTARY ADMINISTRATION

BY HEATH RYAN

Showjumping

GEORGE SANNA, THE LEGEND CONTINUES

BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE

Special feature

JOHNO & THE BLIND CHICK TELL ALL

BY ADELE SEVERS

Eventing

SOPHIE ADAMS BOILS THE BILLY IN THE UK

BY ADELE SEVERS

Showjumping

GLADIATORS OF SHOWJUMPING

WORDS & IMAGES BY MICHELLE TERLATO

Showjumping

STILL FOCUSED

WORDS & IMAGES BY MICHELLE TERLATO

Dressage

10 TIPS FOR RIDING THE PRELIMINARY TEST

BY EQ LIFE / ROGER FITZHARDINGE

Dressage

MAKING THE MOST OF GOOD PRESENTATION

BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE

Health

CORE STRENGTHENING & BALANCE EXERCISES

BY DR MAXINE BRAIN

Health

SECRETS BEHIND THE EQUESTRIAN ATHLETE

BY DR IAN NORTHEAST

Special feature

CAN HORSES RECOGNISE YOUR PHOTO?

BY ADELE SEVERS

My Favourite Dish

BEAN SOUP

WITH GEORGE SANNA
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Sue-Ellen Lovett and Johno. © 2CPhotography – Prue Crichton
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Motivational speaker, two-time Paralympian and Grand Prix-level dressage rider Sue-Ellen Lovett has written her first book about how a real-life soul match – her beloved horse Johno – helped her overcome the trials and tribulations of being blind.

“He did have
my back, and he was
looking after me.”

Growing up outside of Mudgee, NSW, Sue-Ellen Lovett was introduced to horses at a young age and rode regularly around the family’s 21,00-acre property. At 12 years old, her world changed when she learned that she had inherited retinitis pigmentosa from her mother; she was given a full prognosis from her specialist that she would lose her vision completely and all the abilities that usually go with it.

However, Sue-Ellen wasn’t going to let a lack of vision affect her ability to achieve great things. Taking up dressage in 1994 at the age of 35, she rode for Australia at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics. She then competed at the 1999 World Championships in Denmark, finishing fourth individually and gaining a bronze medal as part of the Australian team, and contested the 2000 Sydney Paralympics. Sue-Ellen’s achievements have not gone unrecognised — in 2000 she was made a life member of Equestrian Australia and received the Ministerial Sport Award, and then in 2004 she received the Australian Sports Medal.

Over the years, Sue-Ellen has had to adapt to deteriorating vision. At one point, she was riding with people at each marker with spotlights that they would shine towards her to give her direction. However, about four years ago when even the spotlights became hard to see, she made the switch to what she calls “living markers”; as Sue-Ellen rides the test, the living markers call out their position as she moves towards them.

As well as being a talented dressage rider, Sue-Ellen is an accomplished fundraiser. She has completed an incredible 10 long-distance horse rides, covering 16,000km and raising a phenomenal $3.2 million for organisations such as Guide Dogs NSW, Sydney Paralympian Committee, Riding for the Disabled, Children’s Cancer Unit and Lions Save Sight. Her latest ride, in 2018, spanned 800km and raised money for the new Integrated Wellness Centre in the Oncology Department of Dubbo Base Hospital — a cause close to her heart, being a cancer survivor herself.

In more recent years, Sue-Ellen’s competitive focus has switched to able-bodied events and she has trained a number of horses to Grand Prix level — including the beautiful Desiderata (aka Desi), who as of last year is now living a blissful retirement in Queensland.

ALONG CAME JOHNO

Just over a year ago, the next chapter in Sue-Ellen’s dressage journey began with a horse called Johno — a nine-year-old Hanoverian by the imported stallion Gymnastik Star, and bred by Kinnordy Stud. Above budget and more than a six-hour drive away, the partnership between this 18.3 hand giant and his “blind chick” very nearly didn’t happen. However, some things in life are just meant to be. “Something really, really magical happened with us riding together,” recalls Sue-Ellen of that first ride. “He did have my back, and he was looking after me.”

And so the charismatic giant made his way to Dubbo, and a partnership between Johno and Sue-Ellen began. It wasn’t long before the horse had his own Facebook page, with Sue-Ellen sharing their journey through Johno’s eyes. The page, which can be found under the name Johno and ‘The Blind Chick’, quickly amassed many enthusiastic social media followers who enjoyed reading the pair’s training updates from the horse’s perspective.

Via the page, Sue-Ellen has given her audience real insight into the partnership between the horse and his rider — and how she works through her training sessions differently as a blind rider. Johno has shared a few helmet-cam videos of their rides together, where Sue-Ellen talks viewers through her thought process. “I generally always start off on the right rein, so the sun is on the left-hand side of my face. Being totally blind, this is how I orientate myself in the arena. So, the sun is on the left-hand side of my face, Johno starts to turn through the corner, and now the sun is on the back of my head. I ride across the short side of the arena, and now the sun is on the right side of my face.”

“We’re about
sharing love and
joy and happiness.”

Over the past year with her gentle giant, Sue-Ellen has also embarked on a new training journey. “I’ve changed my way of training. I have moved away from the German approach that I’ve followed my entire career, and am now training via a more classical approach with José Mendez. Johno is taking to it like a duck to water. It’s been about learning to know when to back off, and to stop over-riding. Instead of ‘more’, José is saying ‘let him relax’. The transformation in Johno, in his confidence level and softness, is just like magic. When José rides him, you can just hear happiness in the air. I’m slowly learning to bring that to the party!”

As we know, horses always have their ups and downs. Johno’s social media chronicles are honest and open, from getting “bitten on the pizzle by a spider”, to a little hiccup the other day when he was a little fresh and thought he’d try a couple of leaps in the lead up to a flying change. “At 18.3 hands high… I think I was there for the first leap. And guess what, I didn’t bounce!” laughs Sue-Ellen, her sense of humour still intact. Needless to say, Johno admitted his little indiscretion — which left Sue-Ellen with a rather sore knee — to his Facebook followers, but not without pointing out that the blind chick had perhaps upped his feed too much!

While there have been a few setbacks, Sue-Ellen has been successfully working through them. “Being very honest, I really didn’t think it would be as hard as it’s been (the training process with a new horse). It’s not Johno’s height, it’s the itty-bitty shitty committee that gets in your head and undermines you. I needed to find the right trainer for Johno.” Sue-Ellen has successfully trained horses to Grand Prix level before, and she’s confident she can do it again with Johno, however, this time it will be a different journey. “It’s going to be a totally different journey, and it’s going to be done with softness and kindness, and asking and inviting.”

Johno is currently training Medium/Advanced. In terms of the future, Sue-Ellen is in no hurry to compete — although she is looking forward to it. “It will happen when it’s meant to happen. Once we’re at FEI level, Prix St Georges and Inter I, it’s just very comfortable because I know the tests. And then all I have to do with Johno is learn to count the strides…. 18.3 hands is a different number of strides around the arena compared to other horses I’ve had!” Sue-Ellen hopes to be riding Small Tour in a year, but she isn’t putting any pressure on herself as she may have in the past. She explains that she will enter the competition arena when she and Johno are ready as a partnership, however long that takes.

More recently, Sue-Ellen has been able to add another feather to her cap — as of 31 May, she is a published author. With Johno’s Facebook page attracting a dedicated audience, calls for Johno to write a book ensued — leading to the release of Johno and the Blind Chick. The book shares Sue-Ellen’s heart-warming story about love, achievement, overcoming adversity and daring to dream through the eyes of her beloved horse.

Just as Johno’s Facebook page is written from his perspective, so is the book. “I didn’t write the book about Johno, Johno wrote a book about his journey with a blind chick. So it’s very quirky. It also means that Johno can be quite irreverent about the blind chick, for example, he’ll say she needs to go to the gym and get stronger core muscles!”

Sue-Ellen, who if you haven’t guessed by now possesses a great sense of humour and wit, explains that the book follows Johno’s view of how things played out, from the moment they met. “The day we arrived, he sees these four people turn up. And there’s a fellow holding this girl’s hand, who seems very attentive towards the girl… he brings her over to meet him, and he’s saying things like, ‘Put your hand here, here is his neck’. Johno wonders why this fellow seems to be giving her a lot of information, and observes this girl being guided around, but at this stage he hasn’t work out that she’s blind… By the end of the first chapter, he’s worked it out and says, ‘Oh bloody hell, she can’t see!’”

Johno’s experiences take him from life on the outskirts of Sydney with 150 other horses, to drought-stricken Dubbo and being the one horse that is the centre of attention — something that he really loves.

When it came to writing the book, Sue-Ellen felt that writing through Johno’s eyes allowed her to take a step back and not feel as though she was writing about herself. “Through Johno’s eyes, I can show vulnerability, whereas it’s not so easy to show that when you’re talking about yourself. When I’ve lacked confidence, Johno can touch on that; I can’t. It’s really hard (writing about yourself), but it’s easier for Johno to say, ‘The blind chick is lacking a little bit of confidence. This is how we’re dealing with it’. It has allowed me a different way of putting it that doesn’t feel as self-conscious.”

Sue-Ellen explains that the writing process for her begins with setting her phone to “dictate” and letting her thoughts — and Johno’s thoughts — run. Johno and the Blind Chick is very much how Sue-Ellen speaks: warm, funny and straight from the heart. Once her words are captured, a friend of hers edits them and “puts in full stops to make it breathe!”

“Writing the book has been really nice in the sense that most people don’t reflect on how far you’ve come with their horse. I think that’s been probably the biggest thing for me, is reflecting on how far we’ve come.” Enjoying the process, Sue-Ellen has an autobiography and part two of Johno and the Blind Chick in the making.

For Sue-Ellen, her partnership with Johno has been a different journey; not one without hiccups, but ultimately one that she can only describe as magical. Sharing that journey with others has been part of the fun. “We’re about sharing love and joy and happiness. There’s just so much negativity in the world and we really need feel-good stories; things that make people feel good and can inspire them.”

Referring to the numerous videos and photos of herself and Johno in training that can be found on the Facebook page, she explains that this horse is truly something special. “Check out the blind chick’s face; the smile does not move when she’s on that horse. It just can’t be any other way; it just brings such magic and electricity. It’s beautiful.”

Johno and the Blind Chick is available for purchase at sueellenlovett.com.au. or via leading online book outlets such as Amazon. You can also follow the chronicles of Johno and his rider via his Facebook page, Johno and ‘The Blind Chick’. EQ

“So, I was picking up this guide horse gig really quickly. I was becoming exceptionally good at bringing The Blind Chick up to the tack shed and standing while Karen and the chickie babe tacked me up and put my work boots on. Then Karen started with teaching me to guide The Blind Chick out to the dressage arena. Now this is quite a long way through the garden and lots of lovely green grass, so it was up to me to be very strong and diligent and do the right thing and not stop and eat the grass. This was a wee problem sometimes. Firstly, they started with me guiding The Blind Chick out to the dressage arena. With my blind chick walking at my shoulder, her hand on my neck and the rein in her left hand, I would walk out with Karen in front of us. I would follow Karen. As things progressed Karen walked to the side to make sure everything was okay and The Blind Chick was safe. Well things progressed really quickly. Within two or three weeks I had this being a guide horse mastered.”

Excerpt from Johno and the Blind Chick.

ORDER THE BOOK HERE

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