Queensland dressage rider Emma Flavelle-Watts was a self-starter from the outset. In the very beginning, her riding career was her idea and, although she had the unwavering support of her non-horsey parents, there were certainly no flash ponies on offer in the early days!
“As with most kids back in the day, I started with a few less-than-ideal horses in Pony Club,” says Emma. “Being a mum myself now, I cringe at the thought of allowing my children to sit on anything that even would slightly resemble what I had… but my parents knew no better and I’m still alive and no doubt a better rider for it!
“My mum dedicated her life to driving me around the country competing at Pony Club events every weekend. She had no horse handling experience, so I learned to do it all myself. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my riding career and I’m forever grateful.”
It wasn’t until Emma turned 16 that her passion began to develop for dressage. “Dressage led me down the road (literally) to Linda Schmerglatt (the revered dressage rider and trainer with an international reputation as a “correct seat” specialist, based at her Cades Equestrian Centre on the Sunshine Coast).
“How lucky was I that Linda lived such a short distance from my home! I lived and breathed dressage for several years at her stable, before being given the opportunity to go overseas. Linda really instilled in me the importance of the basics and the rider’s position and influence on the horse. Of course, there are many people who have influenced me in my riding career, and my time overseas learning from different riders and experiencing the shows and different stables has given me a solid direction and path to follow.”
Emma says that her time spent in Germany riding many different horses also helped to shape the rider she is today. “Whilst in Germany, which seems like a lifetime ago now, I rode at several different stables under the eye of Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, Hans Heinrich Meyer zu Strohen, Jörn Kubelke and Jens Kühl.
“I was lucky enough to compete quite a bit on young horses, which was an incredible experience. My most vivid memory was being allowed to ride Poetin and Kaiserdom, who were both Bundeschampionate (German National Championships) winners. I can still feel the feeling of both horses’ walk, trot and canter!” Poetin was described as ‘a horse that appears every 100 years’ when she was sold for a record 2.4 million euros in 2006.
Emma is now based as a professional dressage rider, trainer and coach at Noosa on the Sunshine Coast. “Since being back in Australia, I have married my high school sweetheart and have two beautiful children. I have always been quite self-motivated and disciplined and it came to a time in Europe when I just wanted to be back at home and start my own thing. I had a talented horse of my own that I could bring home and lots of support from family and friends.”
While Australia is definitely home for now, Emma is excited by the possibility of one day returning to Europe. “One day when the time is right, I will go back… this time with Will and the kids (they are always up for an adventure) and hopefully a talented horse or two! I do miss the whole horse world over there; it is totally encapsulating, inspiring and mostly motivating… except for the cold!