ISSUE 70
SEP 2021

PARAS WIN HEARTS
AT TOKYO
KEVIN McNAB & DON
STRIKE SILVER
OLYMPIC BLOODLINES
WITH HEATH RYAN

PLUS: LUCINDA GREEN, AMY GRAHAM, EMMA WEINERT O’ROURKE, DIAMOND B’S SECRETS, THOROUGHBRED REHAB, WALERS TO THE RESCUE, SET GOALS WITH KERRY MACK, THE BLACK STALLION, BUILDING AN ARENA, FEEDING & FOALING

AUSTRALIA`S BEST EQUINE MAGAZINE
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ISSUE 70

CONTENTS

SEP 2021
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A few Words

FROM THE CHAIRMAN

ROBERT MCKAY

Opinion

BREEDING FOR BRISBANE: WHAT TOKYO TAUGHT US

RYAN'S RAVE BY HEATH RYAN

Para Equestrian

PARA EQUESTRIAN FAB FOUR WIN HEARTS AT TOKYO

BY ADELE SEVERS

Dressage

EMMA BRINGS IT ALL BACK HOME

BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE

Off the Track

A THOROUGH BELIEF IN THOROUGHBREDS

BY AMANDA YOUNG

Showjumping

AUSSIE AMY GRAHAM’S JUMPING LIFE IN EUROPE

BY BERNARD BALE

Training

SO YOU WANT TO GO TO THE GAMES?

BY DR KERRY MACK

Health

HOLD YOUR HORSES: FEEDING FOR COOLNESS

BY ELLIE JOLLEY

Lifestyle

THE MAGIC OF THE BLACK STALLION

BY SUZY JARRATT

Property

DESIGN BY VISION

BY ADELE SEVERS

Eventing

KEVIN McNAB’S SILVER DEBUT

BY ELLI BIRCH

Lifestyle

THE HORSE AS THE HEALER

BY ELLIE JOLLEY

Showjumping

HOW DIAMOND B PRODUCES ITS GEMS

BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE

Health

SEPSIS IN FOALS

BY DR MAXINE BRAIN

Eventing

LUCINDA GREEN’S JOINT VENTURE

BY ADELE SEVERS
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Emma and Nova Equestrian's Lightfeet. © Lauren Ashley Films.
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Emma Weinert O’Rourke has returned to Australia after training full-time with Steffen and Shannon Peters in California. She went for a month and stayed 12 years — and now she is eager to pass on what she has learned.

Emma Weinert O’Rourke’s dedication to following her dream and learning the way of American dressage star Steffen Peters has been quite an amazing journey, to say the least. Emma is a quietly persistent character who is modest yet self-assured. She has a confidence that comes from a frank depth of knowledge; confidence from persistence and diligence, confidence from competence and capability.

Emma is one of those sportswomen who puts her heart and soul into her riding, coaching and training. Vivacious and effervescent and with a joyful attitude towards life, she is yet steely and full of grit to get the job done without any external sensationalism or need for recognition. The “quiet achiever” is a corny cliché, but in Emma’s case it could not be more fitting.

Emma was born in Sydney and grew up in a stunning area known as Picnic Point. Her father, Brian, is a property developer and her mother, Vicki, a positive enthusiast who worked tirelessly looking after the family. Emma has an older brother who is now in the building trade as was his father. From her earliest days, Emma remembers being obsessed by horses. She watched National Velvet and The Man From Snowy River time and time again, and would not walk around the house but rode the broom everywhere as if it was her pony.

Neither of Emma’s parents had any idea or connection with horses or equestrian friends. However, things changed when they all moved to five acres at Cobbitty, near Camden, about 40km south-west of Sydney. After considerable badgering from Emma for a pony, a four-year-old was bought for her when she was five. “In hindsight, a five-year-old on a four-year-old was seriously not a wise move,” recalls Emma, “but it did keep me entertained for a long time each day — and that was just getting the bridle on! I had more falls than I had meals and how the hell I survived I am not sure, but survive I did.

“Mum also started to take some lessons to help understand the way of riding so she could be of assistance,” continues Emma. “Inspired with the horses, Mum took over the Camden Saddlery and ran that.” It was a sure way to get involved in the equestrian world and meet like-minded people. It was then from Cobbitty to Balmain. Emma was a very keen rider and had a Galloway that she showed in hacking classes, but she did not have what you would call a competitive nature. Her pony had a life-ending colic attack when Emma was 16 and then her Galloway developed a bone cyst and was not rideable.

GLANDULAR FEVER

It was at this time at the end of her school years that Emma contracted glandular fever, which unfortunately left her with chronic fatigue syndrome and laid her flat for a considerable time. She had no horses and, as much as riding was still close to her heart, she simply was not able to and lost interest.

On leaving school Emma started in a makeup course, but it didn’t appeal and she opted out. Learning to cope with her fatigue, Emma then started to work at the Centennial Stables in Sydney’s CBD, walking horses in-hand for clients and then doing some lungeing and riding a few. What could be better than in the magnificent surrounds of Centennial Park! It was in 2000 that Emma went to the Sydney Royal Show and her flame was reignited, and then, being at the Sydney Olympic dressage at Horsley Park, the flame became a fire!

“I remembered thinking to myself at that time, ‘this is what I want to do’. I wanted to do it so badly again. It just seemed so right after a break, and now realising there was an inherent passion inside me that was drawing me in and it was to be dressage.”

So, a 17.2hh bay gelding, Darius, bred by Northern Stud, was purchased as a four-year-old. He was Emma’s first dressage horse. Then there was Frodo, a beautiful black gelding by Lubeck, with white stockings. It was full-on into dressage training and it was quite a trek from Balmain out to Arcadia where the horses were being agisted. Brian decided to buy acreage at Glenorie and Emma started to research and organise the design of the stables and the facilities. The 30-acre block was sloped and so a degree of earthworks was required and what an amazing job was done.

“I wanted to do it so badly again.”

Now nearly 20 years on, the property looks pristine, and being designed along simple, clean lines it has not dated at all. The landscaping with hedges and roses and rock adds to the ambience of this private and serene establishment. There is an Olympic Martin Collins waxed-surface 20x60m covered arena with glorious views over gum trees and valleys towards the Blue Mountains, 20 stables, hot water wash bays, 10 walk-in, walk-out yards and shelters, a round yard and turnout paddocks. The original house is two storeys with five bedrooms and a fabulous outdoor entertaining area looking over a pool and lawns flanked by hedges.

Emma moved there in 2006 and her brother happened to buy the property next door. The Weinert family is an amazing unit of togetherness, helping each other in their own individual ways to spur each other on in whatever field their passion leads them. Emma is so grateful for their support and knows how much life is about family and that value could never be replaced!

Darius was an impressive big horse and was steadily making his way to Grand Prix, which was not a bad effort for Emma’s first dressage horse. She competed him in young rider competitions at Small Tour and was well-noticed, but admits that she really didn’t have that competitive edge and was happy to just ride for the enjoyment. “I was never really competitive in an outward sort of way even though there was some feeling within that I wanted to be a winner,” she says, “It was strange and I realised that if I was to continue with dressage horses, I did need to get that competiveness on the outside. That story is to come further down the track!”

At this time while based in Glenorie, Emma had quite a collection of horses, including APH Suzette (an Inter II Trakehner mare by Zwion), Olanie (a lovely Ferro x Zeolite mare), Wonnepop (a Weltmeyer x Feiner Stern mare), Whisper (a Prix St Georges Weltmeyer mare), and Liberty Light (a Stirling Liberty mare).

STEFFEN SAYS YES!

It was during the 2007 Equine Influenza lockdown that Emma and great friend Natalie Foxon started the On The Bit programme. Both being fans of Steffen Peters, they decided to bite the bullet and ask if he would be interested in coming out to Australia to teach and give an educational forum. Not thinking for a minute that Steffen would accept, to their honour and surprise he agreed and couldn’t wait. So it was, “Uh-oh! How are we going to pay for this?” It was Natalie whose creative side come to the fore, while Emma being the pusher decided to sell tickets to the forum. Tickets sold like hotcakes and the crowd at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre was huge with no other horse activity going on due to EI. It was just the best thing to kick-start everyone getting back in to gear!

Steffen then gave a clinic at Emma’s property that was so well attended with some very good riders jumping at the opportunity. To say that his visit was a success is an understatement, and it was the first ever masterclass of this kind held in Australia, all masterminded by Emma and Natalie and On The Bit.

The way of teaching and explaining the way of riding with Steffen really struck a chord with Emma and it seemed easy to understand. What she loved was the quick and spontaneous reactions Steffen created. Emma did not like to be strong and this reactive light way was right up her alley. She was invited by Steffen to spend a few weeks training and riding at his establishment and, despite Emma’s phobia of flying (she had not been on a plane for six years) she gritted her teeth and flew to California and to Steffen’s ranch at Arroyo Del Mar.

Emma bought two horses while she was there: Velvet, a six-year-old broodmare by Polanski x Jazz, and Zidane, a four-year-old stallion by Rhodium x Falco. Velvet went to Australia and Zidane stayed in the US with Steffen. Zidane was gelded at the age of 10 and taught Emma a lot about patience and the saying “No hoof, no horse”!

Emma continued to train at her wonderful stables in Sydney and the training with Steffen was so in her head that she returned to train with him again, this time for a month. Well, that one month turned in to 12 years! Emma went back home and sold the other horses that she had accumulated. Her agistment centre was well set up and running smoothly with a manager in Joy. Emma flew back to Arroyo Del Mar with Velvet and Darius, and the training started in earnest.

What struck Emma the most was that the attitude was so forward thinking and positive. Steffen was unerring in his method and so it worked. The horses went better and better and as for her attitude towards competing she was swept along with the stable attitude instilled in them through Steffen that “everything was attainable”.

What she missed most about being in California though was her family. Brian and Vicki knew their daughter well and were fully supportive of her realising her passion. They were fully behind her equestrian pursuits and knew that she was working hard at making ends meet and not just cruising! The agistment centre was working well and Emma would return home every six months in June and December for cherished time with her parents and family.

COMPETITION CIRCUIT

Velvet was doing well and competing with success, as was Zidane. The competitions in the US were always a massive expense; they were a huge production to get to and set up, as they would go for days. Commercial shipping was hugely expensive so Emma, in her economical way, bought a second-hand trailer and took her own horses to the shows without a groom, as she liked to do it all herself. Her competitive edge was gaining as she was swept up with Steffen’s and the rest of the group.

She rented a small house at Solana Beach near Del Mar, about 15 minutes from the barn. The social scene was big and Emma loved the culture but was always mindful of the real reason she was there. She rode her own competition horses that she was having lessons on and would also have a few at the barn that she would buy, train and sell to help fund her education. Exercise and training were a must every day as the horses were stabled 24 hours a day all year round, unlike in Australia where paddock life was so wonderful for her horses in training.

In 2012, Emma met Sean, a BMW mechanic who was a friend of one of the girls at the stables. Despite Emma trying to convince him that hanging around with a girl interested in horses and dressage was not a fun thing, but Sean was not one to give up and a year later they were married. Emma had explained that she devoted her time to horses and training, but Sean decided to take that in his stride and the relationship flourished. Of course, when Covid-19 hit the States it was a huge change indeed.

“I have had Covid and Sean as well. I had a mild headache and that was that, whilst Sean had a mild flu for a few days, but Sean’s co-worker and friend, who we contracted the virus from, died from Covid-19 — and another 12 people we knew were lost to it as well. It was a terrible time indeed and uncertain.”

During this time competitions and CDIs were cancelled, but Emma was able to fly interstate to give two-day clinics in Florida, Utah, Montana and Missouri. “The sales of horses were better than ever,” says Emma.

As Emma explains, as far as getting work as a coach in the States goes, it is of the utmost importance to competing and being successful as this is the way to being seen to be a valuable coach. Emma competed at many CDIs with both her horses and was always in the top few. “It was great competition but seriously, how was I ever going to get around Steffen Peters? It was always good to compete against the best there is, and that was often the way where I competed. It was healthy sport and really made me focus on the entire training. For me to be able to follow my dreams and afford the sport I was devoted to, I had to get work coaching and so this spurred me on to be the better rider and competitor. It was some ride, I can tell you, and for sure I loved the training and then the competing at the CDIs.”

‘MEMORABLE WIN

“The biggest and most memorable win was with beautiful Velvet in the Grand Prix Special at San Juan Capistrano CDI. A memory and dream I will forever cherish. It just all came together that day and what a feeling! Zidane was always consistent and was so often second behind Steffen, so that was really like winning! I also had several invitations to represent Australia in the Nations Cups but I never took the honour, simply as it was far too expensive for me and to travel to Europe to compete was a huge undertaking and I was in the swing of things in the States. My coaching was coming along and the time away was, for me, not to be productive. I also competed horses for clients from time to time and a favourite was Lightfeet who was owned by Nova Equestrian, a Swedish company. Lightfeet is an Oldenburger with Rubinstein and Schumacher bloodlines. I competed in third level, which is equivalent to Medium in Australia, and won with over 75% at her first show recently as a seven-year-old.”

Training for Emma started at 6.30am five days a week. Half the day was devoted to coaching students that were often passed on to Emma from Steffen. The other half was spent in the saddle riding. The coaching was all individual lessons at Steffen’s and was all under his umbrella. You were invited to be a coach and Steffen would send clients suited to Emma and she would teach daily up to 12 lessons. She would ride her own two horses and then her clients’ horses and the few that she had as schooling projects for potential sale. The days were long and sometimes hard but it was always enjoyable and to be able to get back to her unit with Sean in the evening to relax and enjoy good company topped off a great day. Emma would travel interstate at least two weekends a month to coach, which she loved doing and the income was also helpful. Then there were shows to attend, so it was all fairly intense.

In relation to the training and Steffen’s way, it was all about developing self-carriage and lightness. Emma was always told to use less aids and do not fall for supporting the frame. Every horse was treated differently depending on the physical strength, the level of training and conformation. Each horse was ridden in a way to develop the self-carriage, confidence and balance. Emma would have one formal private lesson a week, but every day the horses she rode were watched and commented on throughout the session. There was a whole short side of mirrors and some on the long sides, which were very important. Steffen would ride always his own horses, and he had very little help from any trainers, but his wife, Shannon, would often lend a hand. Occasionally Debbie McDonald, a former Olympian and dressage coach, would give a clinic at home, which Steffen would attend. Of course, he trained for some time with Johann Hinnemann, and his own system has proved very successful. A lot of video recordings are used in training and Emma was always looking at them as a great way to see the reality of her training and riding.

“I remember seeing horses in so many frames, and it was driven home with Velvet who likes to be long and low by her makeup. I would work her in the warm-up for 15-minute stretching down in a frame she adored and then spend the next 15 minutes trying to battle and get her up, so there was 30 minutes done to get to square one and left only a few minutes to really train. Steffen’s way was not to spend that first 15 minutes riding her down and open, but gradually and without hesitation start her warm-up with a more up frame. This way it developed her to be more uphill.

“Life without her beloved family
was taking a toll on her.”

“This isn’t to say that the horses that wanted to be high but hollow weren’t ridden deep and round, as they were. Every horse had its own frame that needed addressing. It was always, no matter what frame or when or where, we were always told ‘lighter aids and don’t support the horse, he must go alone, be light and responsive’. Of course, one of the other points Steffen was a stickler for was lines. Accurate lines with every single horse you rode, and every time you went around that dressage arena, the lines you rode had to be foot perfect until they were simply ingrained and instinctive.”

The consistency and repetitiveness were a real eye opener and there were no magic wands and gadgets and bits to fix problems. It was simply good riding and expert eyes on the ground with the entire team all thinking along the same lines. Emma became a sought-after coach and a competent and confident competition rider who took it all in her stride with a steely determination to make the most of every movement and mark. She always knows the discipline in everyday riding and coaching and feels it eventually becomes second nature, a feeling that grows within.

AUSTRALIA CALLING

It had been 12 years away and Emma realised that life without her beloved family was taking a toll on her. With Covid and the world being turned upside down, it was a sensible time to return to Australia and resume where she had left off at the Glenorie property. It has been leased to Denise Rogan Dressage, and is beautifully set up and maintained. Emma is now putting in some new stables, new day yards, an outdoor arena and a horse walker for her use in addition to what is already there. She will train on the property separately from Rogan Dressage but all under the same property and facilities.

At the moment Sean and Emma are staying with her parents who have bought the property next door. Both Velvet and Zidane are now back in Australia and will be retired at the property and perhaps get a little work along the way. Emma is looking at finding some horses to start for herself and is still working on the facility while Sean is working at building the infrastructure. It is a far cry from the 80 stables that were always full at Steffen Peters’.

Emma is super happy to be back in Australia and is all the wiser for her experience. She can’t wait to get stuck into imparting her knowledge and way of riding and training. She feels she really has a very good grasp on the way to Grand Prix and is ever grateful for the input from Steffen Peters and all the help she has been given over the 12 years. Her confidence is well and truly secure, and when she gets the chance to get to a competition she will be right up there mixing it with the best.

The new competitive Emma, which has grown from a modest beginning, is a big confident part of her demeanour now. That’s thanks to her wise decision to follow her dream and finish what she started out to do. Emma has certainly put her nose to the grindstone and shown dedication to the cause. Her grit and fortitude to make the stay with Steffen Peters has for sure paid off, and now home in Australia she is a well-rounded, dressage-oriented horsewoman and competitor.

Her life is now going to be a rollercoaster ride with a really wonderful blank canvas for her to start her dressage endeavours in an environment that is so much her life and love. Given her experience, her return to Australia is timely indeed and with Sean by her side the sky seems the limit.

With Covid restrictions in place there is no doubt that necessity is the mother of invention, and being at home again with her inspiring family and friends, who knows which direction Emma will take: into the dressage coaching and training, or perhaps another online gig. Whatever path Emma chooses, it will be quietly achieved with professionalism, waggishness, cheer and joy. EQ

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