NOV 2021



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NOV 2021
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A Few Words









Para Equestrian















Special feature















EQ Journeys


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Maree and Diamantina. © Lyndal Oatley

Maree Tomkinson is surely one of the most interesting and talented riders who has grown a seriously amazing career in equestrian sports from a simple and humble beginning.

“She was never going to be
called mediocre again.”

Determined, single-minded, a winner, elegant and eloquent, bold, forward, a great thinker and one who never takes a step back. Maree is not one to take no for an answer when she believes her thinking is correct. She is blunt and to the point. She is a kind and considerate friend but does not suffer fools. She runs her own race and strives always to be the best of the best and is driven by a fire that burns within to always move forward to be anything but mediocre.

Despite many knockbacks in her life, she manages to continue to strive to better herself and her horses and is always building on her experience to be better prepared for the next step. Maree is never one to hold back on an opportunity and to travel horses all over the world seems to be another day at the office for her. Never slow to make a decision and then stick to its conclusion is a trait that leaves many dumbfounded. Her boundless energy and inspiration continue to push her to her limits, always searching for the next piece of life’s jigsaw! The final picture will be a masterpiece for sure! Colourful, diverse, frantic yet calm, and above all respected, she is looked upon by so many with inquisitiveness, curiosity and wonder.

Maree was born in Melbourne, the second of four – Andrea, Maree, Justina and Paul. When she was just six weeks old, her father, Paul, a surveyor, moved his family to New Guinea where he had an amazing four years of work surveying the country in the days when it was a dangerous job running into many tribespeople. On returning to Australia, they settled in Bendigo and Maree was pony mad, as any young, dreamy girl was – but at the age of six that dreamy girl was determined to lobby for a pony.

Her father said that if she was to go, every Sunday without fail, to the local riding school to learn to ride, no matter what other things may be attractive on a Sunday, then she could have a pony. So, of course, little Maree never missed a day for a full 12 months. So Paul bought Maree a young, spirited pony with plenty of get up and go! He was kept in the back yard, with Maree admitting that she hated the riding school but knowing “you have to do what you do and see it to completion”… a bit of a trend that has carved its path with Maree.

Of course, with no member of the family remotely interested or having any involvement in horses, a string of inappropriate ponies were acquired – and Maree was falling off incessantly. Paul would take Maree to Pony Club shows as Kathleen, her mother, wouldn’t drive with the float. The whole family was sport orientated; snow skiing was high on the agenda and Paul was also a great football and cricket follower. Maree would spend the whole day at Pony Club with a roll of tickets that Paul got her for the day’s events, participating in every activity and gathering huge numbers of green ribbons for the children that never placed.

Paul would sit in the car and read the paper and listen to the footy. On the way home he would ask Maree about her day and of course she always answered how much she enjoyed her time. She now realises the loading of that question! Paul would ask why only ever green ribbons and suggested that Maree was “mediocre” in her riding ability. Maree remembers that drive home and thought long and hard about it.  She was never going to be called mediocre again. On asking what next, Maree says that her mother learnt to drive the float and took her to Pony Club from then on!


Her Dad would still ask about her successes and was a great spirited mentor, always pointing out the importance of rationality and logic when it came to realising potential towards getting to the top of the ladder in any chosen sport and to always ask “what can you do better?”. It wasn’t that long before the penny dropped that a good horse was a step towards a better riding career, and the Galloway Te-arno was purchased. At the age of 11, Maree competed at Sydney Royal for the first time and won the turnout class and the novice Galloway. This was to be the beginning of a totally illustrious and renowned career in showing horses.

Maree is an extremely modest person when it comes to her successes but she did confirm she won two Garryowen Turnout classes at Melbourne Royal and was champion rider at every state’s Royal Show except the Northern Territory where she did not compete. She was champion rider at Sydney Royal eight times.

The number of top hacks that Maree produced was remarkable. The likes of Madrid, Le Pigalle, Bonaparte, Erte, Rumblefish, Showtime and Anarchy are simply a few that come to Maree’s mind. She is one to always look forward and never back and only too well realises that you learn by your mistakes and that every day with horses is a learning experience that puts another foundation layer down and another useful tool in the toolbox.

Maree achieved as much as could be possible in the world of showing horses. Her successes were massive. She really didn’t have a lot more that she could achieve other than produce another Royal Show winner that looks great and walks, trots and canters a few circles. To say that she needed another challenge was probably one way of saying it, so she looked at dressage. Maree had always had lessons with dressage coaches when she was showing. In the early days it was Malcolm Ansell, Gert Donvig and Margaret McIver, and later Clemens Dierks. She also rode a bit of jumping and eventing training with Michelle Strapp, Kate Pither and Robbie Allen.


In 1998 Maree moved to the Hidden Valley development near Wallan in Victoria. This was the property of Robert Holmes a Court, and Maree’s father Paul had been instrumental in getting it off the ground. There were 38 stables there and so Maree moved there to help in its development and another dare was offered. If Maree sold $1 million worth of land there, they would build her an indoor arena. That was that, really! An indoor was installed and Maree started to train from this amazing place.

She lived in a mudbrick house at the back of the property for eight years. The one-bedroom dwelling was seriously primitive with only a generator for power. Tank water and hot water was a task to organise, but Maree loved the solitude and worked tirelessly for the development of Hidden Valley. She would give pony rides to potential buyers over the weekend, organised horse shows with interstate judges, held seminars and gave demonstrations. The equestrian centre created a great sense of life and went on to be a roaring success. After eight years, Maree moved to her own house overlooking a lake and beyond to the equestrian centre. It was at Hidden Valley that Maree met Lyn Sultana who was looking at land there and bought; in fact, she was the first person who signed up! They have been the greatest of friends since and Lyn shares Maree’s passion and is an amazing support.

At about age 30, Maree started to compete in dressage as well as showing. The horse Kings Warrior was her first introduction and it was at the National Championships that she finished runner-up in the Elementary tests and enjoyed the rides! It was, of course, back to Dad’s questioning about success and was the horse just mediocre in a sport that could take her to an Olympics? Never one to be put on the back foot, it was a realisation for Maree that she needed to be mounted on good dressage-bred horses.

Off to Europe to buy a horse and what an eye opener was that expedition. By now Clemens Dierks was helping with her training and a horse, Café Au Lait, was purchase at P.S.I. Café was brought straight back to Australia and it was another very steep learning curve. Warmbloods – and especially Grand Prix ones that have been brought up and lived all their lives in stables and controlled environments in Germany – don’t do so well when you feed them, shoe them and ride them and turn them out in a paddock in Australia like a Thoroughbred. It was a disaster and after only eight months Café started to have soundness issues. It was a management issue from lack of knowledge at that time of caring for high-level dressage horses. It certainly was nothing like looking after the Aussie Thoroughbreds; Maree learnt a lot, and quickly.

In 2005, Maree married Paul Costa and it was the beginning of a very happy time. Paul is a project manager and works all over Australia and overseas, sometimes away for a few years at a time in fascinating locations. He was an Olympic snow skier and coached in skiing. Maree and Paul have a great association and are used to long-distance relationships. Paul is quiet and logical with a cool head and a coherent spin on life and sports, especially when it comes to administration. With Maree being so brutally honest and frank – black and white – Paul is a stabilising influence and the marriage suits them both. They are both driven, passionate and high achievers.


With Café not 100% sound, it was off to Germany again, this time to buy Frambeau, a great stallion, Walton, a black stallion by Weltmeyer, and the foal Rodrigo, by Rotspon. Frambeau went on to Grand Prix and was gelded and Walton was a competitive horse to Advanced and was gelded also and sold on. As for the wonderful Rodrigo, as Maree often says, “The best-looking horse in the world”. As a six-year-old he was second at the National Finals for young horses and Dressage With The Stars, and was then taken to Verden for the World Championships for young horses. It was another amazing experience – as much as Rodrigo was indeed the best-looking horse in the world, he was a little outclassed. Realising this, Maree set about to not be “mediocre”. The championship was the catalyst for her to make sure she had a better base product, and so with good friend Lyn Sultana they started their search for a top horse and they came upon four-year-old Diamantina and instantly fell in love with her. Diamantina came back to Australia and into work, and a few months later won the five-year-old at the Diana Ferrari Championships then also at the Sydney CDI. She was one exceptional mare and as Maree notes… “a little quirky”!

It was another trip back to Germany to base with Christoph Koschel and his father Jürgen, and based next to PSI, where Maree trained with them having Diamantina, Rodrigo and now Lanzaro. Due to the outbreak of EI in Australia, the mare stayed on in Germany for another 12 months and competed very successfully. In 2007, Diamantina finished mid-field in the first round of the World Championships for young horses. In an article by Astrid Appels ( after that round, she referred to Diamantina as “eye candy” and questioned why on earth she was given low marks for such an outstanding mare. The next day they finished second in the small final with good marks and commentary and qualified for the big final.

In 2008, Diamantina had an outstanding year of successes and won many championships and qualified for the FEI WBFSH Dressage World Breeding Championship for Young Horses where she finished sixth. “It’s hard with the best of the best,” recalls Maree. “To win you need a lot of support behind you and promotion, and the judges need to be super confident that they know the ins and outs of the success. A mare is never really as impressive as those big, fancy stallions, so to be sixth when all was said and done was an amazing achievement and hardly mediocre. She was a stunning mare and I wish I could have the journey all over again. She taught me a lot, especially about not winning with big marks when I thought I could have. It’s a sport that you need to be single-minded in your plight to be the best you can. The knocks along the way make you hurt on the inside but make you hardened and more determined to succeed.”

Lanzaro was a great horse who competed at the designated shows to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, where they were selected to be the reserve horse along with Victory Salute and Brett Parbery, and Rozzie Ryan with Donna Carrera. “It was a fantastic experience to be able to compete at this level and the high performance organisation was fantastic for these Games,” says Maree. “I was somewhat happy with being reserve as I felt I really hadn’t the experience to deserve a place on the team. But I was very proud of our achievements and this was another stepping stone to the next step!”

It was expensive to support a dressage habit at home but in Germany the funds came to an end fairly quickly, and with EI in Australia over it was time to ship everything back to home base again. Unfortunately, Lanzaro became seriously ill during a heatwave when there were five days of 45 degrees Celsius in January. Despite every possible treatment, he failed to combat the colitis he had contracted and shortly after he passed away. This was a bitter blow to Maree and yet another speed hump! Rodrigo was competing Grand Prix and Maree was doing well, but he lacked that fire to make the big scores and Maree generously leased him to Gina Montgomery. After that he went to Maree’s student, Tayla Desmet, who did a fantastic job with him, winning many CDI young rider competitions and it put her in good stead for her imported horse that Maree found in Germany for her in Zaubermaus. Rodrigo is still the best-looking older horse in the world and is in the retirement paddock at Maree’s with Umbro of Mary Hanna’s.

Diamantina had won so many classes in Germany and was well admired by many. On her return, Maree competed her at a local competition and to her complete surprise was beaten by an eventer, and no doubt a good one, but seriously shocked by the judges’ comments and marks for a test that would have won internationally. It left a bitter taste in Maree’s mouth, as after all the hard work and expense that she put in in Europe to be at the top, to come home and be poorly recognised with bad marks left her wondering what the hell was going on! It wasn’t long before reality prevailed and Diamantina went on to win so many huge classes and, as a seven-year-old, won Advanced easily. She then won Small Tour championships at state level and was 2010 and 2011 National Small Tour Champion. Diamantina was also the National Grand Prix Champion in 2012 (and won the Grand Prix test at the national championships in 2013) – quite an illustrious career so far and one of the best Australia has seen.

The sights were set on 2012 Olympic Games and 2014 World Equestrian Games (WEG) selection. As Maree was so aware, she had support from her family – mother Kathleen especially who was always there – and Lyn, Diamantina’s part-owner who was 100% on Maree’s side; always calm and logical with no fuss.


The next few years were the toughest of Maree’s life. Her brother Paul, who was married with a very young daughter, was diagnosed on 1 April 2010 with motor neurone disease (MND). Paul was a very sport-orientated competitor, footballer and excellent skier. He was smart and loving, progressive and well respected. He was fun and the best company. For Maree to see this wonderful young man, the brother she looked up to and adored, slowly and steadily deteriorate before her eyes was absolutely shattering. Within three years he had deteriorated to where his lack of muscle power did not allow him to take life-saving breaths and he passed away. The process was painful to all, but as with everything Maree does, she approached each day as it came. It is a memory that will haunt Maree forever.

As for the London Olympics that had been such a goal, she chose, of course, to not even think of fulfilling that dream. It was a time for total family devotion and that is exactly what she did. Maree now has a huge association with MND Australia and takes every opportunity to raise awareness of this dreadful disease. The logo for the disease is the cornflower and she uses the cornflower motif on all her riding apparel and also as a stencil in brush marks on her horses’ rumps as a reminder of how to make sure you make the most of every day available as you simply never know what may happen – even on April Fools’ Day.

The following year it was back on a plane for Maree and Diamantina to try out for the 2014 WEG in France. Selection campaigns are inevitably expensive, and so this is where she sold her wonderful Rodrigo to Tayla, allowing the road to the 2014 WEG to get underway. They again based at Koschels’ stables as the facilities were fantastic. To qualify, the Australian selectors chose two shows and, of course, they are not always to the liking of the horse and rider combination and perhaps even not a true representation of a qualifying show, but you have no choice. They did qualify and made the trip to Cannes to represent Australia. After the warm-up and on the way to the arena, Diamantina decided she was not going down the tunnel again and refused to enter the main arena. Maree, knowing the mare, leapt off and ran with her through the tunnel and then remounted and proceeded to do the test of their lives. For Maree it was an absolute personal best, even though the commentators remarked that the score did not really reflect this.

Being on an Australian team was fulfilling for Maree. She felt at ease in this competition due to her overseas experience in top competition. It was from here homewards again, with Diamantina traveling with the four para equestrian horses (who also competed at WEG). Maree stayed with the mare during the quarantine, showing her dedication to her horse’s wellbeing. A client was looking for a top horse and Donna Elena was found, but the sale didn’t go through so Maree and a partner bought the mare for herself, seeing her potential as an incredible mover and athlete.


With a cracking over-70% test to win at the 2016 Boneo Classic CDI, it was all heading in the correct direction for Olympic selection. Maree had scraped together the funds to go, as no one else under consideration for selection was travelling from Australia. At the very last minute, however, Brett Parbery, who’s horse DP Weltmieser (owned by Susan Duddy), had recovered from an injury and Sue Hearn with Remmington decided to have a go at selection as well.

Maree was disappointed she was not included in that duo travelling as it would have been great team building and more cost effective, but needless to say it was only looking forwards to selection. Donna Elena was taken and Maree and her horses must have by now accrued enough frequent flyer points for a free return ride! The training was great, however Maree felt that for all her experience and expense, her enthusiasm for international competitions and producing yet another Grand Prix horse, travelling as far and wide as she had, the high performance group fell short in their administration procedures and control of the riders, their horses and the transparency of the selection and team process.

Maree and Diamantina were not selected for the team and in fact it’s believed the mare was never nominated as a contender to the IOC and so could not have gone even if she was the last one standing! All in all, Maree felt let down by the administration and process for both the WEG and the Rio Olympics and felt that the support lacked depth and international experience when looking after riders and horses of international quality for an Olympic Games. “It (the administration) lacked professionalism and confidence,” she says. “The management was simply not good enough and still seems to be in a state of limbo without any thought towards making right of the wrongs!”

You can see that Maree is never afraid of the truth. She is single-minded and exudes honesty and morality. Being of this personality she certainly has had many reasons in the sport to feel let down with administration slip-ups and wonders why these mistakes can continue to be allowed to happen – but she continues on in a manner that she has become accustomed to: build-ups and let-downs and the merry-go-round of life continues.

“Two years of rehabilitation and
conscientious care has paid off and
the mare is back in work again.”


Back home again and feeling disillusioned, Maree retired Diamantina as she believed the mare had done all she could do, and despite only being 14 years old she firmly believed that she could not give more to the sport or get recognition for team representation. It was pointless!

For the next two years she continued to train her horses but never went to a competition. She moved from Hidden Valley to a beautiful property she developed in Lancefield. Donna Elena was training the Grand Prix movements and Maree thought that her harmonious ease of movement was the way to go with the trends of dressage and competed her at Prix St Georges at local shows. She then won state and national titles at Small Tour and at nine she started Grand Prix – and imagine, a state title!

What can you say but that resilience, determination, strength of mind, conviction, loyalty and, above all, a love of her horses that occupies her waking hours…. but of course, life throws curved balls and dodging them is up to luck, but with Maree these curved balls seem to hit her in the heart. Donna Elena had a reaction to a routine procedure and then had colic surgery. Two years of rehabilitation and conscientious care has paid off and the mare is back in work again and getting ready and strong again for Grand Prix.

They say a rolling stone gathers no moss. This stone is exactly that; mentally and physically strong, resilient and private, her life and dreams go on and her yearning to get away overseas was back in the sights. No matter what, selfish is not a word to describe Maree. When her father became ill she put all her plans of going overseas on hold. Her father was that mentor and wonderfully industrious, smart and fun person that didn’t accept nor endure mediocrity, from whom Maree learnt to be the best she could be. Becoming frustrated at times with the mediocrity that the sport’s governing body in Australia accepted, grated against her principles and it hurt that they didn’t strive to be the best of the best as her father had instilled in her. Her father passed away but Maree is very much her father’s daughter and the strength of character she learnt from him holds her in great stead.

Maree was always surrounded by her dogs and her two Rottweilers needed her attention as well. When one lost a leg to cancer and had extensive chemotherapy, Maree did everything she could, even taking him to horse shows in a dog pram to keep him happy. Fergus, a naughty terrier, is at her side now as a companion dog. What can you say? That’s just Maree; she is totally loyal and dedicated to animal welfare as part and parcel of the responsibilities one takes on.


Covid has been a tough time but Maree was happy doing her own thing, pottering away at the ever-growing picture. With her family now in a more comfortable zone and her beloved Rottweilers at rest, she feels at ease to get the rolling stone on the move again. She nominated to take Friday IV, a Fürstenball x Diamantina five-year-old, to the World Championships for young horses. Aim high, her father always said, so aim high she did.

Another funny moment is when she had Diamantina as a young mare and she made a speech at a dressage function where she was awarded wonderful accolades. She said in acceptance: “My father always said ‘bite off more than you can chew, and then chew like mad’. At this moment with the wonderful Diamantina I have certainly bitten off more than I can chew and I’m trying not to choke!”

Maree has had to chew fast more than once. Despite begging Equestrian Australia to disclose who was going to the World Championships for young horses this year, and despite every effort from Brett Davey, the wonderful new High Performance Dressage Manager, to get the announcement made early or at least put out a short list, it was announced on the 16 July that Maree was nominated to go. This gave her four weeks to get vaccinations, passports, blood tests and of course a flight to get the horse on to, and only seven days from landing to the competition. As if that’s really going to be conducive to a good competition.

Needless to say, Maree packed and organised in the short timeframe and headed off, where they spent a few days recovering and then a few days training with Ulf Möller and then packed and went off to the World Championships. What a whirlwind life and how amazing to be able to do all this during Covid and without seemingly a ripple in the news across the dressage community. Totally admirable. Maree was wrapped with Friday’s attitude throughout but the excellent performance on the first day drew marks that were somewhat disappointing. The next day was a much better performance and all marks were well above 8, but for a moment of distraction for Friday in the walk and the mark here was down to 7. This makes a big impact on the overall score, but it was another piece in the puzzle of dressage and competing at the highest level. Friday has stayed in Germany and Maree is home for a brief time now.


With the home front well settled, Maree has made the monumental decision to move to Germany with four horses (Friday IV, Imagine II, Total Diva and Donna Elena) in tow and expects the trip over to be in January. On asking Maree about funding, she explains: “I don’t do spreadsheets and budgets, I take it all step by step. I sold Romper Stomper to help fund Rio, I sold Rodrigo to fund WEG, I sold my house one year, I sold the land I had another; this time I have great owners and sponsors. I will make it all happen and I have some fantastic partners in the horses I am taking.

“Friday and Diva are both part-owned with Lyn Sultana, Sue Gorst is in shares with Imagine and Deb MacNicol is in shares with Donna Elena. It’s a fabulous group and I will be doing my very best with every horse. Both Friday (now established at Medium level) and Diva are out of our Diamantina and very special. Diva is now Grand Prix and an absolutely incredible athlete but a bit quirky – I like them like that… can’t imagine why… (laughs) but Diva is the most exciting horse. Imagine will do the young horse classes and we all know what I want to achieve there! And Donna is Grand Prix and I will nurture her and take each day as it comes along. I will be basing myself at Bernadette Brune’s wonderful stables near Bremen and will train with Ulf and Eva Möller for the young horses, and with Hans Heinrich. The facilities are amazing and especially for Donna with indoor and outdoor ebb-and-flow arenas and a gallop track, water walker, grass and sand turnout yards and a full-time physio and wellness centre, so what more could you want?

“I am ever grateful, as to take four horses in a stable isn’t so easy. I will be taking Jamie McPherson with me to groom as she has been with me for a few years now and has a fabulous attitude around the horses. She knows them all well and is as keen as mustard to learn and not be content with mediocrity – and as you know that goes down well with me. I envisage I will be away for three years, but who knows and prediction is a difficult thing. I will take it as it comes, always moving forward. Nothing ventured nothing gained and I have a lot to learn still. I love my horses and I am ready to take this opportunity with open arms and see where we end up. I have the best team of horses and people around me. As much as I will miss the lifestyle and my family, I am going to give it my best shot. It will be wonderful to be in Germany again and with the best of the best to inspire me and push my limits yet again.”

What can you say about this talented and wonderful woman? Her enthusiasm and ease with which she approaches her life and her horses is astounding. Maree makes it seem so easy. What drives someone to continue to try and make the top of the sport, whatever that may be. I bet it’s like the swan swimming… amazing and beautiful and charming, effortless and elegant on the surface, but under the water the legs are going like crazy – and I wonder how fast she can chew what she has bitten of now!

Maree Tomkinson is modest but blunt and to the point. She lets you know how she sees things. She never has held back in her entire life and finishes everything she sets out to do. She is no quitter. A woman with extreme feelings, emotional and kind-hearted with a will of tungsten steel! One hell of a motivator, and one hell of a kind-hearted friend who will always be only too keen to put her money where her mouth is and get on and do good for the sport and all those dear to her. An individual who runs her own race at her own speed – but don’t expect to keep up with her. Tolerant to a degree and sometimes outspoken, never does she ask for a pat on the back. Her wins are important, but she doesn’t dwell on them. She is simply a passionate pony kid that has slowly become one of the most worldy and well-travelled competitive dressage riders Australia has produced. Equestrian Life and all our readers wish Maree every bit of good health, happiness and success on this tour and look forward to seeing the fulfilment of an equestrian life in all its glory; there is plenty of colour and artistry to go on that life’s canvas yet to come. Simply amazing. EQ


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