Susan Hoevenaars is no stranger to quality horses. An FEI five-star judge, she’s adjudicated at all major championships, including an Olympic Games, and judged many of the sport’s most talented equine stars.
It’s no secret that warmblood genetics rule the upper echelons of the dressage world, but they are certainly not the only ones with an aptitude for the sport – something Susie herself knows well. Growing up in Tasmania, Susie’s father bred racehorses and, naturally, many of her early mounts were off the track. Although in the saddle from a very young age, her introduction to dressage came along a little later – and it was with a Thoroughbred that she first entered the sport.
“I gave up horses when I went to Sydney to get a job – my father told me I had to get a proper job – and so dressage was new to me,” explains Susie of when she took up the sport on returning home to Tasmania in the 70s. “My father was breeding racehorses and so my first dressage horse was, if you like, a cast-off; he wasn’t good enough on the track. His name was Sirocco and he was a chestnut of about 16.3 hands.”
The pair began their competitive career hacking – which proved very beneficial in terms of Sirocco learning to cope with the show ring atmosphere – however, it wasn’t long before Susie began looking for her next challenge. An Irish woman named Shelagh Young, a founding member of Dressage Tasmania, became a fantastic mentor who really helped Susie begin to understand the art of dressage. “Sirocco wasn’t a world beater, but he was so kind and generous,” she recalls, adding that together they went on to compete at Elementary/Medium level during a time when the sport was in its infancy in the island state.
Quickly developing a passion for dressage, Susie became involved in organising events and it wasn’t long before she naturally progressed to judging. A little over 20 years later, and she’s become one of Australia’s best-known international dressage judges – as well as remaining an active member of multiple committees and an FEI mentor and judge educator among other roles. Her contribution to the sport here in Australia – and globally – is undeniable.