Lalwa found out that she had won the award while she was competing at the World Clubs Tournament in France in July. “We still don’t know who nominated me,” she recalls. “I didn’t think I was going to win – the other nominees were at the top of their sports. One had represented Australia in judo. When I ended up winning, I was shaking, I couldn’t believe it. And the guest speakers were so inspirational. Listening to [former boxer] Anthony Mundine speak, I said to Mum, ‘I want to get to the top level of riding’.”
It all started for Lalwa when she was 9. “I had a friend at school who was taking lessons at a local riding school in Darwin. Mum booked me a lesson and I just fell in love with it.” Both her mother and her grandmother had been involved with horses and were happy to support her, finding mounts for her as she made her way up the levels in Pony Club. Her mum trained her little mare Charlotte, a Connemara-Thoroughbred cross.
“I got up to Elementary dressage on her, and we won one of the sponsored series in show jumping. Jumping was what I really wanted to do, and it became clear she wasn’t going to make it to the bigger heights.” Then they found Target, a talented Stock Horse.
“This was his second season show jumping,” Lalwa explains. “He’s had a pretty good season this year, he’s just gotten better and better. We won the Gold Series at the Darwin Show Jumping Club this year. We’re jumping 1.10m now.” But to compete internationally, Lalwa had to leave Target behind in Australia.
“It all started when Pony Club Australia put out the expression of interest to go to France,” Lalwa remembers. “We put in an application, but I didn’t really think much about it because I’m very young and haven’t fully completed my [Pony Club] B certification yet. When my mum told me I’d been selected, I couldn’t believe it.”
A lot of intensive training followed. “I was so lucky I had people here – the community here was so good and so helpful.” In France the Australians would have to ride pool horses – mounts supplied by their hosts – so Lalwa needed to get used to riding a lot of different horses.