Equestrian Life
BLOG: Dressage rider Abbie O'Brien talks about her experience at the Dressage Nationals

Abbie O'Brien and Rajah at the 2016 Dressage Nationals 3 - Photo Angie Rickard Photography

Abbie O'Brien and Rajah at the Australian Dressage Championships.

© Angie Rickard Photography

By Abbie O'Brien

Well, it has been a while in between blogs but it has been an eventful few months with both ups and downs. Firstly, I have had people ask me where Fleur is – she hasn’t been out in competition for some time!

Initially, we thought that Fleur had injured her suspensory ligament in her front leg. She wasn’t lame or uneven but to me when I rode her she didn’t feel 100%. We did an ultrasound and x-ray but found no lesion or issues anywhere else in the leg. We wanted answers and a prognosis so we sent her to Ballarat Veterinary Clinic where she had a bone scan and also an MRI. We did both front legs from the elbow down.

We received fantastic news, all her tendons and ligaments were perfect. The cause of what I was feeling when I rode her was bone changes at the top of her cannon bone. This also explained why when we squeezed her suspensory ligament at the back of the cannon bone we received a pain response. In very basic, definitely not scientific terms, she has ‘growing pains’. This is a reminder that our horses’ bones don’t stop developing until they are seven or even older. If we had chosen to ignore what I felt and push on with her training there was a real risk of serious injury such as a stress fracture. It pays to know your horses well and listen to them when things are off! All in all Fleur is a fit, healthy, sound 6yo out in the paddock having some months to be a lady of leisure. We are in it for the long term with her, so it is all about making decisions with that in mind. She will be back in the new year!

With Fleur having a spell this changed our program for competitions as it was now just about Rajah. We entered the Boneo Spring CDI prior to the Australian Dressage Championships. He quite surprised me in the Prix St Georges on the first day of competition. It was a little windy and he just never really relaxed during the test. He did some super work but the walk suffered. We finished fifth which was still fantastic amongst some lovely horses.


Abbie O'Brien and Rajah at Boneo Dressage Day, 2016 - Photo Angie Rickard Photography

Success at Boneo Park!

© Abbie O'Brien


Much improved on day two! He settled into his work and felt much more confident in himself and that allowed him to become softer in the neck – much more horse-like, not so much like a giraffe! We won the Intermediate I then went on to also win the Freestyle the following day! Finishing level on points at the end of the Small Tour competition with Steph Spencer from Western Australia, as the winner of the Freestyle we were declared Small Tour Champions! Nice confidence boost going into Nationals!

Our trip up the Hume to Sydney was uneventful and he settled in well at SIEC – well enough to be relaxed in his box and leave his poo sitting on top of the shavings instead of doing his usual Tassie Devil spins and smashing everything into a big mess!  He never lets me down – on the Thursday, our first day of competition, we finished tenth in the Prix St Georges even with a mistake in a line of changes! At a competition like this, mistakes are the deciding factor. It was a full field of 35 horse and rider combinations so to be top 10 is pretty special!

Intermediate I was held on the Friday – man it was hot! Remembering that I am originally Tasmanian – I am not that great in the warm weather. We were second last to go, outside arena, thirty degrees and 2pm in the afternoon. Challenge accepted! We warmed up for not quite half an hour then went into the arena. Some really super work but again had a mistake in one line of changes! Bugger... but overall we were very happy and we quickly attended to Rajah and gave him a long hose off and some ice boots to cool him down. We still managed a ribbon! Eighth place! At presentations I took note of the riders in front of me and let’s just say I was pretty chuffed to be standing up there with them!


Abbie O'Brien and Rajah at the 2016 Dressage Nationals 2 - Photo Angie Rickard Photography

Abbie O'Brien and Rajah performed well at the Australian Dressage Championships.

© Angie Rickard Photography


Freestyle day was Saturday! This is the fun one. I know that it is still a competition and it still needs to be taken seriously but I always have such a good time riding around to my music on my clever orange horse. The second canter pirouette wasn’t as clean as the first but overall we put in a solid performance and nailed three lines of flying changes – on the centreline too! The judges were not on par with what we were hoping to score but that’s dressage and I came out of the arena with a smile and Rajah confident, happy and loving his job.

I know he is not the most naturally talented horse but he always gives me 120% which makes it enjoyable and rewarding. We came fifth and got to have a nice canter around the arena at presentations!


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We arrived home with a healthy happy horse who was super pleased to see his paddock again. We know to never take that for granted. It can change so quickly in the world of horses so we are just going to make the most of the chances we get. Now it’s time to move along to join the really big kids. Our next competition will (hopefully!) be at Big Tour next year. It may not be perfect but we are having the best time giving it a crack. Rajah and I are the little engine that could and I definitely think we can get there!

Finally I would also like to say a massive thank you to my sponsors: Mader International, Wagners Saddlery, Lisa Sultana Photography and The Riders Physio – the support of these fantastic people certainly makes my journey easier and I hope you are all enjoying the ride!

Abbie O'Brien and Rajah at the 2016 Dressage Nationals - Photo Angie Rickard Photography

Abbie and Rajah.

© Angie Rickard Photography




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