It’s been almost two years though since they’ve competed in Australia, their appearance at the Australian Dressage Championships at Boneo Park tomorrow set to determine the course for the next stage of the mare’s career. Maree says she’s really not sure which way it will go. “We’ve been training hard at home for the past 12 months and she’s in top form, better than ever I think, so it’s time to see where she’s at and how she feels in the big atmosphere. Really this event will help me gauge whether or not I should continue to compete Diamantina, and it will be up to her. She’ll tell me whether she wants to be there or not.”
The pair are taking part in the ‘Aussies Abroad Challenge’, joining John Thompson and Simone Pearce riding a Prix St Georges test while miked up and talking the audience through the movements. It’s a brand new event for the Championships and one Maree is looking forward to for her much anticipated return to the limelight.
The past twelve months has been one of big changes. Maree’s break from the circuit motivated somewhat by the disappointment of missing out on Rio Olympic selection in controversial circumstances, but also to give the hard working Diamantina some well-earned time off, “she hadn’t had a break in ten years. She’s been back and forward to Europe four times. She’s given me everything and I just owed her a rest to stay healthy and happy.”
Maree took the opportunity to do some re-assessing and refining of her own life, including moving from the Hidden Valley property she’d called home for twenty years to a new, much smaller set up with a stable of horses she describes as “her best ever”. They include Diamantina’s four foals, the seven-year-old Donna Elena who in 2015 won the 5-year old division at the Australian Young Horse Championships, and a four year old stallion, ‘Furst Deluxe’ by Furstenball out of a Rosario mare.
For Maree, the time at home was cathartic and an exercise in getting back to what has always been the driving force in her career. By her own admission the high pressure world at the elite level of competitive dressage was not something she missed. “No, I haven’t missed competing at all. What I love is the horses and the process of training and working with them. Seeing them develop and get better every day is what inspires me.”
Her philosophy in regards to that progression of her young horses doesn’t just include training inside the arena but a focus on their health and nutrition. Maree has been sponsored by Kelato Animal Health for may years describing her approach as that of a naturalist with support! “I believe in fresh air, sunshine, grassy paddocks but I’ve actually been using KelatoVIT performance for more than twenty years, from when I was a hack rider. Every one of my horses is on it and it ensures that they’re getting all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need that they might not be getting through pasture or feed to ensure they’re healthy”.
Maree says, “You will not find horses anywhere on the planet that look better than mine. From the health of their feet, to their condition, the shine of their coat, and their minds as well. The way they feel is paramount to their enthusiasm and their ability to do their job.”
With a comeback at Boneo Park, new horses to get out competing and the future on her mind, Maree says her goals these days are more personal. “I really want to prove to myself that Diamantina wasn’t a fluke. I want to train at least one more that is just as successful if not even more so and I think I have that horse. I’d like to take perhaps a couple of them to Europe in the next few years to compete, not as part of a team though, just on our own to see where we sit in the big sport.”
More coaching is also on the cards. “My body is breaking. I can feel it! I’m riding nine horses at the moment and I won’t be able to do that for much longer.” Ever the straight shooter though, Maree admits her style is not for everyone. “I love developing young riders. It’s not easy for them though because I have an extraordinary work ethic. It’s hard to find riders who can keep up with me and I do have a ‘my way or the highway’ philosophy. I’m invested in their success 100 percent but if I tell them their horse isn’t the right one for them, or if I give advice on their fitness routine or different ways they should be doing things, then I expect them to take it on board and make that change.”
Not surprisingly Maree counts her experience representing Australia at the 2014 WEG in Normandy as her number one career highlight but having purchased Diamantina as a four-year-old, it’s the journey she’s most proud of. “There were so many moments along the way. Small tour titles, National titles at Grand Prix level and then, of course, WEG. I’ve trained a lot of horses but without a doubt she has been the trickiest. She’s strong, brave and had this routine of being a bit crazy in the warm-up but I learned to work with that and appreciate it. I knew it meant that something special was coming. She was such an exciting horse to ride and to watch, and whether or not she continues to compete after Boneo it doesn’t matter. She will always be my number one. She has absolutely nothing left to prove. She’s given me everything.”
The Aussies Abroad Challenge takes place at Boneo Park on Friday October 20 and Saturday October 21 as part of the Australian Dressage Championships.