Oh the places we have been! In the last few weeks, we’ve travelled back through time to the 2014 Alltech World Equestrian Games and we’ve seen the brilliance and glamour that was the Charlotte Dujardin Masterclass. Where to next, I hear you ask? Well dear readers, I’d like to introduce you to someone special. She’s tucked away in our own backyard, Langwarrin South to be precise. She’s training for Tokyo on a horse called Mogelvangs Zidane and her name is Emma Booth.
It’s the kind of Autumn morning that’s classic Melbourne, sunny, crisp and perfect for riding. There’s a nip in the air and I pull on my jacket as I walk into Emma’s barn. Like so many equestrians, I’ve read all of the articles about Emma, I know about the Saddle Club and about her terrible accident, of which the four-year anniversary has just recently come to pass. I know about her journey to Rio, but I felt like I wanted to know more, like I wanted to better understand the rider that she is today. So, you know, I just asked, and VOILA, here we are - Wednesday morning, 8am.
Emma and her groom, Lauren greet me with wide smiles as they go about their morning stable routine. Lauren tacks up Zidane under Emma’s watchful eye, a small adjustment here, a small adjustment there, nothing amiss, not a hair out of place. There’s a sense of calm efficiency in the barn, the kind that soothes the soul of a pathological perfectionist like myself. Emma is focussed and professional, her tack is immaculate and Zidane is gleaming with good health, his shine is the kind that can only come from the inside out.
When I look at Zidane, one word springs to mind and that word is ADORABUBBLE aaaaaaand because I’m a bit of a tragic horse person, which means that in my heart and soul I’m basically 25% NOSEY, I can’t help but ask Emma how she managed to find him in the first place? As it turns out, Zidane is actually from Denmark but he came into Emma’s life when he was living in the expat community of dressage horses in Red Hill. Emma had already made two fruitless trips to Europe before Zidane was suggested to her by her coach Lone Jorgensen.
Before we continue with this story, I must admit that upon hearing this I had a silent panic attack over the thought of two trips to Europe and NO HORSE. Europe, otherwise known as MECCA, LAND OF CHAMPAGNE, TIARAS, CHOCOLATE FOUNTAINS, DIAMONDS, HORSE AND DREAMS? Isn’t it meant to be better, shinier, more lovely and just basically easier to find a horse over there? Don’t horses grow on trees in places like Germany?
Anyhoodle, back to the story. Zidane was owned by another of Lone’s pupils, Petra Lee and whilst Zidane was not really for sale, Emma was allowed to try him at the Dressage Festival. One ride and it was LOVE. The match was made and a deal was struck. I like to think of the Zidane’s sale as a fairytale in which Petra Lee is Glenda the Good Witch of the North. She’s all sparkly benevolence, waving her magic wand and turning everything PINK.
Alrighty, back to business. The training session begins. Zidane reminds me of the little engine that could, he travels forward under his own steam, walks for a ten and trots like a Sugarplum Fairy. His ears flick back and forward as Emma speaks to him in their own secret language, a combination of clicks, kisses and the lightest of light touches with the whips she holds in each hand. Their movements are accurate, fluent, swinging, seemingly effortless and the realisation dawns on me that I’m seeing what most of us can only dream of, a true PARTNERSHIP, a horse with which we could DANCE. When I think of International Grand Prix, it feels like a flamenco, a dance full of power, daring and dramatic. When I watch Emma and Zidane, their dance feels like a waltz, a love story for the ages, a ROMANCE.
Perhaps it does help that Zidane has the biggest, softest brown eyes in the universe which basically makes him the equine version of Prince Charming. As they finish their training session, Emma walks over. Zidane noses forward a little closer and sidles up to me of his own volition. I laugh and glance up at Emma as the realisation dawns that he has come over for a KISS. We both laugh as Emma confirms my interpretation is indeed correct and of course, he gets no less than five. I can’t hide my childlike delight at the innocent curiosity of this horse. He exudes such a genuine warmth that I am certain, though he has seen every corner of the globe, he must have only been touched by the kindest of hands. In a world that at times feels entirely full of strife, Zidane reminds me of everything that is good about people and horses.
Emma tells me she has to rush off, she’s going to visit a 14 year old girl at The Talbot, otherwise known as the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre and the facility where Emma underwent her own rehabilitation after spinal injury. The young girl Emma is visiting today acquired her spinal injury through illness, not accident and Emma tells me she’s still got another six months left in hospital. Apparently, of all the spinal injuries each year, only 20% of those injured are female and Emma regularly gives her time to act as a mentor for girls and women who are coming to terms with life after spinal injury, to show them, that their lives will go on, that they will again find rhythm in their day to day living.
I could finish this story and tie it up with a neat little bow by writing about triumph over tragedy, something which Emma has undoubtedly accomplished, but I feel like I need to say MORE. I left Emma’s barn that day with a feeling that lingered, a feeling that I had met someone who was truly living their best life, a rider who was making it happen with thoughtfulness and skill, that I had met a person who was quite extraordinary. Emma is loving as an owner, Zidane is one of the happiest horses I’ve ever met and giving as a person, willing to walk the rockiest of paths with the patients she mentors. As an athlete, she gives 150% to her sport, always aiming higher, always looking forward, in the right direction, right up the centreline.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I am the Australian agent for Equestrian Stockholm and I think it is the best equestrian fashion brand in the WORLD. We are delighted to welcome Emma Booth to the Equestrian Stockholm family as our sponsored rider in Australia. Emma’s passion and focus is an inspiration to equestrians everywhere and we feel honoured to support her on her journey as an international competitor. We wish Emma and Zidane every success at the upcoming CDI in Sydney. We are behind you all the way. GO EMMA AND ZIDANE!!!