Lyndal Oatley–Reflections of a New Olympian

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Editor’s Note: Lyndal Oatley rode in her first Olympics at London last month, one of three riders on the Australians dressage team. She is based in Europe like her team mate and cousin, Kristy. Both Kristy and the third rider, Mary Hanna, who lives in Australia, are Olympic veterans.

Lyndal Oatley riding Sandro Boy in the Olympic Games in London. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By LYNDAL OATLEY for dressage-news.com

Once the hype of the Olympics was finished and the journey to the London Games had ended, I sensed a strange feeling of emptiness. People often warn you of this feeling after your get married, but not with me. Instead, once I had finished I must admit I felt like one chapter in my life had ended. Everyone knows what it is like to work for many years for something, focusing on this one event and then when it’s done it suddenly becomes something you did, not something you are aiming for. This was certainly the case with me.

I had focused on achieving my Olympic dream for 12 years, and to achieve this goal was something I will always treasure. It is special to compete at the Olympics without a doubt, but as you can no doubt imagine this is no normal competition. This is the biggest sporting event in the world, and it provides a unique opportunity for equestrians to mesh with sports whose athletes resemble stretched and lean fighting machines, some people even referred to these vertical skyscrapers as Avatars and it did feel a bit like this even to me who is 176 cms (5ft. 9 ins.) tall. This was without a doubt an unbelievable experience, with the Opening Ceremony a stand out in my mind.

It is the massive increased interest in you, your team, your performances, and everything surrounding you that provided a serious rude awakening for me.

The Australian dressage team and its selection process was a hot topic before and throughout the Games. I would prefer to leave this experience in the past, learn from it and move on. The only positive to come from this ordeal would be a refined selection policy for the Australian team with less room for misinterpretation that will provide ALL involved with a clear and to-the- point selection process.

This step will be necessary for Australian dressage to go forward positively. At present I strongly believe we have better riders, horses and up and coming young riders ready to bring our sport forward. Drama aside, the team at the Olympics had the highest average we have achieved at an Olympics… we had all three riders over 67 per cent, with two of the horses being young for this level of competition!

With all the drama surrounding the team, I believe we did the best we could in an Olympics where over 70 per cent was achieved by more than 30 riders in the Grand Prix. As many nations quickly realized at these Olympics, we are going to have to get better and take another step upwards to produce even higher percentages to compete at such tournaments.

Patrik Kittel, Lyndal's husband and Swedish Olympic rider, and Australian team mates providing support. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Australia had many new combinations up for team consideration, and many more at home just beginning to show their future talent in the Grand Prix arena.

We as a nation are very fortunate that we are not relying on the older horses to fill places at each and every major championships. Instead we have quality, youth and ‘a breath of fresh air,’ so to speak, to push our nation forward and this is a huge advantage yet to be realized. We have many more CDIs in Australia now, giving our riders a greater chance to compete in front of international judges. We also have a greater number of riders in Grand Prix and new combinations coming to the fore such as Daniella Dierks and David Shoobridge. Australia also has more imported horses coming ‘Down Under,’ and a developing Australian breeding program from which two horses are competing at Grand Prix internationally in Europe–Jaybee Alabaster and HP Frontier.

Australia has also developed programs encouraging younger riders earlier into the Grand Prix, which I think is fantastic and is nurturing such riders as Megan Bryant who has a lot of potential as a rider. Combine these efforts with the riders’ performances in Europe as a whole and I believe we are heading in the right direction. Like any plan it takes time, but all the opportunities are there to move forward in a positive way.

Perhaps the most amazing experience of my Olympics debut was the ability to meet so many children and help them dream big.

We have a great program in Australia, which encourages schools to write to the athletes at the Games, aptly named “Hero Messages.”

I was blown away by the quantity of letters I received, with children clearly moved to have the opportunity to interact with an athlete who has competed in an Olympics. I took this responsibility one step further and visited schools to talk to students, and one very special girl at Hamilton Island Primary who collected photos of me and kept bringing them to her class. These experiences inspired me as I never anticipated to be able to have such an amazing opportunity and this was a huge highlight for me.

This also provided me with a massive reality check.

So many children dream of riding horses and are inspired by the performances of athletes at the top of the sport. We all had posters on our walls when we where younger–I had Blyth Tait, Rozzie Ryan, Anky van Grunsven and Isabell Werth. We all have the opportunity, whether it be in a large or small way, to impact our sport in a positive way and inspire someone. I think our sport is lacking this a little right now.

Lyndal Oatley signing autographs for Australian school children.

I am all for highlighting issues in the sports and protecting the horses welfare as we would be doing something very wrong if this did not occur.

However, we are in such an exciting stage of dressage history, with new nations and individuals coming to the foreground. I want to see inspiring stories, just like the ones I used to put up on my walls.

Look at the impact Charlotte Dujardin had on a world stage, and the positivity that arose from her performances. Children are going to have posters of her up on their walls!

We just need more situations like this as we have a great sport that is very unique but just needs some positive impetus right now.