Aussie Threesome Riding to Make World Championship Team–Part 1 of 2

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Mary Hanna on Sancette competing for a place on Australia's world championship team. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Mary Hanna on Sancette competing for a place on Australia’s world championship team. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

APPELHÜLSEN, Germany, July 10, 2014–A haven from drab European weather and language and cultural differences has become home away from home for riders from Down Under that could fill three of four places on Australia’s dressage team at the world championships in Normandy, France next month.

Lyndal Oatley, an Aussie transplanted to Germany, and Swedish husband Patrik Kittel have thrown open the doors to their immaculately maintained stables to the veteran Mary Hanna and young gun Briana Burgess, two Australians that are a generation apart in age and experience but, like Lyndal, bound by love of homeland and horses. A steady patter of humor mixed with low key common sense from Rob Hanna, Mary’s husband, provides the glue that helps hold it all together for the three women with different personalities.

And there has been a complete turnaround by Patrik, an Olympian for Sweden in 2008 and 2012, who disliked teaching so much he didn’t want to train his wife at first but now is an enthusiastic coach and cheerleader-in-chief for the three Australians.

The constant bantering between the trio of Australians and Kristy Oatley, Lyndal’s cousin who lives three hours away with her three children and a stable full of horses, was much in evidence at Fritzens-Schindlhof CDI4* at the estate of the Haim-Swarovski jewelry family high in the Tirol mountain region of Austria.

Ronan displaying huge and expressive gaits with Kristy Oatley aboard. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Ronan displaying huge and expressive gaits with Kristy Oatley aboard. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“I’ve never been in a situation like this,” said Mary, who at the age of 59 has four Olympics on her resume and is likely to be on her fourth team at a world championship. “This is the best thing, fantastic. We support each other. We’re in our own little pocket of Australia here.”

Mary left her home base in Australia three months ago with her Sancette as the sole Australian entry in the World Cup Final in Lyon, France. She stayed to follow the officially mandated campaign that requires Grand Prix results from Fritzens last week and Deauville, France at the end of the month to qualify for the team at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France next month.

Briana Burgess, the young gun at 26 years old, is in a strong position to make the team after a far different road.

She had spent a year in college in Sydney studying to become a teacher in art and history when she decided six years ago to come to Europe to chase her dream to ride in the Young Rider World Cup. That didn’t work out but what did was to become a working student for Germany’s multi Olympic gold medalist Monica Theodorescu that changed her life and set her on a career in dressage.

Briana Burgess and La Scala strutting their stuff. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Briana Burgess and La Scala strutting their stuff. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Lyndal Oatley, 34 years old, rode her now retired Potifar on her inaugural world championship team at Kentucky in 2010 and after qualifying for the Australian team with the highest scores rode Sandro Boy at the Olympics in London two years later. She is campaigning the 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding for Normandy.

Kristy Oatley has two horses entered in the selection series, Ronan 2 and Louisa. If she makes it, Normandy will be her third world championship, the first in Rome in 1998. She’s also been to three Olympics, Sydney in 2000, Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.

Maree Tomkinson and her Diamantina earned a slot in the selection trials as the highest-scoring combination at home in Australia, competed at the Fritzens event and is scheduled to be in Deauville. She is working with Christoph Koschel whose training stables in Hagen, Germany include horses from around the world–the United States, Russia, Georgia as well as Germany and Australia.

Europe was decided as the competition field because several top Australian combinations likely to make the team are based here and in the United States, plus round trip travel for horses and onerous quarantine requirements add enormous stress and cost of going Down Under.

Lyndal Oatley competing on Sandro Boy for a place on the Australian team for the world championships. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Lyndal Oatley competing on Sandro Boy for a place on the Australian team for the world championships. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Absent from Schindlhof was Hayley Beresford, 35, based in Germany and Jaybee Alabaster, a 15-year-old Australian-bred Hanoverian gelding (Alabaster x Glorieux). Hayley withdrew Jaybee Alabaster as not being fit enough to compete but she told dressage-news.com she hopes to be in Deauville to make their bid for the team.

Some see that as irony that none of the riders want to talk about–a replay in reverse of the searing dispute that shredded team spirit at the Olympics in London two years ago and its aftermath of bitterness and distrust.

“Should we be fit enough to compete in Deauville, my score there will become my finishing score for the selection process, where all other riders will have the average of both their scores,” she said. “This is a disadvantage as I only have one chance to post a score.

“We have followed the correct procedures and now it’s my job to help Basti recover and be fit to compete in time. Time will tell.”

The Australian Federation told dressage-news.com it doesn’t quite work that way. The horse needs to undergo another veterinary inspection and selectors will then make a decision based on medical findings whether to allow the pair to continue in the selection process.

It was Hayley’s campaign against another rider over a similar issue during selection for the 2012 Olympic team that landed on newspaper front pages and headlined television and radio newscasts. Hayley was not selected for the team, and that sparked further vitriolic personal denunciation of team riders even by the dressage community Down Under.

The riders who drove their horses for 14 hours to compete in Fritzens at an altitude of 2,300 feet (700m) and then home and get to be on the road again for another eight hours to Deauville and back refused to talk about it, preferring to focus on their championship preparations.

Maree Tomkinson and Diamantina at ritzens CDI4*. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Maree Tomkinson and Diamantina at ritzens CDI4*. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

With only the Grand Prix scores counting for qualification, the standings after Fritzens:

1. Mary Hanna, 59, based in Australia and Sancette, 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Sandro Hit x Contender) – 70.420%
2. Kristy Oatley, 35, based in Germany and Ronan 2, 14-year-old Oldenburg stallion (Riccione x Contender) – 69.300%
3. Briana Burgess, 26, based in Germany and La Scala III, 16-year-old Rhinelander gelding (Lancer II x Rembrandt) – 68.820%
4. Lyndal Oatley, 33, based in Germany and Sandro Boy, 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Sandro Hit x Argentinus) – 68.420%
5. Maree Tomkinson, 45, based in Australia and Diamantina 4, 12-year-old Oldenburg mare (Diamond Hit x Campari M) – 67.400%
6. Kristy Oatley and Louisa 34, 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Londonderry x Lemon Park) – 63.980%

Hayley Beresford, 35, based in Germany, and Jaybee Alabaster, 15-year-old Australian-bred Hanoverian gelding (Alabaster x Glorieux) – WD

Part 2 – Having Fun While Being Serious