Aussies Having Fun While Being Serious Battling for World Championship Team–Part 2 of 2

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Lyndal Oatley on Diva, Malin Nilsson on Boogie Woogie and Briana Burgess of La Sala at the training center of Lyndal and her husband, Patrk Kittel. © 2014 Ken Braddck/dressage-news.com
Lyndal Oatley on Diva, Malin Nilsson on Boogie Woogie and Briana Burgess on La Scala at the training center of Lyndal and her husband, Patrk Kittel. © 2014 Ken Braddck/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

APPELHÜLSEN, Germany, July 14, 2014–With four Olympics, dozens of appearances in championships and major events around the world and just shy of her 60th birthday, Australia’s Mary Hanna is having the time of her life training with a couple of her fellow Aussies under the watchful eye of a Swedish coach heading into what is likely to be her fourth World Equestrian Games.

Less than half her age, Briana Burgess who gave up college in Sydney studying to become a teacher of art and history is living the dream of an international dressage competitor.

At the heart of creating the slice of Australia in Germany is Lyndal Oatley, who turned a temporary learning stint in Europe into a longterm commitment when she married Swedish multi-Olympian Patrik Kittel and moved into his German training center.

The difference this year is what no one wants to talk about. The Olympics in 2012 may have been the most bitter and divisive event for an Australian team but the positive has been that no one wants to go through it again.

Some of the top prospects have been drawn to work with each other more by happenstance than design.

In the past four years, Lyndal has emerged as a top Australian having competed in her first world championship with Potifar at Kentucky in 2010. He is now retired and munching grass with his other senior buddies in a front paddock of the manicured training center in Appelhülsen, a community of lush farm land near Münster.

On Sandro Boy, she was the highest scoring Austraiian at the 2012 Olympics in London and is looking to ride the 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding at the world championships in Normady, France at the end of next month.

The training center has been home in recent months for three of the half dozen riders trying to qualify for the Australian team for the WEG.

Kristy Oatley, Lyndal’s cousin, is a long time resident of Germany and with Sjef Janssen, the former Dutch trainer her coach, is a serious contender. Hayley Beresford, who withdrew Jaybee Alabaster from the first competition, Fritzens, Austria two weeks ago, has also been living in Germany for several years.

Maree Tomkinson, like Mary Hanna, temporarily moved to Europe to compete in the two WEG selection trials, did not perform well at Fritzens but plans to be in Deauville, France at the end of the month with a high enough score to make the final team of four horses and riders.

In weather not unusual in this part of Germany, Lyndal Oatley running through the rain with Diva. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
In weather not unusual in this part of Germany, Lyndal Oatley running through the rain with Diva. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

After Fritzens, Mary on Sancette is at the top of the rankings with Kristy on Ronan, one of two horses she is competing in the trials, in second, Briana on La Scala third and Lyndal on Sandro Boy fourth.

Like other Australians playing in the big time, Mary has spent large amounts of her life training and competing with her horses in Europe and the United States.

Among her favorite trainers is Steffen Peters based in San Diego, California and whom she worked with Sancette, the 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding she first showed at Grand Prix four years ago, rode on the Australian team at London and won the right to be the sole representative from Down Under for the World Cup Final in Lyon in April.

Working with Patrik in “our own little pocket of Australia” has been unique. She bought her rising small tour star Boogie Woogie from Patrik and left the horse in training, primarily ridden by Malin Nilsson, a 26-year-old assistant trainer to Patrik who was awarded the prestigious Swedish Ajax scholarship of about $30,000.

“It has never been like this,” Mary told dressage-news.com. “This is the best, it’s fantastic. We support each other, we laugh together.

“Being in a group of like-minded people–we’re different ages… we span quite a lot of decades has been great. We’re just there for each other.

“I’ve never had such a good time in Germany.”

Much of what she has learned from some of the great trainers she has worked with over the years has gelled with Patrik.

“It’s as if all the great training was put together in our own way and has all come together. I’ve never had so much trust in a trainer.”

“It’s really amazing that Patrik creates this aura of positivity that is totally contagious. He makes us feel like we can do anything, that anything and everything is possible.

“For me, the only other person that had that was Steffen, but I couldn’t stay in America.

“I’m almost 60 and I’ve never learned so much.

“When I should be hanging up my spurs, I’m saying bring it on.

“We’ve all got the same goals, the same problems, that kind of surpasses age.”

The journey this year is in sharp contrast to London in 2012 when the Australian team was divided by challenges to the selection procedures that led to it being her “worst” Olympic experience.

"Young Gun" Briana Burgess on La Scala. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
“Young Gun” Briana Burgess on La Scala. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Briana Burgess was working for Monica Theodorescu, a three-time Olympic team gold medal winner for Germany, at the time of the 2012 Games, pursuing her goal of becoming a fulltime dressage competitor and trainer.

She left Australia six years ago when she was 20 and initially based at Johann and Penny Rockx in Belgium for a year before going to work for Monica.

“I loved working for Monica,” she said. “I learned everything from sweeping to lunging, to be happy and relaxed. We need to laugh and be in a good mood or we can’t perform in a good way.

Briana speaks in a measured way and appears to give thought to her answers.

“I learned self-discipline at Monica’s place,” she said. “I learned really good work ethic. I was her show groom for 18 months and saw how Monica handled pressure at shows.

“I saw a top sport person under immense pressure, how she worked and how she handled herself. It was a valuable learning experience.

“Its not something you’re born with, but something you learn.

“I was a young rider when I came to Monica’s, not developed in any way. Almost my entire development is due to Monica… three years working there and an extra 10 months training with one horse.

“Monica is extremely focused, very disciplined with herself, her management, exercise, diet. She always gave me tips on what to do to get stronger in body and build energy.

“Monica took me under her wing, also her mother before she died. It was an impressionable time for me.”

After three years with Monica, Briana went out on her own, working part-time at a show jumping barn as well as focusing on her dressage.

She began training on La Scala with Patrik a year ago.

“He’s a fantastic trainer,” she said, “the environment is very professional.

“For me, one of the nicest things of training with Patrik is being around other Australians. Everyone gets on well.

Briana is having success with La Scala, a 16-year-old Rhinelander gelding that she has been competing at CDI Grand Prix for just seven months.

Her plans are to stay in Europe for the foreseeable future to develop her profession and riding.

“I love living in Germany,” she said, “I’ve made nice friends, I’m meeting new people, learning the language.

“The most important thing is to have access to good horses, a good trainer and good shows. That’s the most exciting thing.”

Lyndal has become her mentor, always willing to help out when there are problems, warming her up at competitions.

Lyndal has been living and competing at CDIs in Europe since 2009, on Potifar now retired, Toy Story that is now competed by Patrik and Sandro Boy since April 2012.

With Sandro Boy, she has scored higher at a CDI than any other Australian as well as being the highest scoring Aussie combination at London.

Sandro By stretching himself with Lynadal atley aboard. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Sandro Boy stretching himself with Lyndal Oatley aboard. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The experience this year is different “because I’m focusing on myself, Mary and Briana. It’s fun but different. I prepare the same as I always have. I ride every show the same–I do the best job I can, whether it’s Aachen, the WEG or wherever.”

The Aussie enclave just sort of happened, it was never intended to be what it has become, “one thing led to another” and there was Briana and Mary sharing the stables.

“I love having everybody here,” she said. “It’s really fun to have others around me who have the same mind set, who enjoy life.

“We’re not a normal stable. We’re very easy going. It’s important to be very happy and get along.

“People here make it happen with each other and take care of each other. I’m really enjoying it.

“It’s an interesting dynamic, Australians all together with my Swedish hubby/trainer.”

Lyndal laughs that four years ago she “had to beg and grovel” to have Patrik train her as he swore he wouldn’t train anyone.

“Now he loves it. First it was just me, then the secret came out. It’s funny how things have changed in such a short time.

“I think he loves training people who are really passionate as much as he loves competing himself.”

At Fritzens she “wanted so badly” for everything to go well–for her own career and the WEG position of all three Aussies at her barn.

She was as shocked as everyone else by the sub-par performance on Sandro Boy at the Fritzens selection trial. She learned too late the obvious discomfort of the horse was due to Sandro Boy standing at an angle and resting his hind end on a butt bar for the 14 hours drive to the show. Two veterinary examinations found the muscles locked up temporarily but were treated and new shipping procedures should eliminate the problem in the future.

Lyndal is close with her family and makes it home for two weeks every four months and her parents visit her in Germany. She’s planning to start offering training clinics in Australia as a way to see her family more often.

“This is my life for now,” she said. “It’s open ended. I would love to go home at some stage in an ideal world.”