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Meet Amanda Ross.  A Sydney 2000 Olympic equestrian athlete who competes in eventing – horse riding competitions that involve a number of disciplines.  Amanda is based out of Tuerong, on Victoria’s beautiful Mornington Peninsula, and travels the country competing. Amanda previously worked as a qualified personal trainer, in addition to coaching aspiring riders and blogging.

What’s your favourite colour RockTape and why?  And what do you think might be your horse’s favourite?

My favourite colour RockTape – I can’t pick just one!!  My top picks are tiger, Black clinical, and blue argyle.  And southern cross.  And rainbow!! The horses like the H2O black logo print, although they have rocked the orange tiger print on a few occasions!

There are a few of different events in eventing.  Walk us through what a competition involves.

Eventing is like the equestrian triathlon.  There are three events:

  • The dressage – like a gym routine, set to test the rider and horse’s ability to perform set movements with obedience, precision, relaxation, with the flair and strength of a dancer.
  • The cross country – a test of endurance, agility, athleticism and bravery. Top level events cover over 6km at around 35kph, whilst jumping a course of solid natural obstacles – it reminds me of elite obstacle racing!
  • Showjumping – the last phase, jumping approximately 12 obstacles, testing the horses training and athletic ability after the previous day’s rigorous cross country, to clear the jumps without knocking a pole, under the time allowed.

The lowest amount of penalties accrued over the three phases wins.

How was the Olympic experience?  It’s something most athletes only dream about achieving, and you got to compete on home soil.  What is a stand out memory for you?

The cheering!  I’ve never heard anything like it -it was deafening!  We literally had the nation behind us – people who had never watched equestrian were there, everyone was living the experience.

You’ve had a few different horses with interesting names.  Can you share with us how you came up with the name for each of your favourite horses?

Most of them came with their names actually.  My Olympic horse, Otto Schumaker, was named by his previous owner, who has a great record of clever names (Freddy Fudpucker being one of them!).

In my current team we have Koko Popping Candy, a TB mare who raced as ‘Gothic Medusa’. She was then renamed Koko Popping Candy by her new owners, who’s horses all have the ‘Koko’ prefix.  Her stable name was Bianca (she’s by the stallion Bianconi), but we changed it to Zara….  I cannot call a horse Bianca!

We also have Dicavalli Diesel (Diesel, or ‘Chi’.. short for Cheezle!), Dondiablo (Louie, or Lewis when he’s naughty!), and the two newbies Poynstown Will (Vendi) and Cavalier Vivendi (Hughie).

I’ve previously ridden a Chocolate Frog, Suave Lover, and a Honey Badger!

And how do you go about developing a strong bond with your horses?

Working with them daily.  It’s my job to figure out what sort of person they are – do they understand what I’m asking, are they physically capable, how fast are they capable of learning the tasks, are they taking the piss at times!?  It’s like problem solving using feel instead of words.  You just have to learn to read them, and then communicate back so they want to do the task for you.

What does a typical training week look like for you?  Do you also do physical and mental training off your horse?

So I try to go to the gym daily.  Usually I have something on which prevents that, so I’m aiming for a high yearly average!

I have a super sports shrink, who was a Grand Prix Show Jumping rider in her day, and also work on performance planning with the National Eventing squad.

In 2018 I’ll be riding 5 horses, between say 9:30am – 3pm, then coaching 4 – 7pm weekdays.  Weekends we compete – maybe 2 – 3 weekends per month in the competition season (Feb – May, then Sept – Dec).

The horses have a 6 day a week routine, based on two days of fitness work, 2 days of jumping, and two days of dressage.  Monday’s are our day off.

You were also a personal trainer.  What types of exercises would you proscribe to someone who wanted to improve their riding?  I’m sure it’s not just the horse that has to be fit!

I’m really big on functional fitness.  I used to love running, and hard core circuit training/F45 style, but an arthritic hip and flaring tennis elbow put an end to that! I now use specific exercises to keep my hip strong, flexible and pain free, and my elbows settled enough to ride, which is priority one.

I mix cardio (high knees, butt kicks, skipping, burpees, Med ball slams, squat jumps, etc), with squats, single leg deadlifts, kettle bell swings, single leg hip raises, back extensions, rows, planks on medballs, lots of various crunches, and a heap of yoga style balancing/flexibility stuff!  I’m usually done in 40 mins – a quick game’s a good game!

Some weeks I’m competing for 5 days, so I make sure I stretch and do yoga, which gets me through the week.

How do you mentally prepare for a competition?  Before and during an event what is your self-talk and mental imagery like?

Knowing my dressage test/jumping courses really well, visualising the course, and using apps which have visual diagrams of the test/jumps.  This enables me to concentrate on quality of the execution, because plans A, B and C are learnt like second nature.  I like being organised, lists written, and equipment prepared.  And keeping busy before competing keeps me occupied and stops the stressing!

When I get nervous, I ask myself what I’m worried about.  Then I ask what I can do about it, and what’s out of my control.  I try to concentrate on the job that needs to be done, and not on the emotions that go with impending success or failure.  Focusing on what I’ve been training on, for example, noting down key phrases my trainers tell me, and having a plan for the warm up.  If things aren’t going well, I try not to jeopardise what I can do well, by getting frustrated by the things that aren’t going well!

Most people believe that your horse picks up on the rider’s emotions and mood.  Is this true?  If you are nervous how do you communicate with your horse to ensure that your mood doesn’t impact your horse’s performance?

Yep, it’s all about body tension.  Breathing, relaxing, isolating body parts, making sure I’m not tensing my body.  You communicate with your legs, hands, bum, and body weight shifting, so if you go all rigid, your messages can’t pass to the horse properly!

Whats the best way to try out horse-riding and see if it’s for you?  Is it inaccessible for those of us who don’t live in the country or have a lot of money?

There are riding schools who do a great job at teaching people to ride, using school horses. It’s not expensive to have lessons, and it’s just a matter of finding the right facility run by reputable trainers.  Owning a horse is a bigger responsibility, but it’s a great lifestyle to enjoy, if you find it’s your thing.  It’s a matter of being around horses, and getting to understand them.  Some people love the competing, others just love being around and working with horses!

Lastly, any tips for dealing with the aches and pains that first time riders experience?

Haha like stiff adductors!?  I’d not recommend doing the 8 hour mountain trail ride wearing jeans, as you’ll end up with wicked knee rubs and a sore butt!  Start slow, learn to steer/stop/go at the walk, then the trot.  Wear proper riding boots, pants (called Jodhpurs or breeches, or polo jeans for men) and a helmet.  Stretch and then hair of the dog!

Where can we learn more about you and follow your journey?

You can follow me on my Instagram and Facebook page ‘Amanda Ross Eventing Fit’.