Simone Pearce produced Australia’s top Grand Prix dressage score at the 2022 World Championships. JAMIE HOCKING caught up with her backstage.
The atmosphere here at the World Championships in Herning, Denmark, is electric – and I’m backstage talking with Australia’s elite dressage rider, Simone Pearce.
JH: The Aussie equestrian contingent has done us proud, with you and Fiderdance turning in Australia’s top Grand Prix score. You must be delighted with all you’ve achieved, but it takes years of dedication. When did your career begin?
SP: I’ve always ridden. I grew up on a farm in Australia and by age one I had my first pony, learning bush-style. My dad’s a jumper and my mum teaches kids, so I was born into it.
JH: What are your career highlights so far?
SP: I’m most happy when I get a great feeling test, more so than if I win. The result is secondary to me because I really enjoy the thrill of taking the horses, producing and improving them. Having that magic feeling happen in the test, for me, is definitely the highlight.
JH: Do you prefer training horses from the start, or retraining experienced horses?
SP: I’m into everything. At the moment I’ve taken over some Grand Prix horses and I really enjoy working on solving their individual problems. But I also love the young horses, so it’s a mixed bag.
JH: What’s been one of your toughest moments?
SP: Last year’s Olympics [Simone’s first] was really hard for me. I had a situation where I was a bit doomed before I even started and that was a terrible feeling. And afterwards too, when I couldn’t find any way to pull one out of the bag. I was really, really down. Then I had to compete at Aachen two weeks later but was still so disappointed in myself, the results, and everything that happened that I really had to fight to keep going. But then at Aachen, Destano and I achieved a second place!
JH: What happened that set you back so badly?
SP: The tick spray they used on the horses for the flight to Japan affected Destano’s skin. I didn’t know it could be so bad. All the skin came off his chest and I couldn’t ride him for the seven days before the test. He’s a big boy and it was terrible: worrying about him, worrying if he was feeling pain, and then the pressure of finally being at the Olympics and not being able to prepare.
JH: Was it your spray or one that was mandated?
SP: Mandated. It affected a few others but poor Destano was by far the worst. So you arrive at the other end and there’s the horse’s skin and hair just falling off. It was a shock and really unfortunate, but it is what it is – you just have to deal with it.
JH: Although you can learn a lot of life lessons from other people, I’ve often had to learn the hard way, if you know what I mean?
SP: Yes, I really do. Where to start? Doing this, on this level and as a professional, you have to learn not to take things for granted. I take every opportunity, because these are not my horses and horses get sold. You have to go with that and really live in each moment, take every opportunity as it comes, and go for every experience you can. That’s been a huge life lesson for me. Don’t wait, just go.
JH: Do you feel you’ve missed out sometimes?
SP: For sure. I think you’re always hoping that people are more invested than they are. But at the end of the day, it’s a business and I understand that. So if you have the chance, even if not ideal, you just gotta go for it.
JH: What tips would you give to young riders?
SP: I have lots of young riders contacting me, wanting to be tomorrow’s star. They have such big expectations. But I’ve done my time grooming, helping working students, breaking in horses, being a sales rider, a stallion rider. I was always willing to work and do everything that was put in front of me to get to where I needed to go. A lot of people want it handed to them and that’s just not reality. Everybody needs to do an apprenticeship. You must be willing to do the hard yards. For sure you need to dream your own dream, but expect to take it one step at a time. Work hard, be dedicated and then go for your goals. That’s absolutely the priority, I think.
Simone on Quando Unico at the Young Horse Championships (Image by Timo Martis).
JH: You lived in Denmark for four years. How did that come about?
SP: Andreas Helgstrand found me and said, “I’m going to make you a star”. And in the beginning, to be honest, I said, no, it’s not really for me, because I liked small stables and to be really personal with my clients and the horses. But eventually he persuaded me to have a go.
JH: What made you decide to return to Germany?
SP: I never intended to stay in Denmark for a long time – that was never my end goal. I just wanted to get fantastic experience and do the best I could with that opportunity. It was always my intention to go back to Germany.
JH: Is that because you believe Germans are better at dresseur?
SP: No, but I really like the German way. I think it’s very classical and they take time with the horses and I appreciate that. The Danish are fantastic riders, but it’s a smaller community, with not as many people who have the time to invest like they do in Germany.
JH: So if you want a certain riding style, you go to that area to train?
SP: Totally. I wouldn’t say that I have a German style, but it’s in there a little bit. I’ve been in Holland, I’ve been in Germany, I’ve been in Denmark. So I think I now have my own style. It’s not really based on any one area. I just like the mentality of the Germans. They’re very forward thinking. I think all the top riders have their own style.
JH: Is it like vaulting where everyone has the same basic skills, but if you have a special style, people remember?
SP: Yes, definitely. I think the top 20 in world dressage are all very individual. You like what you like, and you can really become a fan of one style.
JH: When is your next big competition after this one?
SP: I’m not sure to be honest. I think I will focus on the World Cup series over winter, and maybe try to qualify one of the horses for the World Cup final in America next year.
JH: What are your passions outside of riding?
SP: Definitely my Chihuahua. I love travelling, Chihuahuas and shopping. Is that sad?
JH: Not at all. I like your Chihuahua. What’s your favourite thing about riding – what keeps you coming back for more?
SP: I think it’s what you said about all of us in our different disciplines. We all have that passion and drive and want to be the best we can. With horses you can always improve and that’s such an addictive feeling. You can always develop and change. I find that inspiring and I can never get enough.
Feature Image: Simone and Fiderdance in the Blue Hors FEI World Dressage Team Championship Grand Prix at Herning (Image ©Australian Equestrian Team/Libby Law).