Flying High

Come back in time as Vanessa shares with us her journey to learn from the best in the world.

Air NZ Itinerary: for Flight Attendant V.Way and mounts KH Arvan and Winters Realm

Flight Number: NZ 1
Final Destination: Beijing Olympics, 2008.

Approximate Flying Time: 4 years, Three months

Scheduled Stopovers: Completed as follows Winters’ Realm: First World Challenge, 2003

First in Medium Challenge NZ Championships 2004 Arvan: First in All NZ Novice Championships 2004

Hello ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of Vanessa Way, Winters’ realm and KH Arvan we welcome you aboard this flight bound for the Beijing Olympics, 2008.

For those of you unfamiliar with this journey, I suggest that you pay special attention to the itinerary enclosed. Remember that your attention is required, even if you are one of our most frequent fliers. This card, located in front of you, will inform you how an experience to train with

Klaus Balkenhol (rated the best dressage trainer in the world), has improved my on-time performance. Before introducing you to Mr Balkenhol, I suggest that you now take time to make yourself familiar with this aircraft and the limited space around you. For the next 27 hours, this proximity will become your home, as we strap in for the long-haul flight to Dusseldorf, Germany. (Since this experience it has finally dawned on me as to the meaning behind ‘long-haul’. After enduring such endless travel, I ‘longed’ to ‘haul’ my body upright, and feel the circulation return to my feet.) Now that you are seated, we have a little time on our hands (27 hours in fact) to enlighten your understanding of dressage.

When discussing my passion with other colleagues and passengers, the most repeated questions asked are: “What do you mean that NZ is a developing country in regard to dressage? Mark Todd won Gold, didn’t he”? Why are you not competing in this year’s Olympic games?”

Well, firstly, Mark Todd and his famous fellow team members are eventers, and yes, they do dressage, but at a lot lower level than that required for international dressage competitions. Everntes’ difficulty lies in the skill of diversity, to participate in all three required disciplines: dressage, showjumping and cross-country. However, not to as high a level as what is required in specialist show jumping or dressage. New Zealand has to date only once been represented at Olympic level, and this sole rider was Kallista Field at Sydney, 2000. As we are a continually growing discipline, we have once again earned representation, this time contested by Aucklander Louisa Hill.

Dressage? Already a universal image presents itself of a rider perfectly attired while strutting sideways upon the four-legged species “the horse”. Often one is mistaken this art form as about as fascinating as watching concrete dry. Perhaps you also have fallen vidtim to this train of thought by poor exposure or mistakenly surfing the sport channels only to glimpse upon Mark Todd performing th lateral movement this forming your opinion of ‘Olympic dressage’. But believe me, to witness world class dressage performed to music (known as the ‘kur’) would raise the bodily hairs even on the most uneducated of audiences.

Grand Prix Dressage “the utmost communication and harmony between man and horse.”

I hope I have your attention, as it is this attention for detail along with consistent discipline, daily schooling for the next five years, will resume until our equi e friend will be possibly strong enough to perform such movements as those required of the Grand Prix horse. Add another three years or so to perfect these gymnastic exercises and we now have our Olympic athlete.

Olympic medallist Anky Van Grusen, riding Bonfire, clocked up twelve years between their first competition to finally winning Olympic Gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Oh-Oh! You are now thinking I am surely to become the oldest flight attendant ever to fly the skies of NZ at that rate, but remember, my aircraft has already departed. In fact, we have even completed the in-flight service. However, my horses still have many landmarks to cross until we contend Olympic qualification. When we do, we do not just want to contend, we plan to compete, so to be competitive with the best, we must train with the best. Therefore, “destination Germany”, the heart, body, and soul of international dressage.

The opportunity to train with Klaus Balkenhol was made available through my instructor Andrea Raves, herself an ex-patriot German. Andrea has passionately moulded NZ dressage for seventeen 3 years and continues to actively further the training and development for ‘Dressage NZ”. Andrea flies from Wellington to New Plymouth on a regular basis, assisting my training towards a joint venture Olympic representation.

Mr. Balkenhol has ridden for and coached the German national dressage team. However, due to his exceptional coaching ability he was pursued and contracted to the American dressage team, who he has proudly sculptured through the dressage ranks and who are rumoured to be strong medal contenders for this years Athens Olympics. An extra bonus to our trip was the ability to watch the Americans in action as being based at Balkenhols prior to the final of the World Cup.

American rider Debbie McDonald, winner of last year’s World Cup, unfortunately had to withdraw prior to the competition due to injury. However, she is expected to be back in contention, and a possible individual medallist at for Athens. To analyse the formula behind Germany’s domination of international dressage one would realise that history has descended as far back as the fourth century BC. Germany leads the world for breeding in regard to the performance based ‘sport horse’. These types of horses have been purpose-bred to excel in the world of dressage or showjumping. To me the biggest hurdle for NZ is the lack of brilliant knowledgeable trainers on a regular basis. International riders are scrutinized and instructed daily forming no seed of doubt. Also available are the correctly trained schoolmaster horses that enable the rider to experience the correct feel of the high school advanced movements.

NZ has only schooled a handful of horses to this level, with most of them sold overseas or retired to pasture. Grand prix schoolmasters available to educate and mould our developing dressage riders are just not available in NZ. Our resources might be limited, but as a country we are bountiful. The horses in Germany are confined to stables 24 hours a day, except for their daily exercise. Due to this unnatural environment the horses suffer from serious bouts of colic and various deformities due to the restriction of movement. New Zealand horses live in heaven! They have the freedom to frolic, graze and interact purely and naturally as they should.

My passion is to achieve the highest possible level of communication and understanding with my equine partners, and to educate my pupils, competitors and the public which will become more accessible through representing NZ at International level.

As for the secrets unleashed at Mr. Balkenhols, well, those I will keep up my sleeve, as I must maintain my competitive edge. As for my current flight schedule ahead, I have the International World Challenge to be held in Christchurch, where I intend to be in the New Zealand team. I will contend the Novice division on KH Arvan, and the advanced class with ‘Winters’ Realm”. After this competition in November, I continue to compete at National qualifying shows, then back down to Christchurch for the NZ Championships.

It will take four days of travel just to attend the Christchurch venue, so eagerly await the reconstruction of both the Saab and the staff travel to cater for my travel dilemma. International travel will be scheduled for the Sydney CDI if all accelerating ahead of time will be April 2005, but realistically will be April 2006. Until such events, however, my working life is scheduled around a six-hour daily training program except when this is almost impossible due to a lack of daylight, but facilitated by my loyal friend and fantastic groom, Renee Etherington. Any spare cracks of time are quickly filled teaching my regular pupils along with their equine students. I would personally like to thank Air NZ Link for their continued support and a big thanks to the team of crew controllers and New Plymouth Flight Attendants who make it all possible.

Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. It is now time to disembark the aircraft and proceed straight towards the path ahead. I hope that you have enjoyed your flight today, and I look forward to being of service to you again in the future. Thank you for choosing to share an interest in my journey ahead.


Want to read more of Vanessa’s articles? Check these out

Canter Walk Transitions

Improving your centre lines and halts

Jet Setting to Balkenhol

Aslo take a look at her online program where she shares all her tips ‘Master Your Dressage Movements’

More articles

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