Above & Below: Denise on Just One Wish (photos: Stent Event Photography)
Horsezone caught up with down to earth dressage rider Denise Rogan this week, before she heads off to Orange in regional NSW to compete with her gorgeous young Jazz mare, Just One Wish and bay Rituel gelding, Virtuel 1, at the 2013 ThinLine 'Dressage with Altitude'.
As well as campaigning Just One Wish and Virtuel 1, Denise is also bringing on a youngster, First Wish.
Not just content to train her own horses, Denise is a very popular coach and is the NSW Dressage Riders Representative.
Denise, how did you first become involved with horses?
I have been involved with horses all my life. I was probably almost born on one! My parents live in a small country town in South West Queensland - St George, on a cattle and cotton property. Horses were a part of life when I was born and they are still a major part of my family’s life now. One of my fondest memories as a kid involves a horse called “Poppy”. She was my brother’s prized polocrosse mare. I used to be in awe of my brother and this mare. There is a photo of them in the Stockman’s Hall of Fame - they were that good! Anyhow, it poured with rain one night and it wasn’t possible to drive to the school bus…. So Dad announced at the breakfast table “Right, best we get Poppy out of the paddock so we can get you to the school bus”…… I cannot tell you how excited I was! I jumped up out of my chair, threw my school uniform on and within no time at all, Dad was waiting at the front gate, aboard Poppy! As I ran up to Dad, I realised to my dismay that he had thrown a chaff bag over her back – rather than a saddle! Not only was I going to get my very first ride on this prized mare, it was going to be with a chaff bag over her back! As that realisation hit me, Dad stuck his foot out as a stirrup, held his hand out and before I knew it I was pulled up behind him. I was barebacking with Dad on Poppy! I was so scared, yet it was so exhilarating, slipping and sliding through the black mud at a slow canter hanging on to Dad for dear life. From that point on I was “hooked on horses” …. Thanks to Dad, Poppy and the black mud!
Have you always been a dressage rider or have you been involved in other horse sports?
To be really honest, I didn’t even really understand what dressage was until around the age of 14. I was a pony clubbing, campdrafting, polocrosse playing kid from the bush that did the odd “dressage lesson” at pony club. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t the kid at pony club that was flying around flat out because I was that adrenalized – I really did prefer the “pretty side” of riding. I loved showing, rider classes, plaiting, the dressage test with show jumps in it (??!!) and the red ribbon in my pony’s tail! I learnt much later in life that LuLu wore a red ribbon because she was so bad with kicking other horses. It was a warning for everyone, not to make her look prettier!
It wasn’t until I was selected on the Qld Pony Club Eventing team that I realised that this thing called dressage had to be taken seriously. The team had some lessons with Glennis Barrey which is when I discovered my love for dressage. After the team event, I continued travelling to the Gold Coast for “Dressage Clinics” with Glennis Barrey and have been hooked ever since.
What has been the biggest challenge of your dressage career?
Trying to fit life in! I just need 25 hours in a day and I think everything would be okay! In all seriousness, it has been trying to make a career, earn enough dollars to be able to afford horses and then be serious enough about the training and competing to justify to myself (not anybody else) that it is all worth it. I think this is a pretty common story for most though.
What has been the biggest success of your dressage career?
Without a doubt, purchasing and training APH Romarn from a 4yo all the way through to being a competitive Grand Prix horse. ‘Remi’ was one of those “one in a million horses”. He had such a willing nature with a very big heart of gold. He was even talented – talented enough to be announced on the Australian Dressage Squad in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics. And nope, we didn’t make it, but boy, did I learn a lot about myself, my horse and dressage whilst I was on that squad. A lesson that was worth all the joy and all the tears.
Above & Below: Denise and Virtuel 1 during the Edward Gal and Hans Peter Minderhoud clinics at Equitana 2011
(photos: Roger Fitzhardinge)
Which horses do you have now and who is your support crew & sponsors?
I now have three young horses coming up through the ranks – Virtuel I, Just One Wish and First Wish. My parents have purpose bred these three horses and so begins another journey of turning young horses into Grand Prix dressage horses. So far, so good, although it can be a long and arduous journey that can change at any time.
My support crew are most definitely my parents, Graeme and Robyn Rogan, my partner Chanelle Fisher, my coach Roger Fitzhardinge and my groom Luke Cradick. I am also very fortunate to have a wonderful sponsor who supplies me with the finest European Equestrian Clothing – Horse In The Box.
I really am very lucky – without them all – I wouldn’t be a competitive dressage rider.
Who do you most admire as riders and/or trainers – both in Australia and overseas?
Wow, that’s a curly question for me as my answer is wide and varied. I don’t automatically think of our superstars in dressage – I instead think of “Horse people”. There is nothing better than watching a real horse person, no tricks, no gimmicks - just pure understanding and timing. For instance, a young chap by the name of Rodney broke in my gelding Virtuel I. This young guy hadn’t had huge opportunities in life and wasn’t a loud spoken, akubra hat wearing, big money earning, European finest clothing wearing, or horsey educated kind of person. He was just Rodney from the bush..... and a proud Aborigine. The simple, yet fluid techniques that he used to break in my gelding were quite astonishing. I remember Dad ringing me one day saying that Rodney was just about there with Russell (Virtuel I). I asked him what he meant and he said that Russell was just about broken in because he spotted Rodney on Russell cantering along the dam wall that morning – in a halter and bareback!...... I will admit my immediate reaction was one of hesitation – visions of me doing dressage in a halter and bareback were far from ideal for me! But that kind of stuff does give me goose bumps – it is so real and so pure.
Of course I admire all of our top Australian Grand Prix riders and our overseas superstars and really, at the end of the day anyone who is giving it a genuine go – but I have a very healthy admiration for those horse people in the background as well.
Which are your favourite dressage horses (apart from your own, of course!!) ?
You know, I can watch the replays of the Olympic horses and “oooh” and “aaahh” at them all and want to have them all in my stable block! I guess to name names though, Totilas was just out of this world breathtaking. I watched him in Aachen and he really does make the hairs on your arms and back stand up. He simply demands your attention.
You rode in a couple of clinics with Edward Gal at Equitana. What did you take away from that experience? What are some of the things that Australian dressage riders can learn from the top riders in Europe?
Discipline!! I think I am disciplined in my training and then you have a clinic with who I consider to be the two best riders in the world and you then have a new level of understanding of the word discipline! Don’t get me wrong, Edward Gal and Hans Peter Minderhoud were quietly spoken and brilliant teachers, I would train with them permanently in a heartbeat, but I remember riding on a big circle and Hans Peter walked over to me and asked in his slightly exasperated Dutch accent why I just ride on a progressive circle all the time – “why not ride like you are in a dressage arena?”! In my defence we were in a space that did not even replicate the shape of a dressage arena, but I should have been riding and had the discipline to ride four straight lines and four corners in amongst my circles! Something so simple.
And that is actually the message that I keep getting from the European riders and trainers – Always try to achieve the simple stuff perfectly. It has become a bit of a motto for me now.
How have you found it being a girl from the Queensland bush moving to inner city Sydney?
If you ask my partner and friends, I was like a deer caught in headlights for a start! The bush is my soul, but inner city Sydney is now my home. It was a big sea change but you just have to run with life or you get left behind.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not riding?
You know I just love to kick back with my partner and our gorgeous cat and dogs - with some wine, cheese and crackers... If we had space for a pool in our terrace home there would be a pool as well!
Without a doubt “Death at a Funeral” – hilarious!!! Nothing better than a great comedy!
Your plans for 2013?
Thankfully 2013 has started much better than 2012. Last year was very challenging following a knee reconstruction after a floating accident and a subsequent seven months out of the saddle. By the end of the year I was back in the saddle, but certainly not rider fit or fluid with my riding. This year however has started well with success at the recent Boneo Park CDI and everything is on track for a heavy competition period over the next four months. The first half of the year is always choc a block full with CDI’s, Dressage with the Stars and Championship weekends. Really it is just the same schedule as always, just a different year and hopefully injury free (someone please touch wood for me!).
Good luck for this weekend Denise! We’ll see you there at the Riders Welcome BBQ, which we’re co-sponsoring.
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