A Win for Mum

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Side saddle champ Wendy Donaldson credits the Horse of the Year Show as one of those who have helped nurture the revival of this very classic style of riding.

Last year the Air New Zealand flight attendant won the Side Saddle Unity Horse of the Year aboard Caithness Mirabelle (owned by Rachael Robinson). It is the fourth time Donaldson has won the top prize.

Sadly she won’t be back this year to defend her title, but is adamant she will return soon, and she’s confident there will probably be a whole lot more competition then.

"Side saddle is going through a real period of revival at the moment," says the 34-year-old from Canterbury. "A lot of people put it down to the Abby Effect – from Downton Abby! But I believe having side saddle at HOY raises awareness and has sparked a lot of interest. If it wasn’t for HOY there certainly wouldn’t be as many doing it."

The New Zealand Horse and Pony Magazine had also been very supportive.

But Donaldson is no new-comer to this sport. She started riding ponies at nine and shifted to side saddle at 11 aboard her "little fat grey".

"I’m not even sure why," she says. "My parents were very much into everything vintage, so it just followed on from that I guess."

She remembers having a side saddle ride on a friend’s pony and that was it.

Her mother had a very old little side saddle that she rode in, and later her father brought home another from a cleaning sale with a whole lot of other gear.

"My parents were not at all horsey, so it was a big deal when dad came home with the side saddle. I started competing right from then."

By her own admission, she wasn’t that successful as a youngster, but still adored it, having lessons and input from the likes of Sue Kent, the current president of the New Zealand Side Saddle Association Jane Ensor and others.

"There was quite a little group of us down here and we would compete against the adults. It was lots of fun."

Donaldson stopped for a while when she headed offshore, where ironically she ended up nannying for dressage star Anke van Grunsven in Holland.

On her return to New Zealand, she was back into her riding and in 2002 won her first Side Saddle Unity Horse of the Year aboard her big old Irish horse Joe Bolido. They backed it up with another victory in 2003 but had to settle for reserve in 2004.

Then she started competing on Mirabelle, who is competed by her owner in show hunter, showing and dressage classes. In 2011 and 2013 they again claimed the top award.

Mirabelle is a 10-year-old Swedish warm blood horse who was bred in Ashburton at the Caithness Stud.

"Our win last year was very emotional and special for quite different reasons," says Donaldson. "It was emotional because my mum and dad were killed in an accident while I was in Holland so I felt the win was for her. She loved side saddle . . . I was so proud of mum because she was scared stiff of ponies in the beginning, but in the end was right into it."


PHOTO CREDIT: Annie Studholme