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Year by Year – The Decade Challenge

horse running through grass
Written by Andrea Parker

When I saw this on The Hunky Hanovarian I knew that I had to do one too! The challenge is to post a horsey pic from each year of the past decade. 


A low quality photo of a seriously talented horse. Sullivan was an Arabian Warmblood x Percheron x Thoroughbred by Victoreaux. We purchased him in early 2008 when it became clear that I had outgrown Gilbert

We had two and a half super years together including two PCAQ State Dressage Silver Medals, before Sullivan sadly developed anhydrosis and had to move to greener pastures. Literally he went from living with us on the Sunshine Coast to living with our good friends the Goulds in the Hunter Valley. 

It was heart breaking having to move him on, but I will always put my horses welfare first. And a horse that could not sweat and the Queensland humidity just did not mix. When we first brought Nonie home, I was still I had no idea if she was ‘right’. 


2011 was a year divided by two starkly different things, 20 weeks of dietetic placement, 14 of which I was away from home and my pony. And then a blissful second half of the year where I was able to indulge in my first love horses. 

Nonie and I were training on a weekly basis with my coach Arianne Nijhus-Fitzgerald. And I was fortunate enough to be allowed to train on one of Arianne’s mare’s – Selesta. She was a hot, sensitive but extremely talented mare by Flemmingh whom Arianne had brought over from the Netherlands. 

I had a great second half of the year competition wise with Nonie and we chalked up our first major placing in open dressage competition. 


2012 was a year of significant change. I broke my arm early on, graduated university with a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics and met my partner Steve. After 30+ jobs applications, a few interviews and no job offers I ended up moving back to Mackay to work as an Allied Health Assistant.  After a few months delightedly accepted a short term contract as a clinical dietitian in Townsville. 

Nonie of course was with me every step of the way (As a side note you would be shocked at the number of people who would ask if I was taking my horse with me when I announced that I was moving). Despite this riding took a little bit of a back seat. I still rode most days, and while in Mackay I managed to get out to one competitions, but without access to regular coaching I struggled to progress. 

In December I managed to secure a permanent job as a community Dietitian in Mackay. On Christmas Eve, Steve helped move me back down to Mackay and we moved in together. 


2013 was a bit of a blur but the two highlights were that it was my first full year as a dietitian and Nonie and I won the Novice Pony Club State Dressage Championships. 

In November I entered a teams dressage competition with Emily and Molly Baretta (daughters of my coach Nancy). The competition was a themed and required us to dress up! Our team went as the wiggles… SO MUCH FUN! And we won!

And finally after saving hard for the previous two years I was able to buy my very own float at the end of the year. A huge step forward in becoming an independent adult!


Set with my float, and the last year I would be able to compete in the Pony Club State Dressage Championships I was determined to secure the last two scores I would need to qualify. Significant rain, which is all too typical of North Queensland summers saw the first competitions of the year be canceled. 

When I finally did manage to get out and compete it certainly didn’t go to plan. My nerves were out in full force, and I had no idea how to manage them. The tests weren’t disastrous, but I was so disappointed that we didn’t manage to produce the work that I knew we were capable of. After a day filled with tears, I made the decision not to compete for the remainder of the year and to focus instead on training. 

Unfortunately the coach who had been travelling to Mackay was no longer able to do so. In desperate need of some help I reached out to a local Western rider who had reputation as a great horse person. While this was not exactly the typical path for a dressage rider to follow we started to make some really positive progress. 


With a different approach to our training and Nonie feeling great, I set my sights on a competition goal. I wanted to qualify for and compete at the Dressage Queensland State Dressage Championship. This was something that I had long wanted to do.

Our return to the competition arena was unspectacular, but we met our goal of qualifying for state. I also managed to get my competition nerves largely under control. At the end of the year we made the long awaited step up to elementary level – something I had been delaying in a misguided pursuit of perfection. 


2016 is a year best defined by one word – POODLE. Steve and I got our beloved dog Sailor who quickly become an essential member of our family. After more saving I purchased my own ute.

On the horse competition front we stepped up to elementary level with some very respectable scores. In August we were Reserve Elementary Champions at the Amateur Owner Championships. A few weeks later we hd a top five finish at the state championships. 

With the competition season over it was time to focus on the flying changes and half pass in preparation for moving up to medium. I so clearly remember these early days of working on the changes with Nonie. She would bury her head and rush off as soon as I asked. Knowing what aI know now, I was probably largely to blame for this, likely over applying my leg aids. 


2017 was a quieter year on the competition front given that we weren’t quite ready to compete medium and I didn’t want to travel long distances for two tests.

We started 2017 with a trip down to the Sunshine Coast to attend a clinic with International Grand Prix dressage rider Brett Parbery which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was all about keeping things clear and simple. 

Around mid year I felt that we were ready to debut at medium level, the tests did not come off quite how I had hoped they would. But I learnt a heap. We all have to start somewhere and I was eager not to repeat the mistake I made (ie waiting for perfection) when moving up to elementary. 

Over the course of the year we did plenty of clinics with Dani Keogh and dabbled in a few hack shows! We even took out Supreme Champion Hack at one. 


The year started off with a friend and I nearly getting flooded into a twilight hack show, and then a few months later Nonie injured herself scrambling on the way to a competition. 

2018 also brought me my first truly bad experience with a coach – something that I have not talked about much here or on there ‘gram. The lesson was my first foray into the world of classical dressage. I booked the lesson eager to learn more about working horses in hand. 

What I got was an expensive body work session for my horse and a list of every flaw she has. The coach in question told me that although she was a nice mare she was unhappy. I held my composure all the way home and then called my mum in a flood of tears. 

The highlight of the year was undoubtedly the AAOR nationals were Nonie and I managed top ten in all but one of our tests and rode our first freestyle. It was a dream come true to walk away from our first national championships with some frillies.  

2018 also saw a significant milestone in birthdays for me turning 30!


I won’t go into heaps of detail about 2019 seeing as I’ve already devoted an entire blog to it! The highlights were definitely moving to Brisbane and finding a coach locally who Nonie and I really click with. 

As a side note I think I did more lessons and competitions over the space of 8 months in Brisbane than I did in the previous two years!


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About the author


Andrea Parker

Andrea is an Adult Amateur dressage rider who competes at medium level on her 13-year-old mare Mon Ami. Andrea shares her journey through the equestrian world on her blog The Sand Arena Ballerina and is working on an equestrian podcast called Equestrian Pulse.