I've read that the average adult amateur dressage rider never competes past First Level. I'm not sure if that's accurate, but it wouldn't surprise me given the time, money, discipline and training required to move up the levels. Many AA's squeeze their horse time in between school or busy jobs, chauffeuring kids, looking after aging parents, and many more responsibilities. For a lot of us, riding is an escape from the stresses of everyday life and the pressure of showing just isn't on the agenda.
Success is personal; it depends entirely on your own goals and your definition of success for yourself. That being said, I am in awe of those amateur riders who set and achieve their goal of competing at the FEI levels. So far in this Amateurs (Not) Like Us series, I have introduced you to two of them: Anne Leueen and Jennifer Black.
Today we head west to Maple Ridge, BC, to meet Elda Hajdarovac, a former eventer who developed a love for dressage and never looked back.
Meet Elda Hajdarovac
Occupation: Social Media Assistant at Simon Fraser University
Horse: Burlesque aka “Ivy” a 2005 Warmblood bay mare
When did you start riding, and specifically focusing on dressage?
I started riding when I was 7 years old. I joined a lesson string program in South Langley. From there I kind of hopped from barn to barn riding anything I could. I started focusing on dressage back in 2010 shortly after doing some eventing. My dressage coach (who is still my dressage coach) told me I had a knack for it. I really enjoyed the reward and harmony I managed to get in dressage and so I stuck with it!
Where did you find Ivy and how long have you had her?
I found Ivy about 3 years ago. At the time I had spent 6 months looking for my next dressage horse. After talking to my coach about holding off buying she had mentioned I should try one of the broodmares that were for sale at the barn I was riding at. I gave it a go and instantly fell in love with her.
Who do you train with?
I started my dressage career with Kiersten Humphrey, a Grand Prix rider and Equine Canada level 2 certified coach way back in 2010 when I was still eventing. Shortly after training with her she showed how fun and rewarding dressage can be and so I decided to fully switch over to the discipline. Since then its been 10 whole hearted years with Kiersten. Our lasting coach/student relationship is sure something I am proud of!
What were your goals then and how have they changed?
I knew I wanted to both train and compete in dressage. I didn’t really have a specific goal in mind other than riding the best I could and hopefully progressing through the level. Very early on Kiersten kept saying I had talent and that she sees me going far. I have to say I didn’t really think that was possible. However, as the years went by (with numerous lessons and horses under my belt) this once distant vision started becoming a reality. It wasn’t until I bought Ivy that I really started getting serious about my riding and had the itch to succeed and compete at the FEI level. Eventually my goal is to compete at Grand Prix. I am confident to say that with Kiersten’s help I will get there in no time.
What is your competitive highlight so far?
My biggest competitive highlight was doing my first PSG debut just this past weekend. Putting that tailcoat on and riding down the centre line was always a dream of mine and it finally came true! It is such a pleasure and honour to ride at such a high level. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for myself and my mare.
What have been the biggest obstacles / setbacks for you?
As an amateur, I think the biggest obstacle for myself was, as most would agree, finding the time and money to compete and keep my training up. Until last month I was a full time university student. As many of you know being a student you don’t make a lot of money or really have time with the endless assignments, essays, and exams. Despite this, I worked two jobs most of my time at university and pulled endless all-nighters to complete my homework. I was lucky enough that my professors in my program were extremely understanding with respect to my competitions and training and were happy to give me extensions when needed. Although there were times when I was writing essays in front of my show stall, haha.
Another obstacle that was hard for me to overcome was my mental attitude towards my training and progress. Moving up is no easy feat, but I think moving up to the FEI level is a whole other ball game. Not only are you asking more of your horse, but of yourself. Expectations are higher and with it the degree of technicality and precision. Every ride you have to come in with your “A game” and if you don’t it can all easily go down the crapper. Don’t get me wrong there are days where I feel like an 8 year learning how to sit the trot again, but the good rides definitely outweigh the bad. Learning how to control myself under pressure has been a large obstacle in my riding, but it also has allowed me to come a long way in my riding.
What's the best advice you can offer to other amateurs with competitive goals?
My most important advice for amateurs is commitment. Saying you want to ride at a level is one thing, but training is another. Progress isn’t always about going upwards, sometimes you go sideways, or even backwards. What is the most important thing you have to remember is there is light at the end of the tunnel. Also, find a coach that works well with you, but also don’t give up on that coach when it gets tough. They are coaches for a reason and see much farther into the future than you do. What seems like a giant feat now will feel so small in 6 months or a year from now. My coach once told me a perfect analogy when it comes to training. She said: “think of riding like you are painting a picture. Like an artist, the coach focuses on the fundamental techniques of the art form. Although in the moment you may not know what you are ‘painting’ or working to, rest assured the work will all fall into place! As you near the end you begin to see the bigger picture and all the hard work, dedication, and training that is put into the beautiful picture.” All in all, trust your horse, your journey, your coach, and most importantly yourself!
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About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.