Battling the flu and with just three months experience in level two under her belt, Monica Lewis was not expecting big things when she arrived at the Canterbury Dressage Champs late last month.
But she and eight-year-old pony Kashmere Lad were about to blow those expectations out of the water, the duo producing a superb effort to collect three wins and a second, claiming the level two pony title, and being crowned overall pony champion. Not only was it a good feeling, the laidback 14-year-old said it was a valuable learning curve.
"We were expecting to be at the bottom. It [winning] felt really good but I had the flu all weekend so it was a bit hard to celebrate much. I can probably be quite hard on him but, because I was sick, I had no energy, and that meant I was a lot softer with my hands and I couldn't be bothered fighting with him. Ever since I've done that he has been going a lot better."
Along with providing a payoff for the hours of training over the past five years, it was a result which confirmed the year-10 Queen Charlotte College student as one of Marlborough Dressage's most promising riders.
Born in Blenheim, only child Monica lived in the Kenepuru Sound until the age of four when she and her parents, Neville and Paula, moved to their current property near Koromiko. A riding school next door soon sparked her interest in horses and, after starting on shetland pony Nugget, she got Cobber and began going to Marshland's Pony Club and travelling into Blenheim to compete.
By the time Monica was nine she had a new pony and it was on Reno where she got her start in dressage. They first gave it a crack for fun at the Marlborough winter series in 2008. But, when she discovered one of the province's top dressage exponents lived nearby, it quickly became more than just a bit of fun.
"We found out that Angela Fergusson just lived up the road and I started going to her for lessons - that's when I got into a bit more on Reno."
Monica's first notable success came in 2010 when she and Reno were training pony class champs of the Marlborough winter series. By 2011, she had Kashmere Lad and had made the step up to level one, where she began to display her potential.
The duo were pony champions at last year's Marlborough Champs and at the Nelson Champs at the start of this year. A reserve champion's sash in the level one-four young rider championship at the South Island Champs in February was further proof of Monica's ability and, before transitioning to level two in September, she and Kashmere Lad took out the Marlborough winter series open pony level one title.
Although Kashmere Lad had little dressage experience when she got him, Monica said the two struck up an immediate bond.
"When I got him all he'd done was walk up and down hills, he'd only had about two weeks [dressage] training. He has taught me a lot because he can be a bit feisty at times but he is really smart so he picks up on things really quickly."
As well as hours of practice, Monica credits coach Fergusson and her current coach, another leading Marlborough dressage rider Janelle Sangster-Ward, for helping her steadily climb the ranks. There has also been a truckload of support from her parents. Mum Paula has ridden horses most of her life, while, in July, dad Neville finished a year's worth of work building Monica her very own dressage arena.
School, riding every afternoon and competing takes up the majority of Monica's time. However, she does enjoy fishing and pig hunting with Neville and also likes listening to music and spending time with friends.
At the moment, she is pulling back the reins on her riding and there is more time for those things. But with the Nelson Champs looming in January and a step up to level three during next year's Marlborough winter series in her sights, it is a break that is not likely to last for long. There is also the possibility of heading north to compete for the first time at the North Island Champs in March.
After her latest success, it appears Monica is more determined than ever to go as far as possible in the challenging and highly competitive world of dressage. "I'd love to travel to Germany one day as well. Go to one of those big stables and just train."
WEEKLY SPORTS STAR
Name: Monica Lewis.
Born: Blenheim, April 7, 1998.
Educated: Koromiko Primary, Queen Charlotte College.
Earliest sporting hero:
Latest sporting hero: Charlotte Dujardin (British dressage rider and winner of two gold medals at the London Olympics).
Must-watch TV programme:X Factor.
Must-have food: Chocolate.
What's hot on your MP3 player (walkman/stereo): Reece Mastin.
Favourite holiday spot: Hanmer Springs.
Superstitions: Don't have any.
Pet hates: People who scuff their feet.
Fashion crime: Wearing my favourite musical artist's merchandise.
Favourite sporting moment: Doing well at Canterbury Dressage Champs.
Worst sporting moment: My pony's first dressage test. He jumped out of the arena in the middle of the test.
In five years I'll be: Haven't decided yet :)
- The Marlborough Express