Anja's back on the horse
Pessimists predicted Anja Zoellner would quit competitive riding after suffering several fractures to her left leg.
But such negativity only spurred her to get back on the horse.
"I guess that gave me a reason to push a bit harder and prove them wrong," the Swanson resident says.
Sheer determination is compelling the 23-year-old to chase December's Mounted Games southern hemisphere champs in South Africa.
She is training at Kaukapakapa Pony Club for the high-speed equestrian games only five months after surgery to remove a plate from her left leg and pins from her left ankle.
Anja broke her central ankle bone in six places when her saddle slipped during trials for the New Zealand team in January 2011.
She spent a painful nine months hobbling on crutches before returning to race in the Auckland district pairs competition in Clevedon in December of that year.
"The first race in, my horse fell over so I broke my leg again," she says.
This time she suffered a spiral fracture to her shin and was forced to watch competitions from the sidelines for two seasons.
"Seeing what I was missing out on made me want to get back out there. I think it's made me a bit more cautious but it's still fun."
The Mounted Games involve galloping at high speeds around obstacle courses in relay races. Riders run alongside their ponies to scoop up objects and vault back on.
"I'm probably not the strongest vaulter so I'd be going at a fast canter," she says.
"It's more exciting than dressage and the whole horse community is like a family where everyone helps out and gets on and encourages each other."
Anja is fundraising through raffles and auctions to pay for her second entry in the Mounted Games. She rode with New Zealand to victory during her 2010 debut.
Teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will compete.
Anja trains on her horse, which grazes at Helensville, and on her friend's pony Cheeky at home.
Three pins remain in her ankle and she endures ongoing physiotherapy.
"I definitely still notice that it's weak and I'm pretty careful with that leg," she says.
"Just being on crutches for so long made my whole body unbalanced. My shoulders and back got really tight."
The Massey University student is facing the final semester of a science degree in sport and exercise. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you can donate goods for Anja's fundraising raffle.
- © Fairfax NZ News